Obama, Clinton pardon Biden's performance in debate against Trump

Several hours later, Clinton took a defensive stance.

“I leave the debate ratings to the pundits, but I know this: Facts and history matter,” Clinton said in her post on X, followed by a brief list of Biden's accomplishments.

During Thursday's 90-minute contest, Biden stumbled repeatedly, pausing to gather his words and interrupting his sentences, even on topics such as abortion and the economy, which he is often outspoken on during campaign rallies and White House events.

The messages from Obama and Clinton mark a shift in strategy by Democrats as they seek to reverse course after Thursday's setback.

Immediately after the debate, Democrats attempted to downplay Biden's major gaffes, and instead attacked Trump's performance and evaluated Biden generously.

“As the night went on, I felt [Biden] “He really rose to the occasion. I'm proud of the way he stood up to Donald Trump,” Biden co-campaign chairman Mitch Landrieu told NBC News Thursday night after the debate.

Obama and Clinton's comments represent a new strategy: admit the debate's failure and then tell the public not to pay attention to it.

Biden himself reiterated this point during a rally in North Carolina on Friday: “Friends, I don't walk as smoothly as I used to. I don't speak as smoothly as I used to. I don't debate as well as I used to. But I know what I know: I know how to tell the truth.”

But debates matter to voters. After the September 2020 debates, several polls found that voters felt Biden did a better job, helping him maintain his lead against Trump.

This year's presidential race has been nearly evenly contested so far, and the margin of victory in November is likely to be slim, leaving little room for error.

Since the debate, Democrats have been worried about what impact it will have on the perception of voters, who are already concerned about Biden's age and his ability to lead the country for the next four years.

Some Democratic strategists, donors and pundits have already suggested that Biden should drop out of the race and reopen the Democratic field for potentially stronger candidates.

The Biden campaign has so far rejected the proposal. Biden and Trump will face off in a second and final debate on September 10.

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