The big question Democrats face now: Support Biden or move on?

President Biden speaks about extreme weather in Washington, D.C., July 2.
President Biden speaks about extreme weather in Washington, D.C., on July 2. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

In the aftermath of President Biden’s unsteady debate performance last week, Democrats, including Biden himself, were faced with a stark choice: Should they continue to place their support behind the 81-year-old presumptive party nominee, or should they advocate for finding someone to replace him?

Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas became the first Democrat in Congress to publicly come out in favor of replacing Biden on the ticket.

"President Biden saved our democracy by delivering us from Trump in 2020. He must not deliver us to Trump in 2024," Doggett said in a statement released Tuesday.

Following Doggett’s lead, dozens of House Democrats are said to be considering signing a letter demanding that Biden withdraw from the presidential race, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Biden, meanwhile, reportedly had a conversation with key allies about whether his debate performance was too damaging for him to continue as the party’s presidential nominee for 2024, according to the New York Times.

White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said the Times’ reporting was “absolutely false,” however, and the Biden campaign sent out a memo Wednesday arguing that Biden remained competitive with Trump in most polls, Politico reported. That same memo sought to portray Wednesday’s New York Times/Sienna College poll, which shows Trump now leading Biden by six points, as an outlier. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Tuesday showed Trump with a two-point lead over Biden.

By Wednesday afternoon, Biden was seeking to reassure his staffers. “I am running,” he reportedly said on a campaign call, adding, “no one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end and we’re going to win.”

So far, high profile Democrats have offered their public support of Biden, though there are signs that could change. On Tuesday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC that “it is essential” for Biden to sit for “interviews with serious journalists” to prove to doubters that he is still up for the job of being president. After that interview aired, a spokesperson for Pelosi seemed to try to soften its impact.

“Speaker Pelosi has full confidence in President Biden and looks forward to attending his inauguration on January 20, 2025,” the statement read.

Still, Biden is planning to follow Pelosi’s advice, and will be interviewed on Friday by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos.

Former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, called Biden following the debate to reiterate his support. But he has also “privately told allies” that Biden’s performance has made his chances of being elected worse, the Washington Post reported.

In such a fluid environment, the risks of continuing to support Biden as the Democratic nominee continue to evolve.

With Biden signaling his intention to remain in the race, and top surrogates like Vice President Kamala Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom rallying by his side, insisting that he is fit for another four-year term, some Democrats risk having their own judgment called into question.

Following the presidential debate, for instance, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison and Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez held a call with DNC members that, according to the Associated Press, brushed aside concerns about Biden’s health.

“I was hoping for more of a substantive conversation instead of, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and just be cheerleaders,’ without actually addressing a very serious issue that unfolded on American television for millions of people to see," Joe Salazar, an elected DNC member from Colorado, who was on the call, told the AP. “There were a number of things that could have been said in addressing the situation. But we didn’t get that. We were being gaslit.”

Countering White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s assertion on Tuesday that Biden’s debate performance was “just a bad night,” the New York Times ran a story that same day citing “several current and former officials,” who described the president as increasingly “confused or listless.”

Thanks to Thursday’s debate and the media scrutiny that has followed, every Biden appearance will now receive heightened scrutiny. Should he hold steady or exceed expectations, Democrats who continue to support his candidacy will breathe easier. But if he stumbles again, many voters will likely question their motivation in doing so.

In a fundraising email to Biden supporters and donors sent following the first debate, deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty made the case that Biden stepping aside was the surest way to ensure victory for Trump.

If Biden “were to drop out, it would lead to weeks of chaos, internal foodfighting, and a bunch of candidates who limp into a brutal floor fight at the convention, all while Donald Trump has time to speak to American voters uncontested,” he wrote, adding, "All of that would be in service of a nominee who would go into a general election in the weakest possible position with zero dollars in their bank account. You want a highway to losing? It's that."

Allan Lichtman, a historian who has correctly predicted who would win 9 of the last 10 presidential elections, also decried those who have used Biden’s debate performance as proof that he is not physically able to hold the highest office in the land.

“It’s a huge mistake. They're not doctors. They don't know whether Biden is physically capable of carrying out a second term or not,” Lichtman said during an interview with CNN. “This is all foolhardy nonsense.”

One thing, however, is clear about the current debate over whether to stick with Biden: it’s time that is not being spent critiquing his opponent.