But senior Democrats say Biden should do it all over again in a couple weeks.
In interviews on Wednesday morning, Democratic allies in Congress said that Biden should continue participating in what may amount to just hours more of angry crosstalk on national television. They’re open to changes — the debate commission should consider cutting off Trump’s mic if he speaks over Biden or even separate the two men by a greater distance.
But no one is arguing that Biden should pull the plug and try to ride his polling lead into November, despite the calls of some pundits to do so. Even though the debates offer Trump a chance to swing at Biden freely as he attempts to make a comeback, Democrats say the sheer contrast between Biden and Trump’s presentation will help his campaign.
“The American people saw what Donald Trump is all about and sometimes people just see clips on the news of his rallies. And I think it’s important for them to see that. So yes, I think that he should continue doing these debates,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who ran against Biden in the party’s presidential primary.
“The loser of last night’s debate was the American people and the country looked terrible because of the way President Trump conducted it. I think Vice President Biden did as well as anybody can do,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “It’s fine to do another debate. But that spectacle is not what we want for this country.”
Immediately after the debate, the Biden campaign faced questions about whether it would participate in the Oct. 15 debate, which is a town hall format. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), a campaign co-chairman, said in a CNN interview that the campaign intends to be at every presidential debate.
The campaign said it may seek changes to keep things on the rails but dismissed suggestions the former vice president wouldn’t show up. Democrats were also quick to turn the blame on moderator Chris Wallace for not fact-checking Trump more or having a better plan to control the discussion.
“Anybody who watched the debate, who watched the way that Donald Trump behaved, has to be worried about him, worried about our country,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who served with Biden in the Senate. “I would do the next two, but I would make sure we have a moderator who has a firm command and control of the debate.”
There was some agreement among Republicans that the debate was a bad look for everyone. Biden told Trump to “shut up” and called him a “clown” after countless interruptions. Wallace tried in vain to rein Trump in as he attacked the country’s voting process and Biden’s family.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued Trump could have talked more about his accomplishments and could have articulated his second term agenda better.
“It’d be nice to tell the voters what he wants to accomplish the next four years,” he said.
Others said it was mostly a wash, with few arguing explicitly that it was good for Trump. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) merely called it “lively” and “a bit turgid in terms of understanding the candidates’ positions on the issues.”
“I don’t think these debates have much of an impression. Everything that we’ve seen says that America’s already made up its mind,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “Some people thought either side could make a bit of an improvement … last night’s debate I don’t think did that.”
But the debates being a draw is good news for Biden, at least according to polling averages. At this stage, it’s Trump that needs to win over more voters in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to preserve his presidency.
Given Trump’s upset victory in 2016, the possibility that Trump uses one of the next two debates to come back in the polls can’t be discounted. But Democrats say they are willing to bet against it, no matter the theatrics that the next round produces.
Biden “has to show that he’s not afraid of standing up to a bully,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Senate Democrats. “The more that people see the president in the form he was last night, the less support he has.”
Quint Forgey contributed to this report.