In the first presidential debates last month, Joe Biden was, uh, not good.
The former vice president was halting in his answers and, in a brutal exchange with California Sen. Kamala Harris, seemed incapable of defending his record on school busing.
Lucky for Biden, he gets a second chance on the debate stage in Detroit tonight. If he puts in a similar performance, he might find his grasp on the front-runner mantle slipping.
His aides are promising that ain’t gonna happen. He is ready for “flat-out lies and distortions” by the other candidates, a Biden official told CNN Wednesday. “He was expecting better than that from the field,” added the source of the former VP. “And so now I think it’s very clear there are no rules and you have to be prepared for mischaracterizations.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Promising you are going to fight back is one thing. Effectively doing so is a whole other thing.
The one big difference between last month’s debate and this month’s debate is that Biden can’t help but be aware of the stakes for him. Another performance even close to his June showing and the storyline that the former vice president is too old or too out-of-touch with where the party is now will go from whispers to roars.
What Biden has going for him right now is that his support, which clearly took a hit in the wake of his first debate performance, appears to have bounced back nicely. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this week showed Biden at 34%, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) in second place, but at just 15%.
Biden can’t reasonably hope that his numbers will rebound again if he doesn’t show he has the fight in him tonight.
The Point: It’s hard to call something “make-or-break” in July 2019 for a race where no votes will be cast until February 2020. But momentum and inertia really matter in presidential races. And that’s why tonight’s debate matters so much for Biden.