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The state of the Biden-Trump campaigns after last week's presidential debate

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden's debate performance has worried many about his reelection prospects.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yes. Democrats have spent the last few days in uncomfortable public and private debates, following the official presidential one last week. Instead of focusing on Biden's performance, they're trying to shift the conversation to Trump's character and policies. Here's former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday on CNN.

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NANCY PELOSI: It's not about performance in terms of a debate. It's about performance in a presidency.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Here to discuss the state of the campaign is NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, since the debate, all I've heard about is different possible scenarios that would change the ticket, but what's the reality here for Democrats?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There are some loud calls from places like The New York Times editorial page for President Biden to step aside, but Biden and his team have a long history of being counted out and then proving the doubters wrong. It's basically in the Biden DNA - political DNA at this point. He and his aides have been working the phones since the debate on Thursday, talking to Democrats, donors, party leaders and others and admitting that the debate was bad and talking about how to move forward. And the campaign has raised a lot of money since the debate. So based on everything people in the campaign and the White House have told me, Biden isn't going anywhere, but Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin told MSNBC Democrats are talking about next steps.

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JAMIE RASKIN: We're having a serious conversation about what to do. One thing I can tell you is that regardless of what President Biden decides, our party is going to be unified, and our party also needs him at the very center of our deliberations in our campaign.

KEITH: I can't tell you how widespread or serious this conversation is. Publicly, top elected Democrats are already coalescing behind Biden once again, and if they didn't want an 81-year-old to be the nominee, these conversations had to have happened two or three years ago and actually led to action.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. All right - so what's the math looking like now?

KEITH: Well, Biden was trailing Trump narrowly before the debate in most polls. So far, at least, the campaign doesn't think that that has dramatically changed. That's because the electorate is super polarized, and voters didn't start being worried about Biden's age on Thursday night. This is a pre-existing condition. The reality is Biden has already locked up the Democratic nomination and has enough pledged delegates to avoid a fight at the convention. So at this point, essentially, the only way Joe Biden isn't the nominee is if Joe Biden decides to step aside, and as we've said, that isn't in his nature.

If he were to drop out, there would be a huge fight among the next generation of Democrats, and it would be an accelerated one. There's no guarantee that any of the names you hear thrown around would have a better chance against Trump, so this is a very challenging position that Democrats have actually been in the entire time against an opponent they see as an existential threat to democracy.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Those are the Democrats. What are Republicans doing?

KEITH: Well, they're consolidating further behind former President Donald Trump. NPR obtained a memo where Trump's top advisers say they plan to streamline and simplify the Republican Party platform. This year's approach will mean fewer specifics, fewer pages and a message built around Trump. You know, they feel like they are winning, and they want to avoid putting anything in the platform that critics can run with. That process, I'm told, will be closed to the press and take place a week before the convention later this month, which is unusual. Typically, cameras are in the room.

MARTÍNEZ: That is NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.