Top Democratic fundraisers sound the alarm after Biden's debate performance

President Joe Biden delivers remarks during the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. 

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Many of the Democratic Party’s top fundraisers are privately sounding the alarm after President Joe Biden’s disappointing debate performance Thursday against Republican former President Donald Trump.

“Disaster,” said a Biden donor who plans to attend a fundraiser with the president on Saturday in the Hamptons.

“This is terrible. Worse than I thought was possible. Everyone I’m speaking with thinks Biden should drop out,” said the person, who was granted anonymity in order to recount private conversations.

CNBC began hearing from worried Democratic campaign donors and fundraisers less than 20 minutes into the 90-minute debate hosted by CNN.

Game over,” said a longtime Democratic campaign advisor, who has been raising money for congressional leaders for over a decade and helped raise money for Biden’s 2020 White House bid.

“Biden’s got to leave. He’s got to get out now and if he doesn’t get out we’re going to get f—— crushed,” said the advisor. They told CNBC they planned to approach Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison on Friday to discuss what happened at the debate.

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An advisor of one of the Democratic Party’s top megadonors called the debate an “absolute train wreck” for Biden. “Worse than [Ronald] Reagan in ’84 or [George W.] Bush in ’04 or [Barack] Obama in ’12,” they added.

The problems for Biden at the debate started early. He stumbled out of the gate, appearing to lose his train of thought at times and pausing for a long moment before CNN moderators cut him off when he was discussing U.S. health care.

“Making sure that we’re able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the, with the Covid, excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to do with, look …” Biden said, trailing off.

“Look, if, we’ve finally beat Medicare,” Biden said, before CNN anchor and moderator Jack Tapper gently moved on. “Thank you, President Biden,” said Tapper.

Several times later in the debate, the president repeated himself, or left several seconds of silence mid-answer. Throughout the evening, Biden’s voice was raspy and quiet.

Biden’s campaign co-chair Mitch Landrieu told NBC News this was because the president had a cold. “I think because of the way people analyze debates, it’s going to be at first about the physical performance,” said Landrieu.

Even Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged that Biden was not in top form. “Yes, it was a slow start, but it was a strong finish,” she said on CNN late Thursday.

For example, answering a question about border security — a top voter issue this election cycle — Biden’s sentence was grammatically difficult to follow.

“I’m going to continue to move until we get the total ban on the total initiative relative to what we’re going to do with more Border Patrol and more asylum officers,” Biden said.

Trump pounced on the stumbles. “I don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said, either,” the former president quipped.

Representatives for the Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Replacing Biden on the ticket now would be extremely difficult, with less than two months until the Democratic National Convention in August. The president would effectively have to drop out of the race, leaving the decision about a nominee up to the delegates at the convention.

“It was a really disappointing debate performance from Joe Biden, I don’t think there’s any other way to slice it,” Kate Bedingfield, former White House communications director in the Biden administration until 2023, said on CNN.

“His biggest issue was to prove to the American people that he had the energy, the stamina — and he didn’t do that,” she said.

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