Friday, June 28, 2024

It’s Friday, June 28, 2024.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Human and Political Tragedy: President Joe Biden’s Calamitous Performance in the First Presidential Debate Last Night

Well, what took place last night was announced as a debate, it turned out to be a debacle. In terms of American presidential history, this is going to be one of those dates that will be long, if not forever remembered in terms of the endurance of the American Republic. When you look at the American political system, what happened last night was a seismic shift, and what makes it all the more seismic is the understanding that over time, the impact is likely only to grow. It’s virtually impossible that people wake up on Friday morning, and say, “No, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was.”

I’m talking here in particular about the debate performance of the incumbent President of the United States. For the entire time span from beginning to end, and it seemed like there was a lot of time in the middle, it was a debacle. It was a disaster for the incumbent President of the United States, Joe Biden. Now, there are many ways Christians need to look at this. For one thing, yes, there were very questionable things said by the challenger, former president Donald Trump, but the most important thing to see in the performance of Donald Trump is that he showed up exactly as Donald Trump. He showed up in terms of the substance, in terms of the tone, pretty much like Donald Trump has showed up in similar context in 2016 and in 2020. If anything, as this candidate, showing up in this context, Donald Trump was more restrained than many times in the past in a similar context.

We’ll talk more about the debating points made. We’ll talk more about the positions taken, but the history that was made last night wasn’t made on the side of Donald Trump. It was made on the side of Joe Biden. Now, I want to speak to this for a moment, not just as an observer of this historical occasion, but I want to speak as a Christian observing what has to be described as a human tragedy. I don’t think many people are going to talk in these terms, but watching what took place last night, you have to feel for Joe Biden in a very real human sense. You have to feel for the Biden family, Jill Biden his wife. As much as I do not want Joe Biden to be President of the United States, at the same time, I have to say as a human being watching what took place on that stage last night, you just have to feel badly for another human being who is going to suffer greatly because of the performance last night. And who’s going to have to live with this.

I think in the verdict of history, that’s the hardest part of this and will be the hardest part for Joe Biden and those who love him. This is a very, very sad way to make presidential history. But then we also have to think in different terms, because we can’t bracket the political positions and the political impact of Joe Biden as much as we see a human tragedy there on the stage. We understand that it would be an additional tragedy were Joe Biden to be reelected as President of the United States, given his positions on the issues. For instance, just to take one issue, the issue of abortion, which he articulated so clearly in terms of the effect, the bottom line, if he wasn’t so clear in his articulation of his actual position.

But looking at this, we recognize that the performance last night on the part of Joe Biden, was absolutely historic, precisely because there were so many credible fears that something would go wrong, that Joe Biden would lose his pace, that he would lose his way, that he would lose his words, lose his argument, but he lost a lot more than that. Even as the event began last night, it was clear that the man who appeared on the stage in Atlanta last night was not the same man who ran for president in 2020, much less the man who has been on the American political scene controversially enough for the past several decades. The impact of watching the event last night led, for instance, in conversation on Twitter to some very credible political authority saying, “We are now veering out of election 2024 questions into Article 25 questions,” speaking about the US Constitution and its provision for the removal of an incapacitated president.

That was clearly an overreach last night, but it is not an overreach in the larger historical context. What we were looking at last night is something that has generally fallen into a different pattern in American presidential politics. A little bit of history here, the first big famous political debate in the United States was 1858. It was known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates. It was actually several different debates held in Illinois towns as you had Lincoln and Douglas, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, running against one another for the Senate, the United States Senate. Just a matter of a short time later, Abraham Lincoln is running for President of the United States, but the Lincoln-Douglas debates were not of presidential candidates, at least they weren’t yet presidential candidates.

But what made those debates so famous is the fact that even though it was just a senatorial election in one state, that being the state of Illinois, the political advances that were made in the context of that debate meant that you had major national newspapers all over the country covering this Illinois Senate debate. As you know, those debates are now rather central to American political history. But in American presidential politics, it didn’t factor in until 1960 when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy ran against one another. What’s important to recognize is that in 1960, the race changed because of the debate. This was even more evident in the aftermath of the debate than it was at the time, but what was the game changer was that Richard Nixon looked rather old, and John F. Kennedy looked very youthful.

You had one who understood television, that was Kennedy, and one who clearly did not, and that was Nixon. That turned out to be a game changer, because Richard Nixon was incredibly better known than John F. Kennedy, but that didn’t end up being the decisive issue. There wasn’t another presidential debate until 1976, so 16 years later, with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford, in one sense, lost the presidency at that point simply by declaring wrongly that there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, but that was patently false, and it was so injurious to Gerald Ford because you had the incumbent President of the United States who seems to be confused over such a basic issue. You could fast-forward through every four years, the debate cycle thereafter, and there were some interesting moments.

But then you get to 2024, and you realize we’re in a different territory altogether. This first debate, many speculated, had something to do with the fact that the Democrats wanted to find out how Joe Biden would perform in this context before their national convention, and that raises a whole new set of issues, because the biggest discussion in the aftermath of the debate last night was not anything that either the candidates actually said. The big debate about the debate was about whether or not the Democrats would work furiously to remove Joe Biden as their nominee. But as one presidential historian pointed out last night, that would be unprecedented in American presidential history. Nothing like that will have happened before. But then again, let’s be honest, nothing like that debate has ever happened in American political history before.

We had the two oldest candidates running for President of the United States ever to share a stage last night, and quite frankly, it wasn’t a fantastic performance for either of them. But when it comes to Donald Trump right now, that really doesn’t matter. What matters is on the side of Joe Biden precisely because it wasn’t so much that he said anything in particular. There were things he said that were quite of concern on their own. It was instead how he appeared to be functioning there on the stage, or in this case, malfunctioning on the stage. Now, in order to understand why all this came together in that event, just understand that in American presidential politics right now, presidential debates stand in as unique events, not so much because there is the clean and honest transmission of agreements and disagreements.

That is not why people watch these debates. That’s not something that never happens in the debate, but let’s just face it, it’s rather rare, particularly because what has been taking place in recent American presidential debates is not at all a classic debate at all. It is something of a timed exchange, moderated, and by the way, last night, moderated, I would have to say, rather well by CNN figures. It basically comes down to a test as to whether or not the candidates can present competence as they can articulate their positions, as they convey a basic ability, and also demonstrate some of their character and perhaps even charisma. The big question is, is this individual presidential? That goes back to the 1960 debate. That was the huge game changer in 1960 with Nixon versus Kennedy.

It turned out that very few people remembered anything either of the candidates had said. The debate itself was not well remembered for any policy exchange or disagreement. It was notable for the fact that John F. Kennedy looked very presidential in the eyes of many Americans, Richard Nixon less so. First time there was a televised debate. First time anyone could look presidential in a debate. The big question last night when you had an unprecedented meeting of a former President of the United States debating the incumbent President of the United States, the question is which of them would appear to be more presidential? Now, in one sense, neither of them in classical American political tradition appeared to be very presidential.

But when it came to Joe Biden, the big issue was that he didn’t seem to pass a basic competence test, a basic cognitive test. As he began last night, I think most Americans were absolutely shocked by how poorly he sounded not only in his haltering voice, but how poorly he sounded in terms of his basic ability to reason. That was just the beginning of what I can only describe as a debacle last night for Joe Biden. The expectation game is one that’s played out before the debate takes place, during the debate, and then after the debate. Before the debate, the expectation game is how well do we think this person’s going to do? Donald Trump hasn’t been in this kind of debate in several years. Neither, by the way, has Joe Biden.

The pattern has often been that incumbent presidents do not do particularly well in the first debate of an effort to be reelected. So, that would mean people were expecting Joe Biden may be a bit rusty at this, and the reason for that is quite simple. When you are the incumbent President of the United States, just about everyone looks at you and nods and says, “Right, Mr. President, you get rather rusty in having to make arguments the way that a candidate has to make in this kind of debate.” But nonetheless, what took place last night was not the traditional pattern of an incumbent president doing a bit poorly in the first debate. This was a complete wipeout. This was a complete disaster, and it would’ve been a disaster if Joe Biden had been the only person on the stage.

Part II

‘Aggressive Panic’: Democrats Respond to President Biden’s Debate Performance — The Democrats are in Major (And Complicated) Crisis

Now, just minutes into the debate, there was chatter among Democrats in particular, also the media class, as to the fact that there were Democrats in open panic. I think the most interesting phrase that was used over and over again last night was “aggressive panic.” I think that communicates “aggressive panic.” Both of those words turn out to be important in this case. By 30 minutes into the debate, you had major Democrats, and others, who were raising the question as to whether or not Joe Biden could survive the campaign or even just the debate itself last night, and what options the Democrats had to remove him. Last night on CNN after the debate, and remember, CNN hosted the debate, the roundtable began with John King, veteran CNN political commentator making the opening comment.

To his credit, he didn’t beat around the bush. He got directly to the point that the Democratic Party in the 2024 presidential election cycle, is in a very deep crisis. He spoke very candidly of how poorly the President had performed, and quite frankly, what panic, I’ll use this phrase that they used last night, again, “aggressive panic” was setting in among Democrats. Now, here’s where you need a little bit of political history to know how complicated this might get, because on the Democratic and Republican Party side, you don’t have the same rules when it comes to the nomination process. On the Democratic side, it’s been far more controversial over the years, because in 1968, Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic nominee, and he did so without having to win a sufficient number of primaries.

Basically, you had delegates at the Democratic Convention in 1968 who were so powerful, they were able basically to run the party like a political machine. The left in the Democratic Party fought that, and with a youth revolution in the party at that time in the 1960s, they forced massive reforms and a new set of party rules under the leadership, by the way, of Senator George McGovern, who coincidentally would become the next democratic presidential nominee, by the way, completely wiped out by Richard Nixon in the 1972 election. McGovern was one of the most liberal figures ever to be nominated in American political politics, that did not go well. The bottom line is that there would be a debate among Democrats as to how they could move forward if Joe Biden is not their nominee in 2024.

So, the easiest thing, clearly for the Democrats, would be for Joe Biden to resign to withdraw from the race, but that would’ve been a lot cleaner before he won the nomination process and the majority of the delegates. It would appear that a lot of the delegates that would be going to the Democratic Convention could be unpledged if indeed he withdraws from the race. But again, many questions abound. Yet, the biggest political question honestly is not whether Joe Biden can withdraw from the race. Almost assuredly he can. The bigger question is “will he?” Because he has given no indication thus far. Quite honestly, I don’t think anyone believes that what took place last night has not taken place before. That is to say, not in front of national television cameras with a massive television audience, but there can be little question that Joe Biden has been appearing much as he appeared last night, but it has been explained away by insiders at the White House who said that’s not representative of how he really is with the people who are with him.

Last night, they couldn’t hide it. So, that’s one side of it. The other side of it is what in the world do the Democrats do other than replace Joe Biden if he does withdraw and if he is replaced with the current Vice President of the United States holding the second place in the 2020 Democratic ticket, and that will be Kamala Harris, the incumbent Vice President of the United States. It is very hard to imagine given the political and ideological of the Democratic Party. It’s hard to believe how in the world they could pass over the person who would naturally be their first black woman, black female presidential nominee, and thus making history. There are huge questions as to whether Kamala Harris is electable, but that’s a very different question than whether she could be the nominee. So, we really are looking at uncharted territory, but we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves, because as of when I’m speaking to you right now, Joe Biden is still slated to be the Democratic nominee.

But that just means that we are entering into one of the most interesting weekends in American political history. As you look at the period of time from tomorrow until, say, Monday morning, you know good and well, there are going to be more political conversations where they matter, particularly among the Democrats than has been true perhaps in any other weekend in American political and presidential history. You know good and well, there are going to be lawyers pouring over every part of the rules and the bylaws. There are going to be political strategists trying to work things out. There are going to be people doing all kinds of calculations, and next week is going to be an incredibly interesting week.

So with all that being said, I just want to remind us that from a Christian worldview perspective, leadership is a human endeavor, and that means that leadership has many different dimensions, but one of them is just the basic ability of the human being to function in this particular role. So, that’s just realism, and that’s central to a biblical understanding. I think this is the book of Ecclesiastes being played out right before our eyes in times and in seasons. At the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, there is an incredible chapter about aging, and I must admit, I thought of it at several points during the debate last night, particularly as related to President Biden.

Part III

Both Candidates Failed on Abortion, But They Didn’t Fail Evenly — Joe Biden and Donald Trump Reveal Our Challenge in Defense of Life

But we as Christians also have to understand that that debate last night did concern some very serious issues, and so I do not want to let this pass without some attention to those issues and in particular, first rank among them, the issue of abortion. I want to say that on this score, both candidates disappointed me. I think both candidates came short of a biblical Christian understanding of abortion. That’s not to say they did so equally. When it comes to Joe Biden last night, even though he appeared to lose his argument and lose his way, you had Joe Biden declare something very interesting, and it was very subtle. I want us to pay attention to what he said. He said that it is his goal, and he was answering Donald Trump who said that he would, that is Biden would support abortion all the way up until the point of birth. He came back and said, “No, that’s not true. I support the legislation of Roe v. Wade. That is making the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 the law of the land,” but I want us to note what Joe Biden didn’t say last night.

He did not say he would veto a far more liberal bill that would, as advocated by the center of the Democratic Party, go far beyond Roe v. Wade. So, last night, it was interesting to hear Joe Biden. He mangled his argument, but he was trying to talk about the three trimester system of the Roe decision from 1973. He was trying to say, “That’s what I want to go back to,” but he did not say that he would not sign a bill that goes further than that. I think it’s because we understand that he’s playing a game. It’s the same game he’s been playing for a matter of years now where he says that he’s personally opposed to abortion, but he really doesn’t even say that anymore. That was really before 2020, but that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.

I think it’s virtually certain that President Biden, if he is reelected, and frankly any Democrat who is elected, would indeed sign radically liberal abortion legislation. When it came to former President Trump last night on abortion, he said three interesting things, and all three of them disappointed in one sense. He said that you have to get elected. In other words, it was an extremely pragmatic statement as if he might hold to a more conservative position, but that’s just not politically plausible right now. He went on also to cite President Reagan saying that he supported exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Then he went further, and he said that he would not support national legislation on abortion, that he thought the issue should remain at the states.

I guess the other morally and constitutionally significant thing that Donald Trump said about abortion last night is that he was glad the Supreme Court with his three nominees had struck down Roe v. Wade. He said too much when he said that all constitutional authorities wanted the question returned to the states. Unfortunately, that’s not true, but it is at least notable that Donald Trump did not run from the Dobbs decision of 2022, and he didn’t run from his three nominees. It’s also true that his position on abortion is still remarkably more pro-life in its effect, than Joe Biden’s would be, but it is a disappointment. It is a retreat on the part of President Trump from where he was when he ran for office in 2016, and I think it’s a retreat even from where he left office in 2020. So, that’s a disappointment.

Other issues that came up last night just in the midst of the debate, trying to look at it objectively, I would say the strongest arguments that Donald Trump had against Joe Biden had to do with the lack of control and out of control border and massive numbers, even millions, of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. I think he was very clear about that. I also thought he was very clear in indicting the President on our disastrous withdrawal of the military from Afghanistan. That was very powerful. I thought that President Biden rather successfully enticed the former president into talking about January the sixth. That was near the close of the debate. It looked like the former president was going to get past talking about that issue, but he did return to it. So, at least a lot of what took place last night in terms of the content was pretty much what you would have expected.

I don’t think anybody was shocked last night in terms of a position articulated by either the candidates, nor do I think anyone was fundamentally surprised last night by the demeanor of the candidates in terms of a political demeanor. It takes us back to where we began, and that is that the reason last night’s debate is going to make political history is not because really of anything that the candidates discussed. It wasn’t any answer that they did or didn’t give. That would be a debate about the debate, in another time. Last night, it was the question at the end of the night, as to whether or not the Democratic Party would seek to remove Joe Biden as its nominee, and nominate for the 2024 election someone else.

I just need to say right up front that that has never happened in American presidential history. So, even as we consider what took place there in Atlanta last night, presidential history was made, but it is also humbling for us to recognize that we do not know exactly where we go from here. In one sense, the question is, “Where does Joe Biden go from here? Where does the Biden family go from here?” Then where does the Democratic Party go from here? That’s a very convoluted and complex question. It’s one that could eventually work its way out even into fights in the courts, not to mention fights on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.

Part IV

Credibility in Leadership and on Abortion: Americans Face Two Huge Issues in the Aftermath of Last Night’s Presidential Debate

So, bringing this to a close, and it’s hard to close this particular edition of The Briefing because the issue is now so open, and it’s rather humbling to have to come to the end of a conversation like this, and recognize this is an open question, but there are certain things I thought needed to be said, certain thoughts that Christians, I believe, can rightly order on this issue. I want to come down to two.

One of them has to do with the huge question of credibility and leadership, because that is the biggest question that came out of this debate. It’s going to come right down to hourly politics, particularly on the side of the Democratic Party. But the second thing I want to point out is very sobering, and for Christians, I think it’s something that we ought to think about even as we pray for our nation.

Is it not telling that in the first big presidential debate of the year 2024, the most controversial exchange in the entire debate, in truth, was really over the issue of abortion? Does it not tell us something that our country, which of course was shocked into realism in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court legalizing abortion? Americans then had to be shocked and educated into the reality of what abortion is, and we now have such a morally divided country, and as a Christian, I would have to say such a morally corrupt and morally-confused country that we are still discussing the issue of abortion as a front rank, perhaps for the Democrats, the front rank political issue of their concern. That just tells us, once again, the scale of the task that lies before us as Christians, particularly as Christian citizens here in the United States of America.

As of last night, in terms of American presidential politics, we are headed into uncharted territory. As for Christians, we’re going to have to think even more carefully in order to think faithfully and biblically.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

On this day, I want to say thank you for listening to The Briefing during the 2023-2024 season, which comes to an end today. We’ll be back with the 2024-2025 new season of The Briefing on August the 1st, just a matter of a few short weeks ahead. During that time, I hope that you and your family will be greatly blessed during this summer season, and there will be plenty for us to think about, and plenty for us to talk about.

As I’m thanking you for listening, I also want to thank Graham Faulkner, my producer, and Nick Mottola, the engineer, for excellent service during this year. Couldn’t do it without them. You should continue to check my website at for periodic updates. If there are any special additions, we’ll let you know pretty loudly on social media. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again on Thursday, August the 1st, 2024 for The Briefing.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

On this day, I want to say thank you for listening to The Briefing during the 2023-2024 season, which comes to an end today. We’ll be back with the 2024-2025 new season of The Briefing on August the 1st, just a matter of a few short weeks ahead. During that time, I hope that you and your family will be greatly blessed during this summer season, and there will be plenty for us to think about, and plenty for us to talk about.

As I’m thanking you for listening, I also want to thank Graham Faulkner, my producer, and Nick Mottola, the engineer, for excellent service during this year. Couldn’t do it without them. You should continue to check my website at for periodic updates. If there are any special additions, we’ll let you know pretty loudly on social media. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again on Thursday, August the 1st, 2024 for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

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