American presidential debates in the modern era have a storied history — and an equally storied history of gaffes and fumbles that turned the course of a campaign.

It is a commonplace thought that then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s subpar performance versus then-Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1960 led, in part (Democratic vote fraud was also involved), to his defeat.

President Gerald Ford’s bizarre insistence, in a 1976 debate with former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, that the Soviets did not dominate Eastern Europe, helped sink his candidacy.

President Jimmy Carter’s folding against former California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s debate critiques in 1980 turned the tide for the challenger’s election.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale’s 1984 debate announcement that he would raise taxes ended his own prospects.

We could go on: Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis’s inability to emote in 1988; President George H.W. Bush checking his watch in 1992; Vice President Al Gore’s self-defeating colorlessness in 2000, and so on. Debates are rich in opportunity and fraught with existential danger for candidates, and that is why we have such an extensive catalog of candidacy-ending episodes within them across the past three generations.

None of them — not one — comes even close to the disaster endured by President Joe Biden on the evening of Thursday, June 27th.

Endured is perhaps the wrong word, as it suggests an outside phenomenon inflicted upon a victim. Chosen is more apt, because the historically early debate was a positive choice made by the Biden campaign. They proposed it, and challenger President Donald J. Trump accepted it. They wanted it — and they got it.

What they got was what all of America saw that evening: a doddering, soft-spoken, confused, and senescent man, unfit for the task at hand — to say nothing of the task of the presidency. From the opening, the president was perplexed at best and belligerently baffled at worst, descending alternately into malapropism, non sequitur and incoherence.

He was, in other words, exactly who Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Hur said he was in his report several months back–in which he described the president as unfit to withstand prosecution.

Hur then was subjected to a barrage of abuse and invective from regime media and officeholders, all of whom insisted that Biden was perfectly sharp, perfectly capable, and perfectly sound. Hur now is owed an apology which he will not get.

All America has seen it, and they know: their president is simply not there.

This raises two questions, both of them urgent for every American, who after all have the right to self-governance. The first question is who did this to the president, who by all rights should be well offstage at this point in his physical and mental decline.

The unfortunate probability is that there are plenty of people at high levels on the left who know that Biden is unfit — but they are divided on a possible successor. They know full well that Vice President Kamala Harris, who is in full command of her faculties, is still less competent (and less popular) than Joe Biden in senility.

They also know that she will not step aside out of any sense of stewardship, and they are ideologically unable to openly oppose someone who checks the “intersectional” boxes she does. So, in a nice irony, they stay with the elderly white male. The inexorable processes of ballot qualifications and nominations also mean that with every passing day, it is sink or swim for the Democrats with Joe.

The other question raised is who, exactly, is running the executive branch of the federal government right now. It sure isn’t the elected president of the United States. So, who is in charge? Who is making decisions? It is such a basic and compelling question that if we had a media, it might ask.

It is a real mask-off moment for the regime, which has propelled itself forward on the force of increasingly implausible narratives on nearly every topic. Now its central fiction is exposed — that the figurehead actually rules — and there is a sense that if this can be false, then so is everything else. That sense is correct, and there will be consequences to come.

Of course, the historic collapse of the Biden campaign in this debate is not solely a function of the candidate’s incompetence. There is also the other candidate — the once and increasingly likely the future President Donald J. Trump, who was coherent where his opponent was unclear, and deft and fluid where his opponent was entrapped in his own plodding thoughts.

Trump could have won the debate by simply allowing Biden to defeat himself, but he went a step beyond that, displaying a command of narrative and a quick gift for repartee that provided a clear alternative to the incumbent.

The instant reactions to the debate, across the networks, attested to his success in this vein: Nearly everywhere you looked, confidence in Trump went up and in Biden went down. CNN’s own instant poll showed debate watchers more confident in Trump’s ability to handle the presidency than in Biden’s at a margin of over two to one.

Also attesting to Trump’s success: the now-open panic in leftist media and political circles. They know what they have, and they know what’s coming. But, like the Biden campaign choosing this debate, they wanted this — and they are going to get it.

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