For once, the pundit freakout is justified. Those of us who watched Thursday night’s debate between President Biden and Donald Trump saw an enfeebled, fumble-mouthed incumbent who was utterly unequipped to stand up to the blizzard of lies unleashed by his felonious, insurrection-inciting opponent.

Biden has been an excellent president in many ways, but he needs to announce as soon as possible that he’s ending his campaign for re-election. Ezra Klein laid out a path back in February, and at the time he was widely mocked for it. Now he looks prescient. The president should release his delegates and allow the Democratic National Convention to choose a candidate, who, in turn, will choose a running mate. I like the idea of a Gretchen Whitmer-Cory Booker ticket — or the reverse. But Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Gavin Newsom and others would probably be in the mix as well.

What happened? I honestly thought Biden had put concerns about his age to rest at his State of the Union address. Reading a speech is one thing, but he was mixing it up with the Republicans, ad libbing, obviously enjoying himself. Could things have really changed that much in a few months? Or is he like many people in their 80s who can have a good night or a bad night? We learned that he had a cold, which explains why his voice was so raspy and soft. But that doesn’t explain why he had such trouble forming his thoughts, articulating obvious talking points about issues like abortion rights, and standing up to Trump’s lies with specifics. “We finally beat Medicare” was a line that will stand as one of the defining moments of the evening.

I thought CNN’s moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, were OK. They should have asked Trump right off the bat about democracy and his status as a convicted felon rather than waiting until later on, by which time many viewers had probably changed the channel. They’re taking a lot of grief on social media for not fact-checking Trump, but it’s been reported that the rules were set ahead of time. Of course, telling Trump that no one will be fact-checking him was an act of grotesque irresponsibility. Team Biden should have insisted otherwise, but no doubt they went along with it because Biden really, really wanted this debate.

Biden got stronger as the night wore on. His voice recovered to some degree and he landed a few blows. Rather than the vacant, slack-jawed stare he displayed during the split screen early in the debate, he started to appear more animated and smiled a few times. By then it was too late. And his closing statement, which should have been his easiest task of the night, devolved into complete incoherence.

And let’s pause for a moment and emphasize that Trump turned in the second-worst debate performance by any presidential candidate in the television age, exceeded only by his own COVID-spewing yellfest in the first 2020 debate. He was completely untethered from reality. But he made it work, acting very much like himself, seemingly unaffected by his own advanced age.

Finally, a word about the media, which has been obsessing over Biden’s age for many months. A lot of us have been critical, thinking it was both unwarranted and unfair given that Trump is only three years younger and appears to have plenty of cognitive issues of his own. Trump, though, is loud and talks fast, and in that respect doesn’t seem that much different from when he was running against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now it turns out that the scrutiny of Biden’s age was warranted, and perhaps we should have been paying more attention rather than dismissing it.

Sometime in the next few days, I hope, Democratic Party leaders, including former President Barack Obama, will pay Biden a visit and deliver an uncomfortable message: for the good of the party — for the good of the country — he has to step aside. All along, the calculation has been whether Trump could be more easily defeated by Biden or by someone else. Around 9:10 p.m. on Thursday, that calculation moved firmly to “someone else.”

Authoritarianism is on the march. A neo-fascist party seems likely to win the French election. Italy is ruled by an extreme right-wing government. Putin and Xi are becoming increasingly repressive. Modi has all but extinguished democracy in India. The U.S. can’t join them — and President Biden, a good and decent man, can’t let himself be used to pave the way for autocracy. It’s time for someone new.

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