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'I would tell Biden to hang in there,' former DNC Chairman Howard Dean says


President Biden's debate performance last week rattled his supporters and ramped up calls for the 81-year-old to leave the top of the Democratic ticket. First Lady Jill Biden is among those saying the president will not step aside. And at a campaign rally in North Carolina Friday, Biden seemed to be making the case for why, despite the poor showing, he should stay the course.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't walk as easy as I used to. I don't speak as smoothly as I used to. I don't debate as well as I used to, but I know what I do know - I know how to tell the truth.


MARTIN: Biden was talking about the many false statements that Trump made during the debate but that President Biden did not meaningfully challenge at the time. So what's the state of things Monday morning? We called Howard Dean to get his take. He is a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, a former governor of Vermont and a former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination himself in 2004. Good morning, Governor.

HOWARD DEAN: Good morning.

MARTIN: All right, so let's just say what everybody's saying - it is up to President Biden, but if he were to ask your opinion, what would you tell him?

DEAN: I don't know what I'd tell him. I'd say I think I'd hang in there. It would be incredibly ugly to try to change nominees now. There'd be several contenders. It would be a wild convention. Look. Biden has done a terrific job running the country for the last four years. He's running against, basically, a guy who's cheated his business partners. He's cheated the American people. And he's cheated on his wife. And he's a convicted felon. I mean, this is a bit of a no-brainer, so I think one bad night in a political campaign does not make a loser, and I think Biden can win, and I think he will win.

MARTIN: Is your argument based on the fact that you don't think there's enough time or that you think that Biden can restore the voters' confidence that he is up to another four years?

DEAN: Oh, I absolutely think he can restore the voters' confidence. Look - here's the irony of this incredible polarized country that we live in. Biden has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in states that are not going to vote for him, but that had to happen. Ohio - new plants in Ohio, semiconductor stuff, battery plants - this is all Biden's doing. Trump did nothing except accelerate the budget deficit - because he cut taxes for rich people and never paid for them - and then run around the country enriching himself by making people who wanted to talk to him stay in his hotel the night before. This is ridiculous.

MARTIN: OK, but even if that's the case, does that speak to the next four years? I think the question here is, can voters be confident that Biden can do another four years?

DEAN: Yes, and I'll tell you why. The truth of the matter is, first of all, I don't think Biden's in any worse shape than Reagan was his last couple of years. In fact, I think he's in quite a bit better shape. Second of all, both of them, whether you like - obviously, I didn't like Reagan's politics, but he had a very good team around him who knew what they were doing. Joe Biden has a very good team around him who knows what they're doing. They've done a great job running the country - created jobs in an unprecedented way, tried to redo the disaster that Trump has been on foreign policy. And that team is going to stay intact. And I think Biden is smart. I think he said it himself in North Carolina - he's not as quick as he used to be, but he can still run the country a whole lot better than a convicted felon.

MARTIN: And where is Vice President Harris in all this?

DEAN: Well, that's a good question. It's always impossible to tell how a vice president is doing. It seems to me that she's grown greatly in the job. Now, this is a person I really don't know, but from the outside, I would say she's grown a lot in the job. She's obviously very bright, and, you know, she's certainly not going to have a hand in deposing the president of the United States.

MARTIN: Do you - would you advise President Biden to keep to his commitment to meet Trump again for a second debate, scheduled in September, given how this one went?

DEAN: I don't know that yet because, you know, Trump doesn't have commitments. I mean, Trump's performance in the debate was a disgrace. He lied multiple times. He didn't answer any questions. He made up stuff. He took credit for stuff that Biden had done. So leaving aside Biden's lapses, I'm not sure debating Trump is a winning proposition...

MARTIN: Well...

DEAN: ...In any case.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, you know, a number of Republicans - establishment Republicans like former Congressman Adam Kinzinger, former members of Trump's cabinet, in fact, or people who worked for him - have endorsed Biden over Trump. Do you think that this debate performance weakens their resolve?

DEAN: Yeah, I don't - I think, look - 10 days from now, we're going to be talking about something else. The attention of the media, the attention of the American people is short, and so I think we ought to let the campaign work its way through. We have a much better candidate, under any circumstances, than the right-wing Republicans do, and there are a lot of problems to be dealt with, and Biden's got 50 years of how to deal with problems in Washington, D.C, which is what I consider to be middle school on steroids. It's a whole different world than most of us are used to. And Biden knows that world, and Trump doesn't have any idea what he's doing.

MARTIN: So, well, let's just talk a little bit more for a couple more minutes, if you have sort of time.

DEAN: Yep.

MARTIN: You've had a bad campaign moment. People remember - you know, if they remember that you had a bad campaign moment - that precipitated - I don't know if it directed your decision to end your run. In 2024, Biden likes to talk about his ability to bounce back after getting knocked down. What would you recommend as steps to bounce back?

DEAN: My bad campaign moment had nothing to do with why I dropped out of the campaign. That was after the fact. My bad campaign moment is I was leading the polls in Iowa and I came in third, having been out-organized by John Kerry and John Edwards. So, you know, bouncing back from the scream speech was never going to be an issue. The problem was I came in third.

MARTIN: OK, but just based on your experience of kind of knowing what it's like to be in the thick of it and having people around you panic and knowing that you're having a bad day, what do you say he should do to bounce back? People are giving him all kinds of free advice.

DEAN: I think he should put his head down, keep doing what he's doing and make sure he has enough sleep. I do think we can probably fault the debate preppers a little bit, and I don't know if it's a good idea to have another debate at all 'cause what's it going to prove? You're in there against some guy who's slinging BS like nobody can sling BS. It's not really a debate. It's a show. So I'm not sure I'd do the second debate, but I see no reason for Biden to drop out. He's an experienced - he's done great, great things for this country, and if the right-wing Republican majority in the House hadn't pulled the immigration bill, we'd be far ahead there.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, how's he doing where you live?

DEAN: Oh, this is Vermont. This is Trump - this is the state that gave Trump the lowest percentage of any state in the country, including Hawaii.

MARTIN: OK. That is a former Democrat National Committee chair, Howard Dean. Governor Dean, thank you so much for joining us.

DEAN: You're very 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.