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Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden participate in their first U.S. presidential campaign debate in Atlanta June 27, 2024. (OSV News photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden participate in their first U.S. presidential campaign debate in Atlanta June 27, 2024. (OSV News photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

After last night’s debate, the Democratic Party will only feed conspiracy-mongering and heighten distrust of the electoral process if it sticks with Joe Biden as its nominee. Keeping Mr. Biden on the ballot is like telling voters: “Trust us. Don’t believe your eyes and ears.”

The Democrats can’t go back to the 19th century. They can’t win the election through snappy slogans or surrogates speechifying on behalf of the president. They need to regain the trust of voters, and not dismiss Americans’ real concerns about Mr. Biden’s age as a creation of the media. Telling voters “Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it” does not show respect for democracy.

As long as there are presidential debates, the major parties should choose nominees who do well in debates. They have become increasingly important in an age when Americans rarely come together to watch or read the same news sources. Maybe this is why presidential debates should be eliminated; there is an absurdity in attaching so much significance to two hours of candidates acting in ways that only confirm people’s worst perceptions about politicians. Separate town halls or “Meet the Press”-type events with each candidate would probably be more illuminating. But it’s too late to change this year. If Mr. Biden continues as the Democratic standard bearer, he can’t refuse to participate in another debate without seeming to confirm that he’s just not up to it.

Media critics often say that the debates would be better with real-time fact-checking by the moderators, but cramming more numbers into the event would just make things worse. What the candidates need to do is wave away their opponents’ factoids and falsehoods (Mr. Biden’s “that’s just malarkey” is usually sufficient when said with conviction) and instead talk about the big picture. Last night’s question about climate change should have prompted Mr. Biden to briefly point out the obvious—that Mr. Trump neither cares about nor understands this global crisis—and then to talk about the recent heat wave affecting most of the United States, describing in broad terms a world that is getting hotter and hotter (and, not incidentally, forcing millions to migrate). Instead, Mr. Biden got mired in a numbers-heavy defense of his record as president, something that most debate watchers simply tune out. It was more evidence that he simply is not nimble enough to engage with voters who are not already committed to him.

In February, the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman lamented how “the hand-wringing over Biden’s age has overshadowed the real stakes in the 2024 election.” He reassured readers, “As anyone who has recently spent time with Biden (and I have) can tell you, he is in full possession of his faculties—completely lucid and with excellent grasp of detail.”

This morning, Mr. Krugman wrote, “I must very reluctantly join the chorus asking Biden to voluntarily step aside.… I fear that we need to recognize reality.”

Another way of saying it would be, “I fear we need to trust the voters.” If the voters have concerns about Mr. Biden’s age, those concerns must be acknowledged and addressed. That’s democracy.

[Read next: Did we just watch the last presidential debate?]

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