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Biden is running out of time to fix his campaign. What happens next will decide things.

Democrats are calling for President Biden to drop out. How will he respond in his first post-debate interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos?

Chris Brennan

Joe Biden has maybe a week to save his political life. He might have even less.

That's high stakes and a short timeline for an 81-year-old one-term president and a two-term vice president who also spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate.

But Biden put himself in this precarious position with his befuddled debate performance last week. We must know – and soon – where he goes next.

This we already know – one decent week on the campaign trail will not magically reset Biden's campaign clock to before the presidential debate.

Consider this a period of rolling political probation, fraught with potential failure as Biden attempts to assure his supporters and undecided voters that he has the physical capacity and mental acuity to remain in the race. If he lasts a week, we'll see if he can keep up that kind of pace for another week.

Biden World seem acutely attuned to the danger, making sure to stock up Biden's public schedule in the next week with more events.

There's no other choice but to get out there and roll the dice. Biden spent the week before the debate bubble wrapped by close advisers and then the week after making only brief, scripted appearances.

Look how well that went for him.

Biden, under intense scrutiny, now faces questions about dropping out

President Joe Biden speaks during a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House on July 03, 2024.

This sort of thing is unthinkable in modern politics, until it becomes thinkable. We have arrived at thinkable. We know that because of how elected Democrats – some high-ranking, some rank-and-file – now speak publicly about Biden's political future.

Consider former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said in an MSNBC interview Tuesday that President Biden and former President Donald Trump should be tested for mental acuity and health.

"I think it's a legitimate question to say, is this an episode or is this a condition," Pelosi, 84, said of Biden's halting debate performance.

Biden and Trump have problems:Debate proved neither Biden nor Trump is a good candidate. But one of them is far worse.

Democratic declarations about Biden are being closely scrutinized as more and more sound open to the idea of his departure from the race.

Rep. James Clyburn, an 83-year-old South Carolina Democrat who co-chairs Biden's campaign, also told MSNBC on Tuesday that he wants Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to remain his party's ticket. Even so, he offered that he would support Harris for president if Biden stepped aside.

Clyburn was a key alley for Biden four years ago after some early presidential campaign stumbles. "You brought me back," Biden told Clyburn on stage after winning the South Carolina primary.

Now he's on television talking about who comes next if Biden gets pushed off the stage. That's how the unthinkable becomes thinkable.

The next week will be vital for saving Biden's campaign

President Joe Biden campaigns at a post-debate rally on June 28, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C.

Biden's first foray into his probationary time will be an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Friday.

The White House on Tuesday added more events to Biden's weekly schedule, including a trip to Wisconsin on Friday and a speech in Philadelphia on Sunday, along with a planned news conference during a NATO summit in Washington, D.C., next week.

Biden's press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, fielded questions Tuesday that swung from medical extremes. Was Biden dulled by cold medicine during the debate? Does he have "Alzheimer’s, any form of dementia, or degenerative illness?"

Her answers to all those questions were a flat no. But here we are.

When asked about members of Congress suggesting that Biden should bow out, Jean-Pierre used the moment to contrast the Democratic Party to the Republican Party under Trump.

"We are going to have our disagreements," she said. "We really respect other people’s opinions and thoughts. I think that’s what makes, you know, this party, different – right? – than the other side." 

Democrats are asking the questions Republicans should have been asking this whole time

Democrats are having a conversation now that Republicans can't face.

Trump, once a pariah to many in his party, has successfully and intentionally fractured the GOP into his fervent MAGA base, reluctant Republicans who go along rather than resist, and Never Trumpers who still decry his influence on the party but have found no way to end it.

SCOTUS decision helps Biden, actually:The Supreme Court just did Biden a huge favor by giving Trump immunity

Trump became his party's presumptive nominee without even showing up to primary debates, mocking would-be challengers like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley from the sidelines. They lost. And then they fell in line behind Trump.

Biden has had rivals. Harris was one of them four years ago. But the closest he has come to a "Never Biden" movement is from progressives who cast protest votes on primary ballots for "undecided" to show their anger about how America is responding to Israeli violence in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks.

We're going to find out soon enough if Biden is still in this race

There are 45 days from Friday until the Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago on Aug. 19.

Biden's second debate with Trump is 67 days away on Sept. 10.

The election is four months away.

In any year, those would be incredibly serious milestones in a campaign. But they don't mean anything for Biden unless he can reset his shaky narrative in the next week – during the ABC News interview, the trips to swing states Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the NATO news conference – and then do it again the following week.

We may know as soon as Monday if Biden gets more time or gets shoved out the door. By this time next week we could be talking about whether Harris steps up to the top spot on the ticket or if the party goes potentially chaotic open-convention route in Chicago to pick a replacement.

That's a lot of pressure for an 81-year-old. But he chose to run for president and then to seek a second term. Now he has to decide if he can still handle the job – and he doesn't have much time left.

Follow USA TODAY elections columnist Chris Brennan on X, formerly known as Twitter: @ByChrisBrennan

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