29 Jun 2024

‘Is [Biden] the best Democrat to take on Trump? I don’t think so’ says political consultant Frank Luntz

News Correspondent

We spoke to the American pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz, who in the past has worked for Republican politicians,  and began by asking how people are feeling this weekend after the presidential debate.

Frank Luntz: 51 million Americans are engaged this weekend in conversation about what they saw on Thursday night, and a whole lot of people are very unhappy. We have a clear winner. Most polling shows two thirds to 70% felt Trump won the debate. But that’s not what’s important. We did a focus group of undecided voters – 12 of the 14 of them swung to Trump, only one went to Joe Biden. But even that’s not important. You now have a significant percentage of Americans, including supporters of the current president, who believe that he is not capable of being president for the next four years, let alone the next four months.

Ayshah Tull:  We saw senior Democrats, though, we saw Harris straight after the debate, acknowledging that he didn’t have a great start. But ‘it’s ok on the facts, it’s okay on the policy, on what he is doing and the actions that he’s taking’. We saw that with Obama and Clinton as well. So senior Democrats are rallying round.

Frank Luntz: It really doesn’t matter what the elite says, because the other 99% are the ones who are going to make up the difference. Among undecided voters, they were shocked and some of them really disappointed with what they saw. I emphasise to your British viewers, this is Joe Biden’s choice. This debate was Joe Biden’s effort. It was his strategy. And Trump agreed to it. It was Biden’s effort to say, ‘hey guys, I’m okay, I’m all right, I’m ready to lead for four more years.’ He proved exactly the opposite. I’m very sympathetic to his situation. I don’t like it when Republicans make fun of him. But you can’t get away from the fact that he had trouble completing sentences. He had trouble completing thoughts. There was no autocue. There was no teleprompter. There was no one there to whisper in his ear. And it was far from an even, acceptable performance.

Ayshah Tull: When he did speak the next day, though, among his supporters, he acknowledged that might not have gone well. But he also said ‘I am the right person’. He doubled down, saying that he is probably the only person that can beat Trump. Did that not give voters a sense of hope after what he acknowledged was not the greatest debate performance.?

Frank Luntz:  I saw that speech. He was outstanding. But there will only be a few million people who saw that speech. There were 50 million people who saw the debate. There’s only a few million people that are really paying attention to the election. Most are casual observers, but you couldn’t get away from the op-eds and the newspapers and the commentary on all the networks, including those that support the Democrats, that not only was it a subpar performance, it bordered on frightening.

Ayshah Tull: Critics have said it is only the New York Times that have come out and done this. But I do wonder, in your opinion, you’ve been in politics for a long time, what do you think is going to happen come November? Who will win?

Frank Luntz:  At this point I say so publicly, and it’s a very dangerous prediction because things are so close, but if things stay as they are right now, Donald Trump is the next president. This is something that the Biden campaign and Joe Biden himself have to consider. I know he believes it, but is he truly the best Democrat to take on Donald Trump? I don’t think so. The American people don’t think so. We are in uncharted territory right now, and we really don’t know where we’re headed, even through the weekend, we don’t know where we’re headed.

Ayshah Tull:  Just finally, how do you feel about Donald Trump being your next president? Potentially.

Frank Luntz:  I do not want to answer that question. I have serious doubts about both candidates. But I’m a pollster and my job is to read public opinion, not to try to influence it. I will tell you that every time that Donald Trump spoke during that debate, just about every time, respondents in my focus group didn’t like what they heard. They did not like his meanness. They did not like his attacks. They did not like his asides. Trump as a person is not popular among the undecided. But there’s a difference between being unpopular and being capable of leading. What they saw in Joe Biden was the incapability of four more years as president. So it was not a great night for Donald Trump. It was a horrible night for Joe Biden. And frankly, I don’t think it was a good night for America either.