Biden is facing pressure to drop out. Trump isn't joining in.

Former President Donald Trump is not known for restrained commentary about his political opponents’ weaknesses.

But after a debate in which a number of Democrats felt President Joe Biden’s performance was so uneven and concerning that he should consider getting out of the presidential contest just weeks before the Democratic National Convention, Trump is holding back from the full pile-on.

Speaking at a rally in Virginia on Friday, Trump said his complaints about Biden have nothing to do with his age, that the president overprepared for the faceoff, and that at the end of the day Biden was likely the toughest competitor he would get.

“He studied so hard that he didn’t know what the hell he was doing,” Trump, 78, said of his 81-year-old rival, adding: “It’s not his age, it’s his competence.”

Trump added that he doesn’t believe Democrats would ditch Biden “because he does better in polls than any of the Democrats they talk about,” pointing to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Vice President Kamala Harris and “some of the others.”

“It’s hard to believe, but Crooked Joe Biden polls better than those people,” he said.

It’s a departure from Trump’s rhetoric, and that of his allies, from as recently as a few weeks ago, when Trump told WABC 770 AM that he doubts Biden “will even be running, frankly. I just can’t even imagine it.”

For months, Republicans have floated the idea that Biden, already the oldest president in the nation’s history, would not ultimately be on the ballot this fall, spreading a conspiracy theory that Democrats were working to replace him late in the campaign with Newsom or former first lady Michelle Obama.

But after Biden’s performance on Thursday, Trump and his campaign advisers have quickly sought to fend off suggestions that the president may not be their opponent this fall.

“Biden’s not going anywhere,” Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump campaign adviser, told NBC News after the debate. “The only way Joe Biden is dumped off the ticket is if he voluntarily decides he’s not going to do it, and he’s not going to make that decision.”

Clearly, political considerations are at hand: The Trump team sees Biden now as indisputably the candidate they most want to face, particularly as Democratic angst over Biden’s strength spills over into public.

“Democrats are in absolute disarray,” Trump adviser Brian Hughes told NBC News after the debate in Atlanta. “They fear that they might have made a terrible mistake. I hope that no one lets them off the hook. If they think they can just walk away from Joe Biden, it would be a level of dishonesty that they should be called out on.”

Within 24 hours of the Thursday debate, congressional Democrats and potential 2028 presidential contenders, including Govs. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Newsom, along with Harris, have all stood by Biden, as has former President Barack Obama. But others were quick to suggest Biden’s performance necessitated him standing down or at least called for a serious discussion about alternatives.

Ultimately, any decision about stepping aside at this point would have to be made by Biden. And he gave every indication at a North Carolina rally on Friday that he’s charging ahead.

“I know I’m not a young man,” Biden said. “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! I know right from wrong. And I know how to do this job.”

Biden contrasted his stumbles with Trump’s misleading or false statements at the debate.

“When you get knocked down, you get back up,” Biden shouted to a cheering crowd.

Brendan McPhillips, a senior adviser on Biden’s Pennsylvania team, said ultimately Trump’s commentary about “Black jobs” and his refusal to commit to accepting the election results will prove to be a bigger deal than Biden’s poor performance, no matter how much Democratic consternation spills out in its immediate aftermath.

McPhillips ran Democratic Sen. John Fetterman’s campaign in the Keystone State in 2022, when the candidate suffered a stroke and had a highly concerning debate performance against Republican Mehmet Oz weeks before winning the battleground state.

“And it turned out like, voters didn’t care about that s—,” he said. “If anything, it re-emphasized the stakes. And I look at what’s going on right now and I see a lot of the same s—. I see a lot of people who are claiming to relevancy and want to raise their own clout making wild statements on Twitter and online or in the press.”

Speaking with Fox News, Trump went as far as saying not only would Biden be the Democratic nominee, but that no other candidate could have pulled off a better performance against him.

“They wouldn’t have done any better,” he said Friday. “No one else would have been better.”

Biden’s performance worried at least one Trump adviser, though. This person described watching Biden and being gripped by the concern that the performance might be bad enough to force Biden out of the race.

“It was the sum of all my fears,” the adviser said.

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