In the wake of President Joe Biden’s widely criticized performance on the debate stage Thursday, serious questions are being asked about the president’s ability to lead on the world stage. 

How did our allies view Biden’s performance? And more importantly, what message was sent to our enemies and adversaries during Thursday night’s debate with former President Donald Trump

Victoria Coates, vice president of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation, who also formerly served as deputy national security adviser to Trump, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss how Biden’s debate performance could affect U.S. national security.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: Victoria Coates, thanks for being back with us today.

Victoria Coates: Thank you, Virginia.

Allen: Victoria, as an expert in national security, I want to get your thoughts on what we saw during the debate on Thursday night, one week ago. What were you hoping to see from each candidate on Thursday night?

Coates: I was just hoping to see a lively exchange of views. I think our perspective is, from the Davis Institute, that there is now a very clear record of what President [Donald] Trump did in his four years in office and what President [Joe] Biden has done in his now almost four years in office. And from a policy perspective, that’s a very bright distinction.

You look at everything from Israel to Iran, to Russia, to China, the border, all of these issues were under control under President Trump. And he’d made some unorthodox decisions, but that was a good thing. And I’ve seen what I thought was terrible decision-making out of President Biden, but we didn’t see that policy debate.

Instead, we saw President Trump much as he has always been. I really didn’t see a big difference between four years ago and now and from President Biden, a really devastating performance or lack thereof, just looking incredibly weak and just unmoored, untethered. So, I think for all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, this has to be a gigantic concern.

Allen: Well, it is and it’s been fascinating to watch that fallout, that it’s not just the political Right or the political Left that are raising concerns over Joe Biden’s cognitive state right now, but across the board, Americans are concerned about this.

Following the debate, what we saw from President Joe Biden, his gaffes, his stumbles, is America safe? Are Americans safe on the world stage right now under a Biden administration?

Coates: Just, again, I would be deeply concerned. And there’ve been efforts to say, “Well, there are professionals that work for him that can more or less keep the ship on course, and we have these wonderful people in the White House who are doing the Lord’s work,” but that doesn’t really matter on the world stage.

[Chinese Communist Party] Chairman Xi [Jinping] and [Russian President] Vladimir Putin don’t care about appointed political [National Security Council] members working away in the [Eisenhower Executive Office Building]. They look at the head, they look at what they see in the Oval Office and what they saw Thursday night was an invitation to aggression.

And I think what we’ve also seen over the last three and a half years are some pretty terrible decisions being made: Afghanistan, Ukraine, all sorts of things. And you have to wonder, is this because the commander in chief is increasingly asleep at the switch and you can’t govern a country by bureaucracy? I mean, you need a strong leader at the top.

Allen: On Monday, just days after that debate, we then learned that in Europe, our military bases are on high alert because of credible intel that indicates threat of a terrorist attack. What does that tell you? Do you think there’s a linkage between that threat level and what we saw Thursday night?

Coates: Oh, absolutely. I would assume this threat was gathering before Thursday night, but I would say planning by bad actors is now accelerated, because they only have a couple of months potentially left, and the president has been so exposed and the insistence that he’s going to fight on, and he’s somehow vigorous, he’s starting to sound increasingly shrill.

He just gave remarks at the weather center here in Washington in which he called everyone who doesn’t agree with his extreme climate agenda either dumb or stupid were the two words he used. And so, he’s getting more aggressive. He’s lashing out. This doesn’t make him look presidential. It doesn’t make him look strong and the country just, I think, feels like it’s in such a state of flux.

Allen: How are our partners overseas? You just described how our enemies are probably viewing the situation right now. What about our partners? How do they think we’re viewed following that debate?

Coates: Our partners are also concerned, and I’ve been hearing this really for the last year or so, when he goes on state visits, his activities are severely curtailed that he sometimes has trouble following meetings.

This has been kind of burbling up, but there is a situation that we have brewing over the Independence Day holiday, which we’re going to have a massive election in the United Kingdom on Thursday, probably a landslide victory for the Labour Party. So, a huge political change in one of America’s closest allies. We’ll have the second round of the French elections. And we will look forward to updating all of your listeners on those events next week.

But what looks like is going to happen in France is that [President] Emmanuel Macron will have a divided government for the first time. He will not have his free hand with his legislature, leading to a kind of paralysis.

So, you have, on the one hand, big change in the U.K., paralysis in France, and exposure of weakness in the United States. That’s bad situations. So, I think our partners and allies are concerned, but I think they’re also in somewhat disarray themselves.

Allen: What a wild time on the world stage. I’m curious to get your perspective. Since you did work in the Trump administration as deputy national security adviser, just explain a little bit about the kind of briefings that a president gets, not only on a weekly and daily basis. What are the national security threats that a president is made aware of, but also, what are the regular decisions that he has to make on those kinds of national security threats?

Coates: Monitoring intelligence flows is really the role of the National Security Council staff. When you’re in those positions, you have extraordinary access to information and support from all of our intelligence community. So it’s your job, when I was senior director for the Middle East, for example, to stay up almost minute by minute with what was coming in and when things rose to the level of the national security adviser of the president, figuring out what needed to be flagged, what could wait for the presidential daily briefing the next day, what you might want a longer form analysis piece on.

So that’s what the NSC does with a lot of their time, is make sure they can make the best possible recommendations to the president because you might have a crisis. The president is at a campaign event, you don’t have the luxury of an extended briefing. You need to just simply say to him, “This is what has happened. We have convened these people. These are the recommendations.”

Sometimes you have more of a process, but what you can’t do is say, “We are just going to do this work between 10:00 and 4:00 every day,” because the bad guys generally don’t respect holidays, certainly don’t respect weekends. We’ve noticed this from both the Iranians and from Putin.

At this point, I think they would be incentivized to actually look at the clock and act up at 3:00 in the morning knowing that the president of the United States is probably out of commission.

Allen: So, then, who is making those calls? If you’re saying at those late hours or if you’re saying the president really isn’t up to that task, who’s driving Biden’s foreign policy?

Coates: Well, you assume first the vice president, which I don’t think gives many Americans confidence in the decisions that would be made. And then you go down to the Cabinet officials, to the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the director of the CIA. They can make some recommendations, but ultimately, especially if you’re going to use force, that has to come from the president, so you have to wait until he is ready. So, we could be waiting hours in some cases for a decision that needs to be made right away.

Allen: Let’s take just the last few minutes here and talk about Trump’s performance on Thursday night. Of course, lots of conversations were had during that debate, including about Ukraine and Israel and the ongoing wars there. What did you make of Trump’s position and his strength on foreign policy issues?

Coates: No, I think he had his typical clarity. I thought particularly on Israel saying that when he referred to the president as the Palestinian, a bad Palestinian at that, that I think he summed it up correctly that the current president is leaning way too far toward the Palestinians, but obviously not to the satisfaction of the Palestinians—so succeeding in making nobody happy.

And President Trump said that we should not be holding Israel back. In fact, we should be giving them as much lead as they need to get this job done. He understands it’s a threat against the United States as well as against Israel. And I think on Ukraine, it’s kind of amazing to me, for all the folks who are calling for cease-fire in Israel, nobody is calling for a cease-fire in Ukraine except for President Trump who wants to see an end of hostilities.

It’s hard for me to see what we would define in 2022 terms as a successful conclusion of this war, but we’ve got to get to the best result we can. And I would trust President Trump, who is of course a dealmaker and who understands that we can’t hand Putin a victory. He was pretty clear about that. At the same time, figuring out a way to get to a negotiated solution if there isn’t an option for all outright victory.

Allen: How do our enemies and our allies view Trump across the globe?

Coates: It’s mixed. I think we have a lot of European allies who are in therapy over the possible return of Donald Trump, but they melted down when he came in 2017, and as I keep telling them, the sky did not fall. We all lived through those four years. As a matter of fact, you could say we prospered despite COVID-19, and I’m hearing from a lot more of what you might call newer allies, new Europe, Asia, that they really anticipate the return, Middle East certainly, return of a Trump administration that really listens to them and has our mutual security and prosperity at heart.

Allen: We have about four months before the election. There have been calls for the 25th Amendment to be invoked by individuals like Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chip Roy. But if President Joe Biden remains in office. What do likely the next several months mean for America and mean for our position on the world stage and for our national security?

Coates: It’ll be wild. I think every day is bringing a new cycle. We’ve just had Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who represents a piece of Texas around Austin, Democrat, come out and say he has deep concerns and thinks the president needs to consider not accepting the nomination for reelection. If that grows, it’s hard to see him staying.

But now, if he does, unfortunately, I would see this as the time of maximum opportunity for bad actors, be they terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab. There are a lot of them. They are on the march, particularly in Africa, which means they’re getting to Europe. They could be coming to the United States across our southern border. We know this is going on, so I worry this is their opportunity.

And then you think about bad actors on the nation-state level—particularly China and Iran, Russia already is lashing out—but that they might take this as, again, an opportunity to do something that four years ago they would not have calculated would be in their best interests.

Allen: Well, Victoria, we thank you for following these issues so closely, and thank you for your time today.

Coates: Of course. Happy Independence Day.

Allen: Happy Independence Day.