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How Biden Could Salvage His Candidacy

© AFP 2023 / SAUL LOEBUS President Joe Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers during a visit to the Roxborough Democratic Coordinated Campaign Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 2024
US President Joe Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers during a visit to the Roxborough Democratic Coordinated Campaign Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 2024 - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.07.2024
Biden’s unsteady performance in last week’s presidential debate has sparked a debate of its own between Democrats.
The debate between those who believe the president’s chances of reelection have dropped so dramatically that he should be replaced as their nominee and loyalists determined to stay the course lest the fragile coalition between corporatists and progressives unravel into internecine chaos.
As we await a second post-debate round of polling (the first ones show Trump gaining) that may or may not strengthen one of these positions, the pro-dump-Biden faction isn’t helping itself by floating a list of possible replacement nominees that comprises fairly obscure governors like Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania and Andy Beshear of Kentucky. These figures would face the challenge of scaling their regional reputations as up-and-comers up to the national stage in a matter of weeks.
Gavin Newsom is the exception. But Newsom underperformed at his recent just-for-fun debate against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis; he would also be hobbled by California’s reputation as a dysfunctional, high tax, low employment, homeless encampment.
Yet it’s also obvious even to the president’s staunchest supporters (albeit in private) that the high number of voters who think he’s too old for his jobwill only increase following an addled performance that can’t be explained away by a 12-hour cold, a supposed stutter, jet lag that lasts 12 days or the bizarre argument that he’s sharp as a tack between 10 am and 4 pm Eastern time. The party’s credibility has been badly damaged by the debate’s key revelation: the president isn’t all there and probably hasn’t been for most if not all of his presidency.
Now we know why Biden doesn’t give many unscripted interviews or press conferences. He can’t — not even now, when his presidency is on the ropes.
As inconvenient as it is for Democrats this year, presidential elections are always a referendum on the incumbent. Few Americans who saw Biden ramble incoherently for 90 minutes will be willing to re-up his contract for another four years.
At this point, the strongest argument put forward by the supporters of the president for staying in the race is the list of logistical obstacles that would arise by switching him out. With the convention coming up in a matter of weeks, it would be difficult in the time remaining to find a suitable replacement—whether anointed by Biden and/or party leaders or selected through an open convention—who could gather broad support within the party and then introduce that new nominee to the broader electorate.
Replacement would require some complicated procedural maneuvering. After being nominated in a virtual 50-state roll call vote later this month, Biden would have to decline the nomination in order to open the process.
Deadlines for being listed on the November ballot are fast approaching. The first state filing deadline is August 13th, six days before the party convention in Chicago.
Campaign finance laws are another consideration. As of June 30th Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee have a total $240 million in cash on hand, $91.5 million of which is controlled by Biden. While the DNC could presumably pivot to funding another candidate, none of the other Democratic politicians being touted as a possible replacement for Biden can tap Biden’s money seamlessly. One person can: Vice President Kamala Harris, his running mate. She is viewed as more competent than Biden yet polls the samein head-to-head match-ups with Trump.
Biden ought to step aside. Continuing this “Weekend at Bernie’s” candidacy as though nothing has changed would be a transparent charade—damaging to the party, the country and America’s international reputation. Democrats ought to have had an open primary process in the first place—in his diminished state, Biden likely wouldn’t have survived a set of primary debates—and we need an open convention now.
If that's too risky, or a stubborn Biden insulated by a tiny coterie of insiders refuses to yield, there remains a viable path forward for the Democratic Party.
Biden would need to address the nation and acknowledge what we all saw just over a week ago: that while he’s no longer able to carry out all the duties of his office (especially after four in the afternoon), neither is the president totally incapacitated. Biden would remain on the ballot.
He would announce that Vice President Kamala Harris would step forward in an informal capacity as a sort of “co-president.” Biden would commit to stick around for, say, another year (July 4, 2025 would have symbolic resonance) should the Biden-Harris ticket prevail this fall. During the interim transitional period, Harris would appear side-by-side with him at public appearances, represent the U.S. at international events, and generally shadow Biden during what would be presented as a training period. Over time, we would see less of him and more of her. She would travel extensively and hold numerous press conferences in order to connect with voters. At the end of Harris’ presidential apprenticeship, Biden would pass the baton and resign.
Democrats would call it retirement.
An open transition to a President Harris is the lowest-friction approach Democrats can take that stands a significant chance of avoiding a catastrophic loss to Donald Trump. It would preserve Biden’s dignity, acknowledge political reality, stop making the voters feel like they are being conned, and avoid sidelining a woman of color who has dutifully done everything that has been asked of her.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist)
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