It feels like the sky has fallen on the Democrats.

Joe Biden's lackluster performance in the first debate against Donald Trump has amplified calls for him to withdraw from the presidential race. What started as murmurs from Democratic commentators has grown into a clamor from major donors, supportive columnists, and even elected party representatives. Concerns about Biden's age, once simmering beneath the surface, have now erupted into a full-blown crisis.

The dilemma is stark: no matter how loud the outcry, unless Biden steps down voluntarily, there is no mechanism to forcibly remove him. In the U.S. electoral system, candidacies are determined through primary elections, and Biden has already secured the necessary delegates in the Democratic primaries. At the party's convention in Chicago this August, these delegates will formally nominate him as the candidate.

Only Biden can withdraw from the race and transfer his delegates to a candidate of his choosing. Alternatively, he could release these delegates, allowing them to select a new candidate at an "open convention." Such an option though is not without risk. In an open convention, multiple candidates could vie for the nomination, potentially causing significant turmoil. When President Lyndon Johnson voluntarily withdrew from the presidential race in 1968, the open convention in Chicago was chaotic. Consequently, the division and intra-party rivalry led to the defeat of Johnson's nominee, Hubert Humphrey, and the easy victory of Republican candidate Richard Nixon.

Democrats who know their history are well aware of the possibilities.

To avoid such a disaster, Democratic insiders are testing the waters by floating several potential alternatives to Biden. The names most touted include Democratic governors Gavin Newsom of California and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Even former First Lady Michelle Obama's name is being mentioned. Of course, the first name that should come to mind is current Vice President Kamala Harris. While her name is in the mix, it is discussed with reservations. Her approval rating is even lower than Biden's, but deliberately excluding her could anger African-American and female voters, crucial voting blocs of the party.

The threat posed by Trump needs no elaboration. He has already announced that if elected, he will be a "dictator" for a day, telegraphing his intent to prosecute every political rival, including Biden. The conservative Heritage Foundation's "Project 2025" proposes making Trump the epicenter of all power, and the Supreme Court has already ruled that the president has absolute power, essentially giving Trump a green light for whatever he pleases in a second term. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, warning that if Trump (or any future president) wants to kill political opponents or stage a military coup to stay in power, he would be legally immune.

Therefore, Democrats argue, for the sake of American democracy, Trump must be prevented from securing a second term. But how? Polls show him leading. In five of the seven key battleground states, he leads Biden by five to twelve points. Biden's position among his supporters was shaky even before the first debate, and now it has turned into a nightmare. This is why pressure is mounting to replace him with another candidate.

However, all of this is speculative, as Biden has shown no sign of stepping down. Instead, his wife and other family members are urging him to continue the fight. Political officials who have thrived under Biden's patronage naturally do not want him to step down. They argue that it is unfair to judge Biden based on one debate. After all, Barack Obama lost his first debate to Mitt Romney by almost forty points but bounced back in the second debate. Biden can do the same.

Some Democratic electoral experts are calling for unity behind Biden rather than focusing on his flaws. They contend that replacing Biden at this late moment would make it nearly impossible to defeat Trump. The party is already ideologically and politically divided. Replacing Biden would only exacerbate this division. Winning an election in this country requires substantial funding and ground-level organization, and only Biden has the capability to match Trump in these areas. Biden's camp cites the $127 million in donations he raised from party supporters in June, including $68 million the day after the first debate, as evidence.

All of this is true, but it is also true that public distrust in Biden as a presidential candidate is growing. In the coming weeks, this will become more evident in public opinion polls. Reports suggest, at least behind the scenes and often in hushed tones, the panic-stricken Democratic supporters are pleading with Biden to step down.

Those arguing for Biden to step aside include the nation's two major newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Times, in a special article written collectively by the paper's Editorial Board, expressed hope that Biden will prioritize the democratic future of the country over his ego and withdraw. The paper noted that as president, Mr. Biden has been admirable. Under his leadership, the nation has prospered and begun to address a range of long-term challenges, and the wounds ripped open by Mr. Trump have begun to heal. But the greatest public service Mr. Biden can now perform is to announce that he will not continue to run for re-election.

David Ignatius, an influential columnist for The Washington Post, echoed this sentiment. During the campaign, Biden described himself as a "transitional" president, implying that his four years in office would be a preparation period for the next, younger generation. Reminding him of this, Ignatius wrote that Biden has fulfilled his duty as president. His greatest success was stopping Trump in 2020. If he runs in 2024, he will be undermining his own greatest achievement.

What will Biden do?

We know that he can be stubborn, but he is not foolish. Democrats hope that, instead of burying his head in the sand, he will read the writing on the wall.

3 July 2024

The writer is a journalist and author based in New York.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts