July 4, 2024

Thoughts on the Biden Candidacy

In light of Joe Biden’s appalling performance in the June 27 debate, Democrats are struggling with whether Biden should remain the party’s standard bearer. Although he is insisting publicly that he intends to continue his campaign, he has been somewhat less certain in private.

Donald Trump was leading in polls before the debate, and his lead has only increased after it. Although Kamala Harris does better than Biden against Trump in recent polling, she also trails the former president. She is, however, the most likely replacement should Biden bow out of the race. In that case, a new vice-presidential candidate would be needed.

As a Democrat who believes the survival of the Republic demands a Democratic victory in November, I am, as I am sure many or even most Democrats are, uncertain as to what Democrats should do at this critical juncture.

The problem, of course, is that it has become difficult to have confidence in Biden’s ability to do the job he is seeking. Even if you believe he has done a remarkable job in his first term and would have been even more successful had Republicans been willing to participate in effective governance, concern about Biden’s age, which has been his greatest liability, was only intensified by his dismal debate performance. Even if that performance was a fluke, it is impossible not to suspect that it presages sub-par performance in office.

In the 2020 campaign opposing a second Trump victory, Biden stepped forward as a seasoned, steady hand, albeit an elderly one. Many thought he would be—should be—a one-term president. It is rare, however, for a president, even a relatively unsuccessful one, to abjure another run for the nation’s highest office. Biden has not proved an exception to the rule.

If Biden does continue as a presidential candidate, he must shore up support among Democratic politicians, and he must reassure the public at large. He is working on the former task, spending more time with Democratic officeholders. Ultimately, the latter task is the more critical. Biden needs to display his competence in public. Presidential events are helpful—he bestowed two posthumous Medals of Honor on Union soldiers yesterday—but of greatest importance is displaying a command of issues in unscripted settings, settings analogous to a presidential debate. Tomorrow he is to be interviewed by ABC News. That will be important. But he also needs to hold press conferences where he must respond satisfactorily to spontaneous questions without the benefit of teleprompters.

I am not at all certain that Biden has the time to reassure the voting public or, in fact, whether he is competent to do so.

Given the rules of the party and the delegates pledged to the president, Biden can be replaced only if he chooses to step aside. His doing so remains unlikely, but may be becoming less unlikely.

Were Biden to bow out of the race, we would likely see an event not seen in America in years: a party convention whose outcome is not known in advance. That would assuredly add excitement to a campaign sorely in need of it. This assumes, of course, that an open convention would be a well-run, civil affair and not a donnybrook.

Should the Democrats change their ticket, what might it look like? As I noted earlier, Kamala Harris is a likely presidential candidate, though it must be said that her own run in 2020 was lackluster. (One hopes she has learned lessons and skills in her present position since then.) Moreover, the last Democratic woman to run lost to Donald Trump. If Harris doesn’t advance to the top of the ticket, should she remain the vice-presidential candidate, or would two fresh faces fire more interest and enthusiasm among both Democrats and the population at large?

I am committed to the Democratic ticket, whatever it is. I have to admit, though, that I find it difficult to work up enthusiasm for the Biden-Harris ticket, though my hatred of Donald Trump is unbridled. A new ticket would surely inspire greater passion.

Democrats are not without credible replacement candidates, but they seem to lack obvious ones. Democratic governors are the most likely candidates. I’m sure readers can name the most likely ones. My favorite of the lot is Gretchen Whitmer, though she is female and should likely not be paired with another woman. I have long thought that Adam Schiff would make a fine candidate, though he has shown no conspicuous interest. He certainly knows Trump’s weaknesses!

In the end, I don’t know what Democrats should do, though they have to make the right decision and make it soon. God help us!

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