Prominent Washington columnists suggest potential challenges to President Biden’s reelection amid growing concerns. Photo credit: AFP/Mandel Ngan via Getty Images
In a recent column, I suggested former President Obama, sometime this fall, would let Joe Biden know his services are no longer required. I stand by that story, but David Ignatius and Al Hunt, two prominent Washington columnists, have recently suggested that if Biden does not step aside, then younger and more interesting Democratic candidates need to step forward and challenge the president. Ignatius and Hunt were both around when Ted Kennedy attempted to do that against Jimmy Carter in the lead-up to the 1980 election. It damaged Carter and resulted in the first Reagan landslide (44 states and 489 electoral votes).
A better example may be 1968. Lyndon Johnson, the incumbent Democratic president, faced a challenge from an obscure Minnesota senator named Eugene McCarthy. When McCarthy lost the New Hampshire primary to Johnson but received 42% of the vote, Johnson got the message. He folded his tent, announced his retirement, and let the party battle it out for the nomination. Robert Kennedy jumped in, won the California primary, and looked like a threat to win the party’s nod. Sadly, like his brother, he died a martyr. Johnson’s vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, became the nominee and lost a close race to the original comeback kid, Richard Nixon.
Then there is 1948. Harry Truman sailed to the Democratic nomination, but Southern Democrats coalesced around Strom Thurmond, Governor of South Carolina, at the party’s convention. They held a walk-out about a civil rights plank that Humphrey had spearheaded, bringing him to national prominence. When they lost the vote, they created a States’ Rights Party (Dixiecrats) that won several states in November. Somehow, Truman, quite unpopular at the time, defeated Governor Dewey of New York, the man Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s eldest child, referred to as the man on the wedding cake. Challenging sitting presidents reflects a mixed record for the party in power and those who oppose the incumbent. If someone launches a campaign, it will need careful vetting.
I suspect that Ignatius and Hunt believe that Biden’s age makes him vulnerable, especially if the GOP ever managed to get past Donald Trump and nominate someone born after the Kennedy assassination. As Hunt put it in his Oct. 15th article for The Messenger, “It’s time for “Big Gretch,” California Cool,” the “New Jersey guy,” Illinois’ “big man” or “Carolina Blue” to jump in the pool. These are code names for Democratic governors: Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gavin Newsom of California, New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker, and Roy Cooper of North Carolina. The pool is the 2024 contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The reason: President Joe Biden looks like a general election loser. The likely alternative would be Donald J. Trump, an existential threat to American democracy.” Hunt congratulates Biden on a beautiful job, describing the president as a man he has known for over fifty years and admires. In other words, nothing personal, but we can’t lose this election to the former president and let democracy die. I have heard better arguments, but you get the idea. Even Democrats fear another Biden run, much less what another term might bring.
As for Ignatius, he took a similar tact, complimenting Biden for his grand leadership and extraordinary successes, writing, “What I admire most about President Biden is that in a polarized nation, he has governed from the center out, as he promised in his victory speech. With an unexpectedly steady hand, he passed some of the most important domestic legislation in recent decades. In foreign policy, he managed the delicate balance of helping Ukraine fight Russia without getting America itself into a war. In sum, he has been a successful and effective president.” After reading about the enormity of Biden’s successes, the idea of dumping the man seems absurd, but Ignatius, like Hunt, can read polls, notice mental and physical deterioration, and project. These veteran political insiders wrote these columns because they saw the risks of nominating Biden again.
Not only does he carry the weight of his age, but other factors are intervening. The corruption case against his son looks to be spreading to a family investigation. There are daily reports of new findings about uncovered money, the exchange of favours, or influence peddling to benefit the Biden clan. Additionally, his polls look like those of George W. Bush at the end of his second term. Recent surveys in several battleground states find Donald Trump holding the advantage. Some leads are within the margin of error, but for Trump to be ahead in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania means he leads in Wisconsin and Nevada. Biden can’t lose those states and hold the presidency. The numbers remain hardened. Biden won 306 electoral votes. Losing Pennsylvania and Georgia would hurt. Combine that with the new distribution of votes to Trump-friendly states, and the election swings in favour of the former president. Supporters of the Democratic Party and those in league with it (namely the mainstream media) recognize that not only could Mr Biden lose, Donald Trump could win. Imagine the panic among the Washington establishment. These two columnists serve as canaries in the coal mine. There is a rising concern. Ignatius leaves the obvious question unanswered. If not Biden, then who?
After admitting the unpopularity of Vice-President Harris rules her out, he pleads for the president to withdraw voluntarily. Dates are coming up that will make it difficult for new candidates. Once passed, it may leave Biden no choice but to run. In his last effort to help the Democrats out of this pickle, Hunt called on the party’s young Turks to show fortitude. Anyway, you count a sense of doom surrounds parochial Washington. The threat of the former president not only frightens them, it outrages them. The loathsome thought of dealing with four more years of these “deplorables” seems implausible. Trump, his acolytes, his mannerisms, and his populism combine to threaten their unquestioned control of the messaging coming out of the Capitol. Trump embarrasses America and interrupts the media elite’s effort to educate the public about the progressive initiatives that will save humanity from capitalism, fascism, and climate destruction. Desperation led these two A-List columnists to ask their friend Joe to step aside. Don’t mistake their honesty for altruism. They are just admitting their fears out loud. It is easier to dissemble and cover for a president whose policies you favour than to lie about and smear one whose policies challenge your influence and question your entitlement.
Dave Redekop is a retired elementary resource teacher who now works part-time at the St. Catharines Courthouse as a Registrar. He has worked on political campaigns since high school and attended university in South Carolina for five years, where he earned a Master’s in American History with a specialization in Civil Rights. Dave loves reading biographies.