Why the Democratic machine loathes to replace Biden

If the party rolls the dice and opens up the nomination to these different coteries the nation will watch Democrats implode into an intra-party nervous breakdown. Pictured: US President Joe Biden. Photo Credit: Joe Biden/X. 

For some time the Democratic Party machine has been trying to convince itself and those interested in the 2024 campaign that President Joe Biden remains the best candidate to win re-election and save American democracy from the clutches of former president Donald Trump and his henchmen in the Republican Party. As this thesis becomes increasingly hard to defend or justify, polls nationally and in battleground states, surveys of people’s feelings, and anecdotal evidence of early campaigning suggest that Biden has not only fallen behind Trump but looks less likely to recover with each passing day. 

This presents a confounding problem for party officials at Democratic Headquarters. When Biden entered the 2020 race in April 2019 he represented the normal or moderate wing of the party. At that moment, Bernie Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, appeared ready to assume the front-runner role and become the party’s nominee. The problem with Sanders does not exist as much in the Democratic Party where his extremely left-wing economic and social policies hold sway but amidst the general population. In particular, Middle America, where Sanders’s socialism, modern ethics, and anti-Zionist positions are frowned upon if not rejected outrightly. 

Fast forward to 2024 and Biden, completing his first term of a presidency that was supposed to restore normal practices and moderate policies, has become Bernie Sanders de facto in a stunning display of political copycat. The tanking polls for Biden, his growing unpopularity, his inability to sell his policies, and the growing uncomfortableness with granting him a second term are manifestations of this development. 

In response to these real-time developments, there have been some desperation moves on behalf of the Biden campaign and increasing chatter from behind closed doors about how to bump Biden and replace him with someone younger and more capable of handling the job. The sudden demand for debates presents an example of how the Biden handlers are working to shake up a campaign gone awry. No one would bet that Biden will not blunder into a significant gaffe during one of these debates and no one believes he will just go blank and forget where he is. Likely, however, Biden will need help finding words, appear confused, stretch a truth or simply make up a story. He often slurs words, experiences forgetfulness, and has to be led off a stage. Regardless, the campaign reads the numbers and knows the president has been losing for several months. Continuing to hope for things to turn around defies logic. If Biden can survive the first debate he will have risen above low expectations and solidified his position. If he were to have a lousy first debate, like Obama in 2012 or Reagan in 1984 (both men led the races they faced), the calls for Biden to step down would increase and get louder. 

The spectacle of the party trying to replace its leader just before its national convention would be unprecedented. Explaining it would require finesse. Biden would have to be feted as a great leader. Democrats and the Biden media acolytes would promote his wise and humble decision to put the nation first. That might sell with some voters, but it won’t solve the problem of his replacement. The fight over who will be the nominee could be divisive, enduring, and crippling for the party’s chances in November. 

No consensus choice exists, but Vice President Kamala Harris and her supporters would lay claim as the natural successor. She polls poorly against Trump and possesses the fatal quality of being liked less the more America gets to know her. Her charmless character supersedes her every move. Democratic Party insiders know this and prefer a compromised Biden over a fully engaged Harris. You begin to see their problem. If Biden were to step aside under the guise of putting the nation ahead of himself, Harris would expect to be the natural heir. So would millions of Democrats, including many who are of African or Asian descent. If the party determines Biden must be replaced, the first messy stage also means dumping Harris. Presuming they can withstand the blowback of overlooking and disrespecting their sitting Vice President, the next step invites utter chaos. An open convention with an overt effort to impose a candidate the party elite believe can defeat Trump. 

For the better part of a year, many on the right have mused that the plan has always been to replace Biden. At first, the attention centred on Michelle Obama. What has become very clear over the past few months is that Obama has a very lucrative deal overseeing Higher Ground Productions and has repeatedly insisted she will not re-enter political life. She has time and again said she supports Biden. The facts do not support this ongoing theory of Obama sweeping in to accept the mantle of Democratic nominee. The Obamas came from a more traditional time before the age of Trump, weaponized Justice Departments, claims of fraudulent elections, or divisions that defined the nation conclusively. They enjoy their quiet retirement and the outsized adulation that the media already has for them. Why spoil a good thing? 

In quick succession, other names arise. Governors Gavin Newsome of California, Elizabeth Whitmer of Michigan, or Andy Breshear of Kentucky are favourites.  All three possess strong credentials if the Democratic Party were unified enough to coalesce around a traditional liberal. The rub follows. The Democratic Party sits on the precipice of a civil war. Finding a candidate who can unite the disparate and varied concerns of workers, classic liberals, progressives, greens, Leftists, and Palestinian supporters belongs in the next cycle. Biden holds this collection together like no one else and if he is sent packing each of these factions will want to run a candidate and receive floor time. 

If the party rolls the dice and opens up the nomination to these different coteries the nation will watch Democrats implode into an intra-party nervous breakdown. A Sanders-AOC ticket may satisfy this progressive assemblage, but it will not help them defend the swing states they need to hold or win the battleground states they need for victory. If the Democratic Party has to replace Biden between now and November they will do so reluctantly and loathsomely. As in 2020, as aged or decrepit as he might be, he is their best chance at keeping their coalition together and their best hope for maintaining control of the White House.    

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