July 3, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

So many pundits make dumping Joe Biden look so very easy

It’s hugely risky.

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I have had a few days to think about it, so it’s time to discuss the Replace-Biden Debate. As you know, it’s not being driven mainly by voters, polling or elected Democrats, but by members of the Washington pundit corps. (It may evolve to be driven mainly by voters, polling and elected Democrats, but not yet.) They watched the debate, same as you did, but unlike you, didn’t notice Donald Trump’s lies, smears and habitual incoherence. They only had eyes for Joe Biden.

While some of these arguments are worth taking seriously, as the age and mental condition of the president is a serious topic, and as the stakes of the election rose tenfold after the Supreme Court ruled that presidents by the name of Donald Trump are above the law, most have not thought through the implications of what they are saying when they say Joe Biden should drop out for the sake of democracy. 

By “not thought through,” I mean they make two assumptions that give the false impression of being fully fleshed out arguments. One is that dumping Biden is better than keeping him. Two is that his voting coalition will stand behind whoever succeeds him. These are assumptions so big as to make you wonder how the Very Serious People who are making them came to be seen as Very Serious People. 

My point is there has been too much emphasis on the risk of keeping Biden on the ticket and not enough emphasis on the risk of dumping him. The very best of the Replace-Biden arguments I have read try to strike that balance.

Listen, I get it. Biden looked bad. He looked so bad even liberal pundits like the Times’ Paul Krugman, who has otherwise sung Biden’s praises as one of America’s transformational presidents (he is), were shocked to their socks. But it’s one thing to say Biden appears no longer to be up to the task of vanquishing fascism. It’s another to assume someone else is.

For all his many flaws, Biden still has name-recognition, a record of accomplishment and party unity. That’s what the Democrats need to beat Trump. So there is a huge risk in changing nominees now, so much risk that pundits who say they fear for democracy’s future should have taken that risk into consideration. Too many have been too cavalier.

They were also misinformed or, worse, ignorant. If Biden steps aside, there is only one alternative – Vice President Kamala Harris. I’ll get to the reasons, but first, I must encourage you to engage with extreme prejudice any pundit who is calling on Biden to drop out and who is name-checking Democrats like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as if changing nominees is no big deal, because look at all the options! 

There are no other options. Skipping over the first biracial female vice president – in a party grounded in the power of Black women and women of color – would be self-destructive. That’s the first reason. The second is she’s on the ticket. Primary voters already picked her, not someone else. Last reason? Money. Only Harris has a right to Biden’s campaign cash. Another nominee would have to start from scratch.

When you know this, you know discussion of a “brokered convention” is fantasy. It’s not only wrong to suggest the Democratic National Convention is a good forum for picking a replacement. It’s undemocratic. Millions of Democrats already decided. A few thousand delegates should not override that. Yet pundits who say they fear for democracy’s future seem to think that’s yippee-skippy. Some cite the “brokered convention” of 1968. Do I need to explain the outcome?

That some very highly visible pundits thought to include in their Replace-Biden arguments the long outdated tradition of a “brokered convention” seems to me evidence of something else – that the base of the Democratic Party is practically invisible. They say there’s still time to swap nominees, but only if you overlook the 14 million Democrats who voted in the 57 primaries and caucuses in 50 states and the District of Columbia in which 87 percent chose Biden and Harris. 

Republican voters are never subjected to that kind of erasure. If they want a criminal as their nominee, it’s said that’s their right. But if Democratic voters want an old man, it’s said they’re in denial.

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The Replace-Biden argument says the president can’t beat Trump. He’s losing support. He needs to go. That argument believes his replacement can not only replace lost support but expand on it once replaced. It believes Biden’s current coalition will be transferable. I don’t know why anyone would believe that. The erasure of Democratic voters allows that to be a given, though, when the reality should be plain. Lots of Democrats are going to stay home if Joe Biden isn’t their nominee. 

To be sure, there’s risk to Biden staying in the race. At least three elected Democrats have called on him to drop out. Some public polling, post-debate, shows concerning movement away from him. One private poll, influential among Democrats, has spooked them. Democratic governors asked for reassurances today. Even Nancy Pelosi said it’s legitimate to ask if the debate was “an episode or … a condition.” There’s so much going on this essay may be moot by the time I post it.

My point is there has been too much emphasis on the risk of keeping Biden on the ticket and not enough emphasis on the risk of dumping him. The very best of the Replace-Biden arguments I have read try to strike that balance. But it seems most of the people arguing for the former have not thought through the uncertainties of the latter. 

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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