The kindest advice I gave the Democrats was that they should have taken a loss in 2022. Hand the House and the Senate to Republicans and clear the deck for a new generation of leadership. Biden would have been forced to follow Pelosi into retirement after a long grueling struggle with congressional Republicans.
Democrats would have had a good shot at winning in 2024 with a younger candidate who wasn’t at the wheel during these miserable years.
Instead, Biden was locked in for a second term. Most of the critics fell silent and endorsed his reelection campaign. The potential competitors, primarily Newsom, have gotten out of the way. They’ve won the battle and lost the war. And having caught the car, they have no idea what to do now.
Every potential Biden successor has fallen in line behind his yet-to-be-announced candidacy. Meanwhile, the private conversations about the wisdom of nominating an octogenarian and despair over who could take Biden’s place have hardly subsided…
“Nobody wants to be the one to do something that would undermine the chances of a Democratic victory in 2024,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) explained to me. “Yet in quiet rooms the conversation is just the opposite — we could be at a higher risk if this path is cleared.”
“It’s fear, plain and simple,” Phillips explained of both the lack of Democratic officials calling for a new nominee and reluctance of other candidates to step forward. “People are focused on self-preservation and their aspirations.“
Now, unless there’s a concerted effort to shed Biden, that path will be cleared.
There was the senator who said few Democrats in the chamber want Biden to run again but that the party had to devise “an alignment of interest” with the president to get him off the “narcotic” of the office; there was the governor who mused about just how little campaigning Biden would be able to do; and there was the House member who, after saying that, of course, Democrats should renominate the president told me to turn off my phone and then demanded to know who else was out there and said Harris wasn’t an option.
My favorite, though, was the Democratic lawmaker who recalled speaking to Jill Biden and, hoping to plant a seed about a one-term declaration of victory, told her how her husband should be celebrated for saving democracy. When I asked if I could use any of that on the record, the lawmaker shot back: “absolutely not.”
Weak, really weak.
Democrats have two options, push scandals undermining their own president, or prepare to challenge him in primaries. Both options are in theory on the table, except that they’re not.
The DNC voted to rig the primaries for Biden. In theory, a challenger should have good odds of beating Biden in the primaries, considering the polls, but the primaries have now been rigged to favor Biden’s black electorate. That means Biden will win the majority of early primaries out of the gate. Biden’s only likely challenger is also likely to be from the Bernie camp and that means a whole bunch of Democrats who may want an alternative will stick with Biden. If a more mainstream candidate jumps in, he or she will split the vote with the Berniecrat. Alternatively, he or she can cut a deal with the Berniecrats which will once again drive away more moderate voters. There are possibilities here, but few serious candidates seem to have the nerve to go all-in.
The alternative is to hope that the Hunter Biden investigation does something. That’s why the media has been giving it the time of day. But Democrats, of all people, ought to know how long of a shot that is. Even assuming that there are any criminal charges stemming from it that won’t just be dismissed by paying a fine (that’s what I suspect will happen), they’re not likely to touch Biden. Not under Merrick Garland.
A concerted party-wide consensus could shift the dial, but that isn’t likely to happen until things get scarier.
And meanwhile, there’s Kamala looming in the background.
When nearly a dozen Democratic governors lined up for a news conference to trumpet their midterm gains, eager to take a turn at the microphone, the voluble bunch grew quiet when I asked if they thought Harris should be nominated without a primary were Biden not to run.
“I don’t think we’re going to go there on that one, the president is running,” said Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
When I asked if any of the other governors wanted to speak to the question, they all stayed silent until Murphy said “we’re good” and the governors broke out in a round of nervous laughter.
More to the point, Democrats have seen what happens when anyone in their party openly criticizes Harris — they’re accused by activists and social-media critics of showing, at best, racial and gender insensitivity. This doesn’t stifle concerns about her prospects, of course, it just pushes them further underground or into the shadows of background quotes.
Such as this, from a House Democrat: “The Democrats who will need to speak out on her are from the Congressional Black Caucus, no white member is going to do it.”
Maybe tethering their party to identity politics wasn’t the best plan?
Meanwhile, Team Biden is preparing for a second basement campaign.
The Biden folks believe that Trump or any other Republican nominee will be reluctant to work with the Commission on Presidential Debates, lessening the chances, and risk, of a head-to-head debate.
When your campaign plan is hoping your candidate won’t have to debate, that means you know he’s not qualified or competent to run.