Biden should drop out! No, he shouldn’t! Debate rages.

Biden should drop out! No, he shouldn’t! Debate rages.

With no major challenger for his party’s nomination, President Joe Biden might have expected to be coasting through the primary season right now.

Instead, he’s facing loud calls from various thought leaders – including prominent liberals – to drop out of the 2024 race.

Why We Wrote This

President Joe Biden is facing calls from erstwhile allies to exit the race, amid concerns he could lose in November. Others say the criticism is unhelpful – and unwarranted.

As these critics see it, Mr. Biden, at age 81, comes across as too old and is in real danger of losing to the likely Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump. They argue he could still step aside – possibly by making a surprise announcement at the summer convention and letting the party’s delegates hash it out.

But while a brokered convention might be a great story for the media, it could also easily backfire on Democrats. There’s a reason parties ditched “smoke-filled rooms” in favor of the more democratic method of letting the voters pick their nominee via primaries and caucuses. Moreover, Mr. Biden’s lack of competition for the nomination likely indicates that the party’s next-generation politicians all saw taking on an incumbent president as a lost cause.

In the end, Mr. Biden dropping out of the 2024 race is “not gonna happen,” says Mike Mikus, a Democratic consultant based in suburban Pittsburgh.

With no major challenger for his party’s nomination, President Joe Biden might have expected to be coasting through the primary season right now.

Instead, he’s facing loud calls from various thought leaders – including prominent liberals – to drop out of the 2024 race, either soon or at the summer convention.

As these critics see it, Mr. Biden, at age 81, is too old – and more important, looks and sounds it – and is in real danger of losing to the likely Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump. The polls suggest as much. Some add that while Mr. Biden has a solid record to run on, it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation of Democratic leaders. 

Why We Wrote This

President Joe Biden is facing calls from erstwhile allies to exit the race, amid concerns he could lose in November. Others say the criticism is unhelpful – and unwarranted.

And, they say, there’s still enough time for Democrats to find a new candidate before November. New York Times columnists Ezra Klein, a liberal, and Ross Douthat, an anti-Trump conservative, have argued separately this month that Mr. Biden should announce he’s stepping down at the August convention, setting off a frenzied contest in Chicago to select a new nominee. 

That’s what political conventions were originally designed for, Mr. Douthat writes: “handling intraparty competition.” Mr. Klein echoes that point, adding that there’s a “ton of talent” in the Democratic Party – governors, senators, Cabinet secretaries, not to mention Vice President Kamala Harris – who could vie for the nomination. 

But there’s a reason the parties ditched the “smoke-filled room” method of selecting nominees in favor of letting the voters decide via primaries and caucuses: It’s a much more democratic system. And while a brokered convention might be a great story for the media, it could easily backfire on the party. 

Mr. Biden’s lack of competition for the Democratic nomination also likely indicates that the party’s next-generation politicians – from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro – all saw taking on an incumbent president as a losing battle. And falling short in the 2024 primaries, while possibly damaging the current president politically, could harm their prospects for 2028. 

Many Democrats say the party has a strong bench of politicians who could run for president. Clockwise from upper left are Maryland Gov. Wes Moore in Annapolis Feb. 7, 2024; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Lansing Jan. 24, 2024; California Gov. Gavin Newsom in San Francisco Nov. 9, 2023; and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro in Harrisburg Feb. 6, 2024.

Then there’s the not-small matter of Vice President Harris, the nation’s first female vice president and a woman of color. Ms. Harris’ favorability numbers are lower than Mr. Biden’s. While she would be expected to vie for the nomination in the event Mr. Biden dropped out, there’s a real possibility she would not emerge as the nominee. Regardless, a sudden competition for the nomination could cause an ugly rift within the party.

Some observers describe all the hand-wringing as yet another example of Democrats playing to type and panicking prematurely about the polls. 

“Democrats do freak out,” says Larry Sabato, a veteran political analyst at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “There are certainly Republicans who do this, but not to this degree.” 

That doesn’t mean the comments aren’t notable, though – or that the concerns aren’t warranted. Several top Democratic strategists have aired startlingly blunt assessments about Mr. Biden’s prospects – including David Axelrod and James Carville, former campaign strategists for ex-Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, respectively. 

Last fall, Mr. Axelrod posted polling data showing Mr. Biden losing to Mr. Trump in most battleground states and suggested Mr. Biden should strongly consider not running again. “The stakes of miscalculation here are too dramatic to ignore,” Mr. Axelrod wrote.

Mr. Biden was widely reported as having some choice words for Mr. Axelrod, whom he knew while serving as Mr. Obama’s vice president. Tensions between the Obama and Biden camps have been long-standing. 

Mr. Carville has also publicly questioned Mr. Biden’s ability to win for months. The day before the Super Bowl, he appeared on CNN and said that the president’s decision not to do a pregame interview for the second straight year was a sign that either he or his staff didn’t have much confidence in his ability to pull it off. Biden advisers told reporters they thought Americans probably wanted a break from politics during the game. 

Lately, other Democrats have begun pushing back more forcefully against all this friendly fire, arguing that Mr. Biden is not only going to be the party’s nominee but is also, hands-down, their best candidate.

“For a number of reasons – including the 2024 campaign calendar, the Biden-Harris war chest, and the president’s unique leadership skills and accomplishments – Biden remains the Democrats’ strongest option,” writes Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, on MSNBC.com.

In the end, Mr. Biden dropping out of the 2024 race is “not gonna happen,” says Mike Mikus, a Democratic consultant based in suburban Pittsburgh. The Democratic voters he knows who might in theory prefer a different nominee are also strongly opposed to Mr. Trump – a factor that’s likely to work to Mr. Biden’s benefit as the general election campaign kicks into gear.

The president isn’t that far behind Mr. Trump in head-to-head polls – just 2 percentage points on average. And Democratic organizers say “counter-mobilization” – getting voters to turn out against Mr. Trump as much as for Mr. Biden – will be key. 

Plus, Mr. Mikus adds, “members of my sportsmen’s club don’t care what Ezra Klein thinks.”

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