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May 25, 2022

Democrats Ponder: What Are We Going to Do About Biden?

The difficult conversation many families have at some point about Pop-Pop.

Democrats are having that discussion about Biden now.

They're not sure if he's serious about running again in 2024 or just blathering and bullshitting and blustering like he usually does, and they're pretty sure they want him to just be blathering and bullshitting and blustering. They're pretty sure they don't want an 82-year-old running for president, when the 79-year-old version is already in steep decline.

But they're not sure what their backup plan would be.

On a Tuesday evening in April, nearly half a century after Joe Biden first publicly mused about running for president, an unsettled cross section of the Democratic Establishment assembled at Pinehurst, a golf resort in North Carolina. Inflation was at a 40-year high, Biden's disapproval rating sat at 56 percent, and editors at the New York Times were readying a front-page report about how his signature achievement -- $1.9 trillion in coronavirus-relief spending -- has "barely registered with voters." The lobbyists, donors, staffers, and elected officials were gathering for the spring policy meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, and the scheduled sessions concerned such topics as health care and diversity in governance. But between panel discussions, in the hallways and at the cocktail reception on the lawn, conversation shifted from grim -- the midterms -- to grimmer: the state of the party's planning for 2024, when Biden will stand for reelection on the eve of his 82nd birthday.

Biden hasn't formally announced his campaign for a second term, but in his mind there's no question he's running. "That's my expectation," he said early in his tenure. "Yes!" he told an interviewer nine months later, sighing a little performatively at having to keep repeating it. "It's been his life," says one of his longtime advisers. "It's like a shark that keeps swimming. It's how he stays alive." Or as another top Democrat puts it, "He was told in '16 he couldn't cut it. He runs in '20 and everybody rolls their eyes, and he still wins. So why in the world now would he be like, 'You guys are right. I am old'?" And yet many of the plugged-in Democrats wandered Pinehurst not entirely persuaded, calculating contingencies: If Biden's health turned, or if his polling truly collapsed, which of the party's governors might step up and save them from electoral ruin -- and the nightmare of a Trump comeback?

The article discusses a few possible alternative candidates -- including Governor Pritzker of Illinois and Governor Murphy of NJ (???). And Bernie Sanders, who's announced he's running again.


In the past few months[,] many of the Democratic Party's biggest donors -- even as they pledge to back Biden's reelection in earnest -- have quietly started to poke around for alternatives in 2024, partly out of a sense of responsibility just in case Biden steps aside. Several have bombarded Obama's old associates with pleas for insight into some sort of top-secret real plan that must exist for the next presidential contest.

There is no substantial precedent for the volume of questions about Biden's future. His inner circle's insistence that his doldrums will pass, that there's no cause for concern, is of little reassurance even to some close allies in the party. One person who fits this description has tried casually mapping out ways Biden could get away with avoiding a reelection bid without losing face, if it comes to that, such as insisting he is too busy to campaign because he's trying to prevent Russia's invasion of Ukraine from turning into World War III. But the ally hasn't gotten anywhere. As this person puts it, "The fumes from the paint in the White House are pretty strong."


Imagining an alternative is far from just a D.C. parlor game. Only three in ten Americans think Biden will seek a second term, according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll. That survey also revealed that even among Democrats, a group that likes and approves of Biden in general, fewer than half are sure the president is planning on round two and a third outright think he isn't. Biden can't discredit the findings; the data was gathered in part by the research firm led by his own pollster, John Anzalone. More troubling -- because it indicates that such doubts aren't just about transitory twitches in popularity -- is that similar skepticism arose in a series of private focus groups conducted by left-leaning organizations supportive of Biden last year. And that was before his approval ratings started to approach Trumpian lows.

This untenable state of affairs -- in which Biden insists he wants the job until he's 86 but much of his party won't listen -- is only partially a by-product of his not yet officially declaring his candidacy. (He's following the traditional timeline, in which the incumbent relaunches after the midterms.) It's partly because of Biden's own occasional hedges: With family tragedies and two brain aneurysms in his past, he has always allowed that he might step aside if his health declined or if "fate intervened." But its origins may also be traced precisely to March 9, 2020, when Biden pitched Democratic voters on a certain vision of the future.

One bit of analysis that was news to me was the idea that, if Biden doesn't run, or can't run, then Kamala Harris is the front-runner.

I assumed that Kamala Harris was all done. I assumed that she'd be allowed a Courtesy Run at the presidency, and then would be ushered out of the contest early, just a little less early than she'd been forced out of the 2020 primaries.

This article says no: She's the odds-on favorite to win the primary if Biden doesn't run.

The reason? The same reason Biden won in 2020. She's popular with the mainstays of the Democrat primary electorate, black voters.


Harris has never let anyone doubt that she expects Biden to seek a second term, and she has made no moves to set up a contingency campaign. She has effectively ceased to have contact with many of the highest-ranking advisers to her own 2020 bid. Yet if Biden did step aside, Harris would start the succession contest as the clear front-runner. A Politico newsletter recently pointed out that 27 surveys have tested the prospect of a Biden-free primary in the past year, and Harris has led 21 of them. (The remaining six were led by Michelle Obama, who is perhaps less likely to run than her constitutionally ineligible husband.), Underwater or not at the national level, Harris's popularity among Black voters in particular may make her impossible to beat in a primary -- which Biden, who won largely on the strength of his own relationship with Black voters, especially in South Carolina, knows as well as anyone.

This makes sense, I guess; it's just insane. It's insane that Kamala Harris is actually Positioned for Success to be the Democrat Party's nominee for president in 2024.

I mean, it's great for us.

The only thing that would be better for us is if the Great White Dope also ran -- Pete Bootyjudge, so beloved by the White Leftist Gentry class -- and turned the Democrat primary into a real race vs. race and class vs. class battle royale.

Last fall, a rumor started to spread within the West Wing. Some of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg's 2020 donors and fund-raisers had started to meet privately to debate his future and map out a possible path toward the presidency -- perhaps as early as the next election. The whispers were mostly true, if sometimes egregiously overstated.... As Insider prepared to reveal the meetings' existence in October, Buttigieg's staff warned the White House the story was coming, and some of his supporters went on record to clean up the mess: These donors were freelancing without his knowledge, and he had no thoughts of running for president.

Sure, sure. He's keeping in touch with his donors and his PAC is still accepting donations.

The article also notes that Elizabeth Warren is still running -- never stopped, in fact -- as is Amy Kobuchar and Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna is somehow in the mix now too.

The article finishes up by making the riotous claim that those who know Biden best -- that is, the people most expected to lie for him -- are the most insistent that he's healthy as a horse and hasn't lost a step.

The article also revivifies the long-dead claim that his verbal struggles are just due to a "stutter."

The consensus of people who deal with Biden in person, from aides to journalists to senators, is that he has shown no signs of slowing down mentally and that the clips frequently circulated by right-wing media personalities of his momentarily struggling to speak are nothing new -- just examples of his lifelong stutter and his (long notorious within Washington) difficulty with teleprompters.

Weird how his "lifelong stutter" only showed itself when he hit the ripe old age of 76 and also never actually exhibits itself as a stutter at all, but rather as a slur or as saying the wrong thing or as making up completely invented nonsense words.

But never as an actual stutter with repeated syllables.

To think anything else, the Biden faithful argue, is to fall for Republican misinformation. To take one bad-faith example, Senator Tom Cotton recently tweeted a video of Biden stumbling badly over the word kleptocracy during an address about Ukraine. Biden closed his eyes and tried to recover, landing on "the guys who are the kleptocracies" and laughing ruefully. They were some of the only garbled moments in a long speech, but the video gathered more than 3.4 million views within four days.

Many of Biden's backers are taking solace in the idea that his own unpopularity is more structural than personal.

Fun fact: Biden cannot say the word "structural." He cannot say any word with multiple consonants in a row. He makes up a new word with fewer consonants. So he would say "structural" as "shructal" or something.

Because of his stutter, see.

My fear, and my prediction, actually, is that when Biden doesn't run -- and he won't -- we'll see a darkhorse billionaire enter the race. Maybe Bloomberg again. Maybe Bill Gates. Maybe that idiot from Starbucks.

I think people take false comfort in the idea that the left would never accept these arch capitalists as their standard-banners. First of all, the hard left has now fully fused with the neocon pseudoright; it's now accepted it is the party of the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. It makes no bones about the fact that it is the Party of Wealth. It's proud about that. It frequently brags about that.

The left is evolving a new catechism that works something like this: You're not really a plutocrat if you believe in global warming and a Woman's Right to Choose and that Trans Women Are Women.

Second of all, when the left is scared -- and they are very very scared of Trump, and just as scared of DeSantis -- they will run to any champion they think can save them.

They all hated Biden, too, or at least disliked him. But they thought he could beat the Bad Orange Man, so they got behind him. As Hillary told the Democrat troops in 2004, I think: You don't have to fall in love, you just have to fall in line.

And they will fall in line.

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posted by Ace at 05:16 PM

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