Tue. May 21st, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

November 28, 2023

There is no need for any debate, President Biden should exit reelection campaign now. Biden’s weakness is obvious, firstly his advanced age. He would be 85 years old by the time he was to win and survived the second term. It is unprecedented, the US should not be subjected to such a senior leader.

Secondly, Biden’s public supporting level is very low. It means that his chance of being reelected is also very low. Is the message clear enough? Specifically, Biden is behind Trump, a convicted 77-year-old criminal. What else should be said? If Biden were to stay in the race, he risks being defeated by Trump! It will be a national disaster and a personal failure.

On the other hand, any serious Democratic candidate can easily beat Trump. But time is short, Biden should get out of the demanding reelection campaign and focus his energy in coordinating a young promising Democrat for the next US President. Then Biden can use the rest of his time working on his legacy whether he is in or out of the White House.

Democrats Debate Their Options: Should Biden Ignore Pressure to Step Aside?


In the wake of a series of devastating polls showing Donald Trump defeating Joe Biden in the battle for the White House in 2024, Democrats have taken to consoling themselves that past party incumbents, including both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, also faced stiff challenges three years into their first term in office but still went on to win re-election.

Some leading Democrats,  most recently Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012  campaign manager, believe that Biden’s growing chorus of critics are over-reacting to the latest polls showing the president losing to Trump in the 2024 election.  Yes, the polls are bad, but “we’ve been here before,” he insists. 

This is complete nonsense.  The malaise facing Biden is far deeper than Obama’s and far less amenable to remedy.

First, Obama did not face concerns over his age and physical health.  Many of the president’s doubters do support him and his policies, but they still harbor grave doubts about his ability to serve another term.  If anything those doubts will continue to grow in the coming year as more signs of Biden’s obvious infirmity appear.

Second, questions about Biden’s ethics and integrity, while generally ridiculed by his Democratic supporters, are beginning to take their toll on the president, as evidenced in latest polling.  Even a majority of Democrats now say that clear-cut evidence of influence peddling, especially in the Biden family’s dealings with China, will be sufficient reason for considering another candidate.

Here again, the next 12 months are unlikely to be kind to Biden.  If anything, the drip-drip of new revelations and the fanning of the impeachment flames by the conservative media will further  weaken the president’s standing.  And an actual impeachment vote will sting, just as it did with Trump

Biden faces a third major threat that is also out of his hands: the challenge posed by third-party candidates.  Despite persistent efforts by Democrats to dismiss this threat, it is serious and growingRecent polls suggest that Biden, on balance, is suffering slightly more than Trump at the hands of RFK, Jr. and West combined. 

By contrast, Biden has already faced an initial primary threat from RFK, Jr. (prior to his declaration of an independent candidacy) and more recently from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN).  Phillips may pose a brief challenge to Biden in New Hampshire assuming Biden chooses not to run and Phillips ends up winning by default.  But Phillips may be damaging the president far more by hammering away at his age and questioning his fitness to govern through a second term.

But the challenge from RFK, Jr. – even as an independent – is actually far more threatening.  The latest New York Times/Siena poll has RFK, Jr beating both Biden and Trump among young voters and among independents.  Kennedy’s also within single digits of both men among all voters in a number of the critical swing states.  

Were RFK, Jr. Biden’s only challenger, he might well benefit from his presence in the race, just as Clinton probably did thanks to Perot’s presence in 1992. Polls seem to indicate that now that RFK, Jr. is no longer running as a democratic dissident, he is pulling far more from Trump than Biden.  For example, an NPR/PBS poll conducted in early October showed Biden’s lead of 3 points over Trump ballooning to 7 with RFK, Jr. in the mix.  However, that advantage largely disappears with the other third-party candidates considered.

For Democrats these are not happy scenarios.  The problem for Biden is that all of these threats are likely to grow worse in the months ahead.  Even the economy, which may not be as bad off as the president’s critics suggest – and most voters feel – might deteriorate.  Some economists still hope that inflation, which has cooled somewhat from its 40-year high in 2022, will continue to subside, allowing Biden to claim a victory of sorts.  In any event, lower-income Americans are bearing the brunt of home foreclosures, skyrocketing rents and evictions and high food and gas prices.   If it’s still  the “Economy, Stupid,” Biden and the Democrats may well be screwed on this front, too.

Messina, like many Democrats, thinks Biden’s main problem isn’t his policies – which he deems a major success – but the public’s perception of them.  So, the solution is how to alter public perception – not to change course.  Biden does have a large campaign war chest – $71 million, by the latest estimates – to finance TV ad blitzes highlighting his message that the economy is working much better than voters – actually looking at their pocketbooks – know it to be.  Biden can also, as Obama did, make specific policy gestures and offer special incentives to aggrieved constituencies.

That’s another huge difference between 2012 and 2024 that Messina seems to miss completely.  Biden is facing defections not just from Hispanics – on a massive scale, according to recent polling – but also from African Americans, especially Black men.  Amazingly, about half of each of these voter groups now supports Trump, which could spell disaster for Biden in Hispanic-rich swing states like Arizona and Nevada as well as swing states with large Black voting constituencies, like Georgia and North Carolina. But recent swing state polls have Trump beating Biden in 6 of 7 critical swing states, in some cases by double digits. That’s enough to tilt the Electoral College – and the presidency – to the former president by a wide margin.

Could Biden rebound?  In theory, perhaps.  But Messina, like many Democrats, is vastly underestimating the scope of the challenge, especially in light of the mounting and compounding challenges that Biden now faces.  Even accepting some of the inherent advantages conferred by incumbency – and a certain inertia among the electorate when it comes to tossing out incumbents – Biden has no reason to assume that conditions still naturally favor his re-election. Even with a war chest that could well exceed Trump’s. he has no ground game or field operation to match his opponent’s to say nothing of the sheer grassroots fervor – and persistent media attention – that a plethora of vibrant third-party candidates will likely generate. Surrogates can help, but voters want to see their candidate in the flesh.  And it’s not clear that Biden – already challenged by foreign diplomatic travel – has the stamina to campaign for his re-election in any way that voters would find compelling.  Simply campaigning from the basement, which might have been justified, in part, during COVID, won’t pass muster with voters in 2024, especially those in need of the most reassurance.

The fact is, perceptions of Biden’s basic leadership abilities aren’t likely to improve that much, if at all, in the months ahead.

While Democrats like Messina are loath to admit it, Trump enjoys some important advantages over the president, including a track record in office that a majority of voters now seem to recall – however, nostalgically perhaps – as superior to Biden’s.  On the economy and on foreign policy, crime and immigration, most voters – including, critically, most independents – now trust Trump more than Biden.  If voters were so concerned about Trump’s role in the events of January 6, 2021, or other acts of possible criminal wrongdoing they would have registered that discontent by now.

So why not replace Biden?  In one fell swoop Democrats would solve two of the biggest problems they currently face – the president’s age, and his deepening corruption scandal.  They might also eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the third party challenge. A fresh nominee – Gavin Newsom, of course, readily comes to mind– would reset the political landscape virtually overnight.  It would also galvanize the party base and give Democrats renewed vigor for battle.  Indeed, it might well electrify the entire country which at present, is deeply disgusted with the options that both parties are currently providing the voters.  It would be a clear and unmistakable sign yet that Democrats – unlike Republicans – have the courage to inspire a new generation of Americans to step up and lead.

Messina’s right:  Democrats shouldn’t panic.  Instead, they should soberly face the facts – and take pre-emptive action.   Biden never promised to serve more than one term.  In fact, he strongly hinted that he wouldn’t and was prepared to step aside.  For the good of the party and for the good of the nation, it’s time that he did.  The details can be worked out, and a soft landing assured.  Removing Kamala Harris from the equation can also be arranged.  She might even stay on as VP if a more promising Democratic nominee can be found.

If Democrats really believe the country deserves better than Trump, then it’s time they really showed it and earned back the respect of voters across the spectrum who feel the country’s being poorly served and who have a right to demand better from their leaders.

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at [email protected]

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