Week of July 26, 2023

Complications for Democrats in 2024 Presidential Election
Who is there besides Biden?


President Biden’s trip to Europe for the NATO conference only raised more questions about Biden’s mental capacity and ability to run for reelection. Nearly every public event last week had its share of gaffes as Biden clearly acted as someone suffering from senility.  In England, King Charles had to guide the president through the welcoming events.  At the NATO meeting, he was too tired for the formal dinner.  In Finland, he was caught on camera nibbling a small child.

The world had a chance to see the Biden Americans have seen.  An NBC poll amongst voters shows the majority (68%) thinking that Biden doesn’t have the mental capacity to be president.  Yet Biden gets about 70% in the primary polls against other Democrats running for president.

Currently, Biden is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination…for the moment.  Incumbents have considerable power, and their re-nomination is usually a certainty.  The last president to decide not to run for reelection was Johnson in 1968.

What happened is something Democrats must heed.

Johnson, who didn’t campaign in New Hampshire, failed to get 50% of the vote against challenger Eugene McCarthy, an anti-Vietnam War senator.  Within a couple of weeks of the election, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.

This announcement would electrify the campaign.  Johnson was expected to coast to the nomination.  Instead, the race was wide open.  Although Senator McCarthy was already in the race, others soon joined in.  The establishment choice was Vice President Humphrey.

Another candidate also joined the race, Robert F. Kennedy – the father of Robert Kennedy running against Biden today.  Kennedy would be assassinated a few months later right after he had won the California primary.

The fight for the Democratic nomination was literally bloody.  The establishment was supporting Humphrey and forced convention rules that helped the Vice President win the nomination.  While the supporters of Humphrey managed to control the raucous Democratic convention inside, McCarthy supporters were rioting outside.  The scenes of violence were critical in helping Republican challenger Richard Nixon to win the presidential election.

This piece of 1968 election history is setting the scene for the 2024 election.  With the help of the Democratic leadership, Biden was expected to coast to the nomination as the party leaders set the primaries up so he would win the nomination easily and wouldn’t be forced to campaign much.

The Biden strategy assumed a rematch between Biden and Trump.  Biden would keep a low profile and play the moderate, while the Department of Justice would keep up the legal pressure with investigations and indictments.  The media would publicize Trump failures.

The plan hasn’t worked.  The investigations and indictments have helped Trump as they have publicized the weaponization of the Department of Justice.  A Fox poll last month showed that 49% of voters do not have confidence in the Department of Justice.  The greater the attacks on Trump, the better his poll numbers look.

Meanwhile, Biden is showing more signs of senility.  The result is that what was once considered a “sure thing” for Biden is now a close race.  Some polls show Trump leading in key states like Pennsylvania.  The chance that Trump could beat Biden, even with indictments, is growing.  More and more Democratic leaders are looking for another candidate.

But picking a new candidate is harder than one thinks.  First, Biden and his handlers must be convinced that he needs to pull out of the race for the good of the Democratic Party.  That doesn’t appear to be happening.

The 25th Amendment of the Constitution could be employed by Vice President Harris.  That would make her acting president and probably the leading candidate for the nomination.  But she is more unpopular than Biden.  And her ascending to the presidency would have political consequences.  As Vice President, she is President of the Senate and can wield a tie breaking vote, which has happened frequently as Senate Democrats only control the chamber by one vote, while there are at least a couple of Democratic senators who occasionally vote with the Republicans.

If Harris becomes president, she loses her position as president of the Senate and it will be considerably harder for the Democrats to pass Democratic legislation or appoint progressive judges.

If Harris becomes president under the 25th Amendment (or Biden dies), the race for the Democratic nomination opens.  Currently there are two announced candidates for the Democratic nomination: Robert Kennedy and self-help author Marianne Williamson, but several politicians would “throw their hat into the ring” if Biden weren’t in the race

This is where timing is critical.  If Biden can’t be gracefully pushed out of the race before the primaries, the contest could be just as bad as the Democratic nomination in 1968.  If Biden pulled out before the primaries, several candidates, probably governors, could enter the race.

However, if Biden remains in the race after the primaries start, he is likely to lose some damaging primary contests to Robert Kennedy, who the Democratic establishment hates nearly as much as they hate Trump.  As they did in 1968, they would have to pick another candidate to back.  This would only anger Kennedy supporters (much as it angered McCarthy supporters when party heads supported Humphrey) and the split could cause the Democrats to lose the general election just as they did in 1968.

If Biden can be pushed into announcing that he isn’t running for reelection before the end of the year, several candidates amenable to the Democratic leadership could step in.  The most likely candidates are governors since they have more name recognition, and some have already been mentioned as presidential possibilities.

Obviously, VP Harris would be a possible contender.  However, she has a reputation as a poor candidate and was pulled out early in 2020.  She is unlikely to garner support from the leadership, or they would have pushed her to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare Biden senile and become president herself.


Potential Candidates

California Governor Gavin Newsome is probably the most likely candidate with experience running a big state.  In addition to being governor, he has been Lieutenant Governor and Mayor of San Francisco.  He is popular with the Democrats and obviously can deliver California in the election.

Newsome’s politics are progressive.  His major weakness is that California has declined during his tenure due to increased taxes and regulation.  These are policies that will hurt him in a general election.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is from Michigan, which is a critical “toss up” state that will be critical for both the Republican and Democratic nominees for president.  In addition to being governor since 2019, she had been in the state senate and house.  She has also been a country prosecutor.  Her politics are progressive, and she would be a popular choice amongst voters who want a female president.

Governor Andy Besher is from the reliably Republican state of Kentucky.  Trump won the state 62% to 36% in 2020.  Besher is more moderate than many Democratic candidates, however, he must win the general election for governor in November.  If he does, he will be a strong potential candidate as president or vice president.

Governor Roy Cooper from North Carolina is another governor from a state that usually votes Republican.  He has served in the state house and senate and was state Attorney General for 16 years.

The state legislature is strongly Republican, and he has several vetoes overridden.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Young, attractive, progressive, and vocal, she is more likely a VP choice, who would fire up young progressive Democrats in the general election – especially if the presidential nominee is less attractive – like Biden.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.  Booker announced he was running for president in 2019 but pulled out of the race in January 2020 before the primary race had begun.

The New York Times rated him the third most liberal senator.

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado has a reputation of going across the aisle to work with Republicans.  He was a member of the “Gang of Eight” that saw four Republicans and four Democratic senators try to pass bipartisan immigration legislation.

All these Democrats are potential candidates for president.  However, only Governor Newsome has the political strength to directly challenge an incumbent president like Biden.  He could be the choice of the Democratic leadership if Biden has increasing problems with senility and Robert Kennedy catches the imagination of the Democratic grassroots.