The Recklessness of Biden and the Democratic Party

Joe Biden’s poor debate performance raises concerns about his candidacy for the 2024 race, and allowing its delegates to choose a new candidate could be the only way back for the Democratic Party, writes Alana Moceri.

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President Joe Biden shuffled onto the debate stage last Thursday and proceeded to stumble along for 90 minutes. Instead of landing points and calling out former President Trump’s lies, his answers were rambling and, at times, unintelligible. This debate could have been, should have been avoided.

Yet in May, President Biden challenged Trump to this unprecedented early debate. By doing so Biden and his team have not only put the election but American democracy and the liberal world order in danger. As a former leader of the Democratic Party in Spain, I am deeply shocked by the recklessness of my party, and I am not alone.

The million-dollar question is: why on earth would Biden’s team propose this debate for an aging candidate who has always been famous for putting his foot in his mouth? Cynics say that Biden’s team scheduled the debate early enough so that the party had time to react if it went badly. It went worse than badly; it was the embodiment of every Democrat’s worst nightmare.

A possible second Trump administration is not something to toy with – it’s not the same as losing to someone like John McCain or Mitt Romney, a scenario in which one could say, “oh well, I might not agree with him but it’s not the end of the world.” A second term for Trump will jumble the world order as we know it. He’ll give Israel carte blanche in Palestine. The same goes for Russia and Ukraine, a conflict Trump promised during the debate to have “settled” before he even enters office. How? By halting military aid to Ukraine to force them into negotiations with Russia during a ceasefire based on prevailing battle lines. Or, as a Kremlin spokesman puts it, “taking into account the real state of affairs on the ground.” In other words, letting Russia keep the pieces of the sovereign country it invaded.

The EU, NATO, and the US Congress are already working together to “Trump-proof” support of Ukraine and to make it more difficult for Trump to pull the U.S. out of NATO if he gets a second term. But that process is proving far from easy.

Trump also has plans to implement tariffs of 10% on all imported products to the U.S. This will increase prices even more for Americans while further alienating our allies, but Trump, seemingly more unhinged than ever, does not see nor understand this. The list goes on and on.

Meanwhile, Biden and the Democratic Party have fecklessly sat on their hands since Trump announced his candidacy in April of 2023. It’s worth noting again that it was Biden’s team that proposed this early debate and now, just five months ahead of the election, the entire party is having a collective panic attack. As if they and everyone else couldn’t see this slow-motion train wreck coming.

In February, The New York Times columnist Ezra Klein wrote a persuasive piece urging the people closest to Biden to convince him not to run again. Klein argued that the Democratic National Convention in August provides the mechanism for choosing a new candidate. The article sparked much debate among pundits and party insiders, but Biden’s energetic state of the union speech in March served to allay fears and tamp down calls for him to step aside. Most reverted back to supporting a second term for Biden based on the assumption that there was no better alternative and for fear of doing Biden damage.

Biden can step aside now with his dignity and legacy intact.

Technically, Biden isn’t even the Democratic candidate yet. This won’t officially happen until the party convention in August. He has done his service to the country, in ways more fruitful than he is given credit. So, the party can laud his results and still pick someone else. Biden himself could announce that he has decided not to run and release all his pledged delegates to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Biden and party leaders could choose to rally around Vice President Kamala Harris or allow a more freewheeling process. I like Harris, but I also believe that after how badly the party has bungled this, they should put the decision in the hands of the delegates. These people are local leaders and party activists from around the country and are somewhat representative of the party’s base of voters. It’s time to hand this decision over to the people.

As I noted in a piece last fall, there is no shortage of Democrats who could take a shot at the White House. Harris is indeed one of the most often mentioned names, along with California Governor Gavin Newsom. They both served as surrogates for Biden on Thursday evening, and both defended him mightily while at the same time attacking Trump the way Biden should have during the debate. Harris called out Trump’s lies about January 6th and abortion. Newsom lauded the substance of Biden’s policies and went on to say, “You don’t turn your back because of one performance. What kind of party does that?” (On Monday, Ezra Klein answered that question, “A party that was doing its job.”) Other possible candidates include Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer, US Senator Raphael Warnock, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, and Pennsylvania Government Josh Shapiro. Despite her saying no over and over again, former first lady Michelle Obama’s name remains in circulation.

The only way someone can step into his place, however, is if Biden himself chooses to move aside. It is widely acknowledged that First Lady Jill Biden may be the only person who can persuade him to do so. But this doesn’t seem likely to happen. After a weekend at Camp David, Politico reports that the Biden family placed the blame for the debate and its outcome on Biden’s top advisors. This news, based on three people who were briefed on these conversations but were not a party to them, asserts that the family wants Biden to stay in the 2024 race, with the most vehement support coming from Jill Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Claims of elder abuse have been making the rounds and Jill Biden’s introduction of her husband to supporters right after the debate did not help. She praised him as one might a child, “Joe, you did such a good job. You answered every question, you knew all the facts. Let me ask the crowd – what did Trump do? Lie.” As the President of the United States of America, answering the questions and knowing the facts is his job.

Biden, his family, and his team would do well to contemplate what would happen to his legacy if, despite the warning signs, he stayed in the race only to lose in November? How will anyone who fears a second Trump administration both in the US and around the world see him after effectively handing back the White House to Trump? Biden can step aside now with his dignity and legacy intact, focus on finishing out his term with grace, and be the most valuable surrogate a new candidate could possibly have: a sitting president.

It’s hard to imagine the party and the campaign bouncing back from this debacle if Biden refuses to step aside. But by allowing its local leaders and activists to choose a new candidate, the Democratic Party might be able to atone for putting us all in danger of a second Trump administration.

A version of this article originally ran in Spanish in El Espanol.


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