Friday Talking Points -- More Cracks In The Democratic Dam

[ Posted Friday, July 19th, 2024 – 17:27 UTC ]

The political message of this week was that Republicans are unified behind their presidential nominee Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Democrats are increasingly fractured, unsure of who they even want at the top of their ticket.

The Democratic dam didn't exactly break today, but it is getting a whole lot weaker as time goes by. A third sitting Democratic senator called for President Joe Biden to step aside and make way for someone else to run, in addition to nine more Democratic House members -- the largest one-day total yet. To date, a full 35 congressional Democrats have now done so. Biden is currently quarantining at his home in Delaware (suffering from his third case of COVID-19), and so far shows no signs of heeding the call to turn the reins of the campaign over to anyone else.

[Note: while writing this column, two more Democrats joined the call for Biden to step down, including a fourth Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown. This puts the total at 37, as we write this.]

The Democratic discord was largely tamped down for most of the week, in the wake of the assassination attempt on Donald Trump and during the Republican National Convention, but now it has broken out into public view once again in a big way. This is all unprecedented -- a growing public vote of "no confidence" in the party's leader so close to a presidential election, which will either seriously undermine his candidacy or force him to end his bid. An organized group (Pass The Torch) will soon be running television ads in the Delaware (Rehoboth Beach) market calling on Biden to step down -- which is a very public way of appealing to him that has never been seen before.

Calling for a presidential candidate to step down at this point in the race is incredibly risky, of course. But the 37 Democrats in Congress who have now done so have figured that switching horses in midstream is actually less risky than watching Biden soldier on only to lose in November. Part of this is self-preservation, as Democrats are now worried that Biden will be such a drag on the ticket that he will wind up losing not just the White House but control of both houses of Congress as well. This is backed up by polling, which increasingly shows that Biden is now not only losing the critical battleground states but also might lose states that have become Democratic strongholds -- places like New Mexico and Virginia. One poll appeared this week which showed that 65 percent of Democratic voters nationwide want someone else at the top of the ticket. That is almost two-thirds of the party's base.

Several party heavyweights have now apparently lined up against Biden continuing in the race, if the press leaks can be believed. Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer both are reported to have serious doubts that Biden can win, and Nancy Pelosi seems to be urging more and more House members to come out publicly with their call for Biden to drop his bid.

Joe Biden has a personal history of overcoming the odds and beating expectations in elections, which has led him to believe that he will do so again this year. The real race doesn't even start until Labor Day, he insists, and once the campaign season gets into full swing, his polling numbers will improve and he'll beat Donald Trump just like he did the last time. Stepping down would be an admission of failure before anyone has even cast a ballot. If everyone just calms down and lets him tough it out, he'll show all of them that their doubts were unfounded. That's what Biden truly believes, from all accounts.

Of course, he could be wrong. That's the message that more and more Democrats are desperately trying to send -- that things aren't going to magically improve, and that continuing with Biden means a sure loss whereas rolling the dice with some other candidate might at least have a chance of victory.

Biden has recently tried some conventional ways of boosting his campaign, rolling out new policy objectives in an effort to show how he is looking forward to the next four years. But proposing to cap rent increases and reform the Supreme Court only goes so far when the base is unconvinced that Biden will get the chance to do any of it. If Biden loses, it doesn't really matter what policies he would have liked to implement, because Donald Trump will be in the White House once again.

The uncertainty has spread to the deep-pocket Democratic donors as well. Some even came up with a catchy slogan: "No more dough until no more Joe." This, more than the bad poll numbers, might actually get through to Biden -- a vote of no-confidence from the people bankrolling the effort to elect him and other Democrats. But at this point it is hard to tell how much of all this is getting through to Biden. He is surrounded by people who are trying to protect him, which has led to a feeling elsewhere in the party that Biden's "bubble" is shielding him from the hard, cold reality and just needlessly dragging the whole process out.

Again, these are all uncharted waters. A political party so unconfident of their nominee that many of them are publicly calling on him to step aside is completely unprecedented. At this point, Biden stepping down is not what we'd call an inevitability, but as more and more Democrats join the chorus things certainly seem to be heading in that direction. If Biden can't even convince members of his own party that he both deserves another term in office and that he will win then how is he going to convince enough voters to make it happen? Especially when two-thirds of Democrats already want him to step aside.

Of course, even if Biden does eventually see the light and come to the conclusion that stepping aside would be best for his party, the question of "What next?" will be paramount. The best scenario seems to be Biden throwing his weight behind the passing of the torch to his own vice president, Kamala Harris. For Biden to step aside, he would have to release his delegates to the Democratic convention, which would allow them to vote for someone else. If Biden makes it clear that he favors them all moving en masse to get behind Harris, he might just guarantee her the victory. If a little more than half of his delegates followed his advice and coalesced behind Harris then she would already have enough delegates to win -- which would foreclose any sort of open-convention fight between her and any other ambitious Democrats. Instead, there would be an intense race to see who would join Harris as her vice-presidential running mate. This would allow for plenty of drama while still allowing the party to unify behind Harris, which might be the best thing for the party right now.

Biden stepping down would indeed inject some excitement into the presidential race in a big way. All of a sudden it wouldn't just be "the same two guys" running against each other again, instead America would be faced with a brand-new choice. Whether this is Harris or some other Democrat, the entire dynamic of the campaign would change into something new. It would be an enormous gamble, since Election Day is not that far away. The Democratic nominee would only have a short time to make their case to the public and try to rally voters behind electing someone other than Donald Trump. But enough time does remain to do so -- at least if Biden doesn't stubbornly hang on for very much longer.

Meanwhile, the Republicans wrapped up their convention last night with an hour-and-a-half-long speech from Donald Trump. The first part of his acceptance speech was unique in a number of ways, since he recounted what it was like to survive an assassination attempt where his ear was grazed by a bullet. To state the obvious, that's not a normal thing to talk about at a political convention.

Another big way Trump's speech was unique was that he delivered at least the first parts of it in a remarkably (for him) subdued manner. He was soft-spoken -- a term we don't think has ever honestly been applied to a Trump speech before. He seemed genuinely humbled by the experience -- another term never previously used to describe a Trump speech. It was reported before the convention even began that Trump was going to try to appeal for unity and for toning the political rhetoric down, and while some speakers throughout the week did do so, others did not. Trump played it both ways, really -- he began his speech humbly, and did use the word "unity." But then at some point the gloves came off and Trump reverted to form. The remainder of his speech was a standard-fare Trump stump speech, full of dire warnings about the fate of the country under Democratic rule. There was fear-mongering, immigrant-bashing, lots and lots and lots of lies, and the glorious promise that Trump would turn everything around on Day One. The speech went on for far too long and rambled all over the political landscape, and Trump got more and more animated as time went on.

What the GOP convention proved beyond a shadow of a doubt was that the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump, period. They, at least, are unified. They have purged those within its ranks who did not wholeheartedly support Trump and will head into the rest of the campaign solidly behind their nominee.

Democrats, meanwhile, remain in Limbo (or perhaps Purgatory?). The uncertainty as to who will be at the top of their ticket has frozen the entire campaign. We have to admit, this waiting game is excruciating. There is nothing more we would love than to return to commenting on politics-as-usual here every Friday, but at the moment it seems entirely pointless to treat the current situation in any sort of normal fashion. We do apologize for this column not reverting to form and presenting Democrats with talking points to use in the coming week, but with the biggest question in the campaign still unanswered it just seems ridiculous to pretend things are hunky-dory. Because they're not.

Joe Biden is a weakened candidate, and we say that not in reference to his physical stamina, his age, or his current bout with COVID. Biden has been weakened politically -- and at this point we really don't see how he's ever going to successfully turn things around. The calls for him to step aside and give Democrats some sort of fighting chance are just growing louder and more widespread. The longer Biden hangs on, the worse this is going to get.

We are fully aware of how risky replacing Biden on the Democratic ticket truly would be. It would be an untested method of choosing the standard-bearer. It would happen without the direct input of Democratic primary voters. It would be a monumental gamble. But at this point it seems like the party's best chance to defeat Donald Trump. The Trump campaign has been centered largely on how unfit Joe Biden is for the job, but if Biden bows out they're going to have to shift their gears in a big way. This will present an opportunity for a fresh face to change the entire dynamic of the race and to prosecute the case against electing Trump again. Joe Biden is pretty obviously not up to this task right now. Sure, it would be the biggest "Hail Mary" pass ever in modern American politics -- and there is no guarantee it would work. But the alternative is even worse. So we sincerely hope that Joe Biden does get to the point where he can gracefully step aside and end his political career on a high note, passing the torch to a younger generation. It might not work -- Trump might win anyway -- but someone new would have a much better chance than Biden.

So it is with a heavy heart that we say once again: "It's time for Joe to go."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant