Cool. Not running again would be even cooler. (White House photo)
U.S. voters may not agree on much, but one thing they agree on is they don’t want a Trump-Biden rematch.
Just because Republican voters appear stuck on, and with, Trump, doesn’t mean Democrats can’t mix things up.
But no Democrat has come forward to primary the current president (a wayward Kennedy doesn’t count), so the only way Democrats will have a chance to flip the script is if Joe Biden reverses course and says he’s not running for reelection after all.
Which is what he should do.
Yes, Biden’s been unexpectedly good
With the possible exception of Nevada legislative leaders who ludicrously insist on pretending they, not Biden, had something to do with the post-pandemic rebound of Nevada’s economy and state budget, Democrats broadly acknowledge what an unexpectedly, almost shockingly, effective president Biden has been. Nearly every more-or-less lefty who has expressed concern about Biden’s candidacy, from U.S Rep. Dean Phillips a few weeks ago, to a Washington Post columnist this week, lavishes praise.
And for good reason. With the American Rescue Plan Act, the infrastructure bill, and the momentous albeit childishly named Inflation Reduction Act, along with a slew of smaller bills, Biden achieved more – and more productive – domestic policy legislation over roughly two years than most presidents achieve over two full terms.
In the process, he’s done more than any president to shift the country, and the world, away from the conviction, so firmly established in the Reagan-Thatcher era, that government’s top priority is to help big business. “Bidenomics” challenges that long-held dominant (in both parties) narrative with a more democratic (and, ideally, Democratic) policy emphasis on an economy built, as Biden likes to say, “from the center out and from the bottom up.”
When Biden was running in 2020, nobody saw any of that coming.
Another thing nobody saw coming was Ukraine staving off and pushing back the Russian invasion, and the scope of the coordinated assistance from an expanded, united and, Biden-led NATO.
Plus, of course, Biden beat Trump that one time.
Can he do it again?
Questioning the viability of Biden’s reelection in a column last month, J. Patrick Coolican mockingly — and accurately — paraphrased the response from the Democratic establishment to suggestions the party should get somebody else: “Shut up and clap louder for Biden.” Drawing on Hillary Clinton’s electoral college loss in 2016 as an example, Coolican noted that the party establishment pushing a conventional wisdom can be “a signal…that we should do the opposite.”
Yes, it’s possible Biden would beat Trump again.
But by artificially overweighting small-population states and underweighting large-population ones, the electoral college is structurally tilted toward Republicans. The two times this century a candidate has lost the popular vote but won the electoral college and the presidency, it was a Republican. That’s not a coincidence. It’s a systemic bias in favor of one party over the other.
Meanwhile, polls consistently show a toss up between Trump and Biden.
In a couple months Biden will turn 81. His vice president is unpopular. Counting on him to beat Trump again is taking an awful risk. Needlessly.
That risk is complicated by what tragically appears to be the new normal: A flat out bat guano taste for authoritarianism among a significant portion of the electorate who believe criminal indictments of a candidate are a feature not a bug.
For those and other concerns, polls also consistently show that however much Democratic voters acknowledge and appreciate Biden’s achievements, they don’t want him to be the nominee. A poll for CNN the other day found two-thirds of Democratic leaning voters wish Biden wouldn’t run again.
And yes, it’s not just Democrats who would be relieved
Biden could candidly acknowledge the concerns, and end his campaign. He could say he gets it. He could trumpet his achievements. He could say he won’t be endorsing any candidate (including Kamala Harris) and will let Democratic voters decide, but that he’ll do whatever he can to help the nominee. And he could promise that in the meantime he’ll do his best to keep the trains on time, the Russian authoritarian thug on his back foot, and the radical House GOP bottled up until the next president comes along.
(He could also say, but almost assuredly wouldn’t, that second presidential terms almost always suck anyway.)
Republicans and their media would say Biden was giving up because he’s corrupt or whatever. But the only people who would buy that noise will be voting Republican no matter who the Democratic nominee is. And if Republicans would like to spend the entire campaign cycle saying mean things about Biden while the Democratic nominee is someone else, eh, that’s the Republicans’ call.
Meanwhile, regular people who have lives and jobs and kids and problems and are not marinating in Republican media, would say some things about Biden too. Things like “Good for him,” and “He made the right decision,” and “Too bad Trump doesn’t do the same thing.”
While Republicans spend the campaign cycle making excuses for their quadro-indicted mad man, how refreshing it would be, especially to the fastest growing group of voters in the U.S., independent voters, if Democrats ran somebody other than Biden. Somebody fresh. Somebody who isn’t an octogenarian.
And (sigh) yes, Nevada would go second
That Democratic somebody else would have to win the nomination first. No one has been paying any attention, because as of now there is no contest to speak of, but most of you will recall that the Democratic nominating calendar has been remade. Barring any New Hampshire line-cutting (rude!), South Carolina is first, followed by Nevada, then Michigan, and then Super Tuesday.
In a competitive process, that schedule would thrust Nevada into an unprecedentedly outsized role. So revel in that if that’s your thing, though given the severe nationalization of politics of late, an argument could be made that with a few notable exceptions (oh hi New Hampshire and Iowa) one state’s as good, or bad, as another for this sort of thing.
On the other hand, campaign professionals, aficionados, and/or junkies will hem and haw that oh heavens to Betsy the time is too short, and the calendar is too, and there won’t be any time for candidates to raise money they’d need to be “competitive.”
Nevada’s a small state, population-wise. If candidates can’t be competitive here, it’s probably because they’re not viable to begin with.
Campaign traditionalists, for lack of a better description, will also complain that there won’t be time for candidates to meet voters in person.
Please. These people would be running for president, not a seat on a local soil conservation district board.
Have the Democratic National Committee rustle up a few debates – which would be determinative, most likely – and let Democratic voters sort out who they’d like to offer the nation as an alternative.
And let Republicans wallow in their Trumposphere.
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