For Democrats longing for an alternative, Biden's team has a message: Get over it


Ultimately, many Democrats wish President Biden would not run this fall. Only 28 percent of Democrats in a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College expressed enthusiasm for his candidacy, and 38 percent said flatly that Biden should not be their candidate.

But even as many Democrats both in Washington and across the country quietly long for someone else to take on former President Donald J. Trump, who leads the national poll by 5 percentage points, no one who matters seems willing to tell that to Trump. Biden himself. Or if they are, they don't seem to be listening.

Surrounded by a loyal and devoted inner circle, Biden has given no indication that he would consider stepping aside to let someone else run the party. In fact, he and those close to him bristle at the idea. For all the lamentations, the president's advisers note, no serious challenge has emerged and Biden has dominated the early Democratic primary even more decisively than Trump won his own party's nomination contests.

Biden's team finds the question itself absurd. In his opinion, the president has an impressive record of achievements to build on. There is no obvious alternative. It is too late in the cycle to withdraw without considerable disruption. If he had ever opted for a second term, it would have been a year ago before there would have been time for a successor to emerge. And other than someone with Biden in his name, it's hard to imagine who would have enough influence to even approach him with the idea, much less influence him.

“There is no council of elders and I'm not sure if there was a sitting president, no matter who it was, would listen to them,” said David Plouffe, the architect of President Barack Obama's campaigns and one of the strategists who helped him. to pick Biden as his vice presidential running mate in 2008. “He thinks, 'Hey, I won and I beat the guy who's going to run against me and I can do it again.'”

Members of Biden's team insist they feel little concern. The president's closest aides respond with exasperation to those who question his decision to run again and dismiss polls as meaningless long before the vote. They argue that Biden is consistently underestimated by skeptics and that Democrats won or exceeded expectations in 2018, 2020, 2022, 2023 and even in a special House election this year.

“Actual voter behavior tells us much more than any poll and tells a very clear story: Joe Biden and the Democrats continue to do better, while Donald Trump and the party he leads are weak, cash-strapped, and deeply divided,” Michael Tyler, the Biden campaign's communications director, said Saturday. “Our campaign ignores the noise and runs a strong campaign to win, just like we did in 2020.”

Outside the White House, however, many Democrats would like the White House to, without panic, show some urgency. Biden's weakness in polls, especially those that show him trailing in the half-dozen swing states needed to assemble an Electoral College majority, has generated widespread anxiety within the party. Some say privately that Georgia and Arizona may be out of reach for him, which would require Biden to sweep Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Discontent is not necessarily a judgment on the merits of Biden's presidency. Many Democrats say he has done a good job on many fronts: curbing the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, managing wars in Europe and the Middle East and enacting landmark laws on infrastructure, climate change, health care, industrial policy, veterans care and more. affairs.

But his support has been undermined by concerns about his age, his support for Israel's war against Hamas, the record influx of migrants at the southwest border and the lingering effects of inflation even though it has fallen again. More than 100,000 Democrats in Michigan, or 13 percent of the total, simply cast “uncommitted” protest votes to express their discontent, especially regarding Gaza.

Biden, 81, is only slightly older than Trump, 77, and both have shown moments of confusion and lapses in memory. After his annual physical last week, Biden's doctor declared him “fit for duty.” But polls show that more of the public is uneasy about the advancing Biden years than the Trump ones.

“Would you prefer Joe Biden to be 65 years old? Sure, that would be fantastic,” said Elaine Kamarck, director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Democratic National Committee. “But is not. And that's why I think we're in the silly season where everyone is looking for an alternative scenario.”

Alternative scenarios remain implausible. The long-shot challenger, Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, has failed to gain traction, and with Super Tuesday approaching this week it is almost certainly too late for a major candidate to jump into the race, even if one were willing to. confront the president. , something that no one seems willing to do.

Many dinner conversations in Washington these days focus on what would happen if Biden changed his mind at the last minute as President Lyndon B. Johnson did in 1968 or experienced a health event that prompted him to drop out of school. If that were to happen before the Democratic National Convention in August, it would set the stage for the first open convention race in decades. After the convention, any vacancies at the top of the ticket would be filled by the Democratic National Committee.

However, all that is said is just that. Biden is helped by the fact that none of the next generation of Democrats waiting in the wings, like Vice President Kamala Harris or Governors Gavin Newsom of California or Gretchen Whitmore of Michigan, have a proven national following or a track record of primary success. .

“You could name five or six alternatives to Biden, but they haven't gone through the system,” said Kamarck, one of the country's leading experts on the nomination process who just published the fourth edition of her four-year guide, “Primary Politics.” : everything you need to know about how the United States nominates its presidential candidates.”

“We don't know enough about them to give them a nomination,” he continued. “It's crazy. This is all so crazy. There's no alternative.”

Ms. Kamarck said more and more Democrats have come to accept that. “Democrats are increasingly vocal in their defense of Biden,” she said. “The guy is a good guy. He is not senile. He has made good decisions. The economy is the best economy in the world. I mean, shut up. Let's support this guy.”

The idea that someone outside his family could convince Biden to step aside has always been fanciful. There are few Democrats with the kind of gravitas that could mean anything to Biden. He still stings that Obama gently pressured him not to run in 2016, conceding to Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in the fall. Biden is old enough to have no mentors and few peers from his days in the Senate. And Jill Biden and other family members strongly support this final candidacy.

“There were only two people who could stop Joe Biden from being the nominee: Joe Biden if he decided not to run or someone serious who would challenge him,” Plouffe said. And as attractive as a younger Democrat may seem on paper, he added, nothing is certain until someone actually runs and wins. “The political graveyard is full of people who look good on paper,” he said.

Plouffe agreed that “concerns about his age are more pronounced than people thought” a year ago. “The only thing to do is normalize it and ultimately take the fight to Trump.” He said he was pleased to see Biden getting out more, appearing on late-night television and using Tik Tok. The more voters see it, Plouffe reasoned, the less any particular mistake will matter.

An important moment for the president to prevail will come Thursday night, when he delivers his State of the Union address to what historically should be his largest television audience of the year. He will talk about his history and what he wants to do over the next four years. But just as important as any political statement will be how it is presented.

The president's advisers express confidence that when push comes to shove, most voters will once again prefer Biden, whatever his flaws, over Trump, a twice-impeached defeated former president facing 91 felony charges. , has been found responsible in civil cases. trials for widespread corporate fraud and sexual assault and conversations about being a “dictator” for a day.

“The view of most Democrats,” Plouffe said, “is: 'Okay, this is going to be really difficult, with a high degree of difficulty, but ultimately there are probably enough parts of the country that don't want to sign on.' an agreement”. Second Trump term we can make this work.'”

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