4 July 2024

Biden’s party is out of democratic options


Democrats wanted to make the 2024 US presidential election a referendum on democracy. They’re now stuck between two undemocratic options for how to put forward a candidate to run against Donald Trump.

Trump’s record of falsely claiming the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ from him is clear and lengthy. A mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., which halted the counting of the votes of the Electoral College while the building was cleared. Democrats sought to capitalise on Trump’s behaviour, which large majorities of Americans view unfavourably, by making democratic values a centrepiece of their campaign against him.

The problem is that their presumptive nominee is Joe Biden, who is plainly too old to do the job of president. After his poor debate performance, some on the Left have wanted to replace Biden as the Democrats’ nominee. There’s a sense in which that is the will of the people, and there’s a sense in which it is not.

Biden’s age is a problem the American people saw well before the June 27 debate. In a Gallup poll conducted from June 3 to June 23, 76% of Americans said they were very or somewhat concerned that Biden is too old to be president. In a Wall Street Journal poll from August of last year, 73% said Biden is too old.

Biden’s approval rating fell below his disapproval rating in August 2021 during the Afghanistan debacle. Today he is 20 points underwater, with 37% approval, according to a polling average from FiveThirtyEight.

Polling shows Biden is clearly unpopular, and stands a decent chance of losing to Trump. If Trump is the enemy of democracy, then defeating him should be the primary goal. If defeating him to save democracy is the primary goal, someone other than Biden would likely do better.

But that requires Democrats to throw out the results of their primary elections, in which Biden won over 14 million votes. He did not face any significant challengers, but that’s common for incumbent presidents. Biden won the primary elections that are the mechanism by which the Democratic Party allocates its delegates to select its nominee. Among pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August, 99% are required to vote for him on the first ballot.

It would be an unusual form of democracy to cast aside the guy who won the 2020 presidential election and the 2024 Democratic primary elections in favour of someone who didn’t. But then again, keeping Biden is also untenable from the view of democracy.

If it’s really true that Biden is only ‘dependably engaged’ between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as anonymous White House aides have said, that confirms the impression that many already had that Biden’s administration is effectively run by his staff, not by him. Democratic former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson basically made the argument on television that a vote for Biden is a vote for the people ‘supporting him’ and that he’d ‘take Joe Biden on his worst day at age 86’ so long as his administration was full of people he believes to be competent.

Staffing an administration is important, but voters don’t elect the cabinet or the chief of staff or economic advisers or national-security advisers. They don’t elect the military leadership or the bureaucracy, either. All of those people exist to execute the president’s policies. If they don’t like the president’s policies, they should resign.

The people voted for the president. The president calls the shots. That’s democracy in the executive branch of the American system of government. If Democrats’ argument for keeping Biden is that he won’t really be the one calling the shots, that’s not democracy.

Biden has also made it clear on several occasions since the debate that he wishes to continue as president, win re-election, and serve another four-year term. We English-speakers have a word, borrowed from the French, for high-ranking officials forcing out an elected president against his will: ‘coup’. Not democratic.

So Democrats are in the unenviable position of choosing between keeping their candidate the people don’t like or replacing him through underhanded means, while running a campaign supposedly about the defence of democracy. And they must do this while the American people wonder whether the president they elected is actually running the government right now.

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Dominic Pino is the Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow at National Review Institute.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.