Democrats Place Responsibility on Biden’s Debate Performance

Democrats Place Responsibility on Biden’s Debate Performance

Democrats are grappling with the fallout from President Joe Biden’s lackluster performance in the first 2024 presidential debate against Donald Trump. The debate has sparked a wave of concern and speculation within the party about Biden’s viability as the nominee. Democratic sources have revealed a sense of panic and confusion, with some even discussing the possibility of Biden, 81, stepping down.

The New York Times editorial board, a significant voice in the US liberal establishment, has suggested that Biden is a “shadow” of his former self and should consider stepping aside. However, the process of replacing Biden as the nominee is far from straightforward and could become quite contentious.

If Biden were to decide to retire, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago from August 19-22 would be the venue to officially choose a new candidate. The party plans to nominate Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris virtually before the convention to meet a ballot certification deadline in Ohio. Delegates, who are party officials assigned proportionally based on primary election results, would then vote to select the nominee. This year, Biden secured nearly 99% of the almost 4,000 delegates.

According to DNC rules, these delegates are “pledged” to support the incumbent president. If Biden willingly drops out, it could lead to an open convention where potential nominees are suggested, and voting continues until one receives the majority of delegate votes. This scenario could trigger a frantic contest among Democrats vying for the nomination. Political historian Leah Wright Rigueur told BBC News that if Biden were to be replaced, he would likely have a significant say in choosing his successor.

Forcing Biden out is an even less plausible scenario. In the modern political era, a major national party has never attempted a hostile takeover of the nomination, and there is no evidence of any serious plan to do so now. However, DNC regulations do have some loopholes that could theoretically make it possible to push Biden out. The rules allow delegates to “in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them,” meaning they could look to someone else. This could lead to an incredibly ugly scenario, according to Wright Rigueur.

Experts doubt there would be a revolt among party delegates, but the DNC can alter party rules at any point. Wright Rigueur pointed to 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run for reelection, and the party shifted from an open convention process to a bound process where delegates were attached to a candidate based on primary results. Even if Biden were to exit the race suddenly, conservative groups have vowed to file lawsuits challenging the legality of any replacement Democrat’s eligibility for the ballot.

Vice-President Kamala Harris would automatically take Biden’s place if he were to step down during his presidential term. However, the same rules do not apply if Biden pulls out as a candidate for the November election. Harris would have to win the majority of delegates, just like any other candidate. While she could be favored due to her position on the Democratic ticket, her relatively low popularity among the American public might dull that advantage.

Other potential replacements for Biden include Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips and writer Marianne Williamson, though both are considered longshots. There are also calls for California Governor Gavin Newsom, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, or Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro to step in, but none of these candidates have publicly declared any wish to supplant the incumbent.

The 25th Amendment of the Constitution allows the US vice-president and the majority of the cabinet to declare the president unable to perform the duties of office, transferring power to the vice-president to serve as acting president. This has never happened before, but following the debate, senior congressional Republicans called on Biden’s cabinet to consider invoking this clause.

In the wake of the debate, Biden has tried to quell Democratic anxieties. Elected members of his party have closed ranks around him, attempting to shut down talks of replacing him atop the ticket. Democratic lawmakers acknowledged Biden’s poor showing but tried to shift the focus onto Trump’s attacks and falsehoods, hoping to remind voters of the daily turbulence of his presidency.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told The Associated Press that while Biden didn’t have a good night, neither did Trump, who delivered “lie after lie” and presented a “dark vision for America.” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries expressed support for Biden, stating he was eager to see how Biden would address his performance at a rally.

Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York admitted to taking more antidepressants than usual following Biden’s performance, but emphasized that a Trump presidency would cause him far greater discomfort. Biden himself brushed aside concerns, stating, “No, it’s hard to debate a liar.”

Biden’s campaign announced that it raised $14 million on debate day and the morning after, while Trump’s campaign said it raised more than $8 million from the start of the debate through the end of the night. Vice President Kamala Harris defended Biden’s performance, noting a “slow start” but a “strong finish.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri said he received numerous calls expressing concern about Biden’s performance but advised against making rash decisions. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina urged Biden to “stay the course.”

Biden and his allies are looking to brush aside concerns about his delivery and keep the focus on the choice for voters this November. They seized on Trump’s equivocations on whether he would accept the will of voters, his refusal to condemn the Capitol rioters, and his embrace of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and California Governor Gavin Newsom both expressed support for Biden, dismissing questions about stepping in for him. Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison tried to tamp down concerns, stating, “He beat him once. He’ll beat him again.”

As Democrats continue to process Biden’s debate performance, the party remains focused on the stakes of the upcoming election and the need to defeat Donald Trump.

Source: BBC News, Associated Press, Axios

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