Friday, September 15, 2023


David Ignatius, Jonathan Chait, and other pundits believe that the Democrats shouldn't simply accept President Biden as the party's 2024 nominee. Ignatius thinks Biden should decline to run again, while Chait thinks a serious primary challenge could actually improve the party's chances:
The biggest assumption ... is that a challenger would obviously lose. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the polls should be taken seriously, and the fact that most of the party’s voters want somebody else to beat Biden suggests that somebody else could actually beat Biden. And given the president’s alarmingly low approval ratings, that outcome seems like it could increase, not decrease, the party’s chances of defeating Trump.
In the scenario Ignatius envisions, Biden simply doesn't run, and presumably there's a wide-open primary. Chait imagines a single major challenger taking Biden on. But either way, the party would face questions about the durability of its coalition -- questions that will inevitably arise in 2028, but don't need to come up in this cycle.

Here's the problem: When pundits imagine a Biden challenger, which names come to mind? Often it's a set of governors: Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Gavin Newsom of California, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania. Some pundits mention Biden Cabinet members: Pete Buttigieg, Gina Raimondo. Sometimes candidates from previous races are invoked: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren.

Notice something about these people? They're all white. This is a party whose most loyal voters are Black, particularly older Black women -- yet no one in the dump-Biden crowd wants his Black female vice president, Kamala Harris, to take him on or replace him as the nominee in this cycle. Why shouldn't we assume that the most loyal Democratic voters will see a challenge to Biden as what it actually is in part -- an attempt to dump Harris as well?

Also, if Biden were to drop out of the race altogether, a wide-open primary could expose tensions between liberals and leftists that weren't really a factor in 2020 as the general election approached and the need to defeat Donald Trump held the party coalition together. This time, I suspect Warren and Sanders wouldn't run again, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might. The fight between the two wings of the party will be ugly in the 2028 presidential cycle. Do we really want to have it in this cycle? Whichever way it's resolved, Democrats will alienate some voters. I realize a Biden renomination will also alienate some voters, but a defeat of one faction or the other could hurt the Democrats more.

I'd feel a bit better about a challenge to Biden if there were an obvious alternative with broad general appeal. Imagine if there were someone like Barack Obama now, a candidate with cross-racial appeal, and mainstream policies accompanied by progressive vibes. But there's no one like that in the party, so the process of finding a successor to Biden is unlikely to go smoothly. This isn't a fight we want to have now.

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