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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

Democratic Voters Want To Get Rid of Biden—But Will The Party Let Them? 

The clearly-expressed will of the people is that someone else should be nominated. But Democratic party leaders want to force people to accept Biden whether they want him or not. He needs a serious primary challenger.

Joe Biden’s presidency has been an abject failure. This is certainly the impression one gets from looking at the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll results, which find that “more than 6 in 10 Americans (62 percent) say they would be ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘angry’ if Biden were reelected in 2024.” Just seven percent of voters say they are “enthusiastic” about Biden (one wonders who the seven percent are). Perhaps most astonishingly, the overwhelming majority of Democrats want to get rid of Biden: 

An AP-NORC poll from two weeks ago found similar levels of abysmal unpopularity: 

So according to the Post’s polling, fewer than one-third of Democratic voters believe Joe Biden ought to be nominated for reelection, with most saying someone else ought to be nominated. (Republicans, as you can see, are split on Donald Trump, though slightly more people would presently prefer someone else.) The Washington Post tells us that the numbers are “statistically unchanged since last September,” meaning that people aren’t showing any signs of changing their minds and embracing Biden’s reelection. Last summer, the New York Times reported that “only 13 percent of American voters said the nation was on the right track — the lowest point in Times polling since the depths of the financial crisis more than a decade ago.” And no, the numbers have not substantially improved since then, with NBC news reporting that “the 71% of Americans in our latest NBC News poll saying the country is headed in the wrong direction is the eighth time in the last nine NBC News surveys dating back to Oct. 2021 when the wrong track has been above 70%,” concluding that “We have never before seen this level of sustained pessimism in the 30-year-plus history of the poll.” I know nobody expected much of the Biden era, but even I am tempted to ask: how can you fuck things up that badly? 

But strangely, even though voters’ views are pretty clear on this, party leaders are actually trending in the opposite direction. The Wall Street Journal tells us that those at the top of the Democratic Party are actually becoming even more strongly committed to supporting Biden’s reelection, that Biden “isn’t expected to face a major primary challenge,” and that the Democratic National Committee recently “approved a resolution expressing its ‘full and complete support’ of the president’s re-election.” Apparently Democratic officials are pleased enough with “legislative wins of his first two years and better-than-expected midterm election results” to have confidence in Biden going forward. Reuters tells us that when Pennsylvania’s “establishment Democrats” gathered for the state party conference recently, they had “one message for U.S. President Joe Biden as he weighs running for a second term: Run, Joe, run.”

Not that anyone should need a reminder of this, but in a democracy, it’s supposed to be the voters rather than party commissars who ultimately rule. But Biden and the DNC are actually rigging the primary schedule in order to improve Biden’s chances of fending off the kind of challenger that voters clearly want to see (pushing back New Hampshire, where Bernie Sanders did well, and pushing forward South Carolina, where Biden triumphed). You can be certain that behind the scenes, party leaders are trying to make sure nobody is thinking about stepping into the race and challenging Biden. Potential challengers are already promising not to upset the coronation, and CNN reported last year that “all the Democrats being discussed as potential primary opponents to President Joe Biden tell CNN they’re ruling out runs and warning others to follow suit.” Even though there are plenty of candidates who would obviously be far better and more electable than Joe Biden, party leaders are treating the idea of a real contest of choices as somehow unthinkable. If the Democratic Party officials were confident that Biden was the best candidate, they should welcome and encourage a serious competition, since it would only demonstrate the president’s popularity. 

But if this is to be a democracy, rather than a country where voters have no meaningful choices beyond rubber-stamping party-approved candidates (i.e., the kind of fake election that we rightly denounce as absurd when it happens in countries we don’t like), then Biden has to have a meaningful primary challenge. Democratic voters don’t want him. If they’re forced to accept him (that is, if they vote at all—who could blame potential voters for being disgusted with the whole affair?), it will be because the party made sure there’d be no other viable choices on the ballot. Is that remotely acceptable in a country where the people are supposed to have their say? If the current public opinion polls are accurate, then the result of a fair primary will probably be that Joe Biden is cast out by the party’s voters, who have overwhelmingly indicated they would prefer someone else. If Biden skates through, it shows that voters simply don’t matter in our system; they’re there only to supply legitimacy for predetermined outcomes. 

Understanding the difference between party commissars and the general public helps explain why we are seeing a lot of seemingly contradictory headlines like this pair: 

How can Democrats be both “coalescing around” and opposing Biden’s campaign? Well, because “Democrats” means two different things here. It means Democratic voters in the first case, and party officials in the second. But of course, the party officials would like to convince you that they speak for “Democrats,” even when they are clearly outright defying the wishes of the public they claim to represent.

I do think party leaders may come to regret their embrace of Biden’s reelection campaign. After all, it’s premised on delusion and wishful thinking: they think that Biden has done a good job, even though public opinion polling says that Americans disagree with them on that. The New York Times just reported that even though the first years of a president’s first term are usually “the high water-mark for their ratings,” Biden has had “among the lowest average second-year approval ratings of any modern president” with his numbers “dropping nearly eight percentage points since his first year in office.” In other words, the more people experience Biden’s governance, the less they like it. Because Democratic officials care about the appearance of successful legislation, rather than the question of whether their legislation has meaningfully changed ordinary people’s lived experiences, they celebrate the “legislative victories” of the last two years, treating as irrelevant the fact that most people couldn’t tell you a single thing Biden has done for them. 

That fact is not irrelevant when an election comes around, though, and Biden and the Democratic Party will be having to tell voters to disregard their own assessment of their well-being. Biden will be forced to make the case Actually, You Are Better Off, Even If You Don’t Think You Are, which I do not expect to be a particularly compelling message. 

In fact, I think the Democrats lining up behind Biden should think hard about whether they might be sealing their party’s doom. In 2020, I warned that nominating Biden was a bad idea, because he was a useless candidate and even if elected would be a useless president. A lot of people have criticized me for thinking that Biden would lose to Donald Trump, but in my defense, I did not predict that a catastrophic coronavirus would ravage the land and discredit Trump right in the leadup to the election. I still maintain that Democrats got “lucky” (not a good word, I know) by having a pandemic they could point to as evidence of Trump’s incompetence, and if they hadn’t had that, the concerningly close election would probably have gone the other way. 

I would repeat the warning that Biden is a horrible candidate, just as he was in 2020.  The only way he will succeed  is by running against someone even worse. That might work out for him in 2024, but Donald Trump is more popular among Republicans than Biden is among Democrats, and I don’t think we should overlook the possibility that young voters won’t turn up on Election Day to help reelect a president who has long held them in contempt. (As for older voters, the AP poll above says over three-fourths of them want Biden gone.) Biden needs primary challengers. This is important for its own sake (it’s not a democracy if one name is on the ballot) but also because the voters need a chance to pick someone stronger for the general election. 

If Biden loses the general election in 2024, I wonder if all of the Democrats who dutifully lined up behind him, in total disregard of the clearly-expressed mood of the public, will wonder whether they ought to have maybe gotten rid of their unpopular candidate when they had a chance? I suspect not. Democratic Party officials have a way of blaming everyone but themselves when they fail, and I’m sure they’ll just explain a Biden loss as being the fault of Jill Stein, Russian hackers, and the damned millennials too busy eating their avocado toast to turn out to save democracy.

I don’t want Donald Trump to return to office. I fear that he will—or worse, that we will all have to suffer a Ron DeSantis administration that turns America into Florida. To stop this outcome requires, one would think, Democrats to have a candidate that people actually want to vote for. All of the evidence right now indicates that most votes for Biden would be grudging at best. That’s not a good sign, and anyone who doesn’t want to see a Trump or DeSantis presidency (or worse, a Trump-DeSantis presidency, with Trump giving DeSantis the VP slot and setting him up to take power after) should want the Democrats to have a strong candidate running. Instead, they’re pushing Joe Biden, a man whose presidency has been an abject failure (with only Democratic officials insisting otherwise). It’s not a record I’d want to have to run on. 

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