Politics / Column / July 3, 2024

Running Biden Against Trump Is Just Plain Irresponsible

If American democracy is on the line, as Democrats have rightly insisted, why nominate someone who has trouble keeping up with his opponent?

Sasha Abramsky
Donald Trump And Joe Biden Participate In First Presidential Debate
US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden speak to supporters at a watch party for the CNN Presidential Debate on June 27, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia.(Tasos Katopodis / Getty)

Nine years ago, when it became clear that Donald Trump was steamrolling toward the Republican presidential nomination, I repeatedly pleaded, in print, for the GOP grandees to put good of country over party and sever themselves from a putative Trump candidacy.

Throughout Trump’s rancid presidency, I time and again lambasted the unprincipled choices made by those party bigwigs in turning a blind eye to Trump’s criminality, to his cruelty, to his amorality.

With Trump locking up the Republican nomination again in 2024, I have urged those in the GOP with a conscience and a sense of honor to reject a party that offers up such an unsavory candidate for president of the United States.

Now, it is only right to apply the same standards on the other side of the aisle. I have long thought President Biden was far too old, too frail, too diminished both in energy and in intellectual agility to be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2024. But for much of this electoral cycle, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt; for all his frailty, he was capable, at times, as in the most recent State of the Union address, of hitting it out of the ballpark. I didn’t like the fact the Democrats were hell-bent on nominating an 81-year-old, but there has been a lot about Biden’s term in office that I do like, very much. On a cold metric of political success, it’s hard to dispute that Biden has been one of the most effective progressive presidents of the past century, and that he has over the past four years articulated a clear vision of the dangers that Trump poses to American democracy.

Today, though, I am, quite frankly, beyond angry—and horrified at what could unfold in the coming months. What the country was treated to, in last week’s abysmal “debate,” was a public display of the ravages of old age impossible to ignore.

Democratic grandees, from Obama on down, have since implored us, the voting public, to cut Biden some slack—everyone has bad debate nights occasionally, they’ve insisted, and besides, there are simply no viable alternatives. They have tried to blame Biden’s staff for his public failure. They have said he doesn’t do well late evenings. They have blamed his incoherence on the fact that he had a cold. All these excuses ask us to ignore what was in plain sight: President Biden, despite his powerful record over the past four years, is now simply too frail be the party’s nominee for president. He struggled to string a coherent sentence together. He failed to call out Trump’s firehose of pathological lies and his vicious policy proposals effectively. He neglected to present a coherent policy agenda or a focused rationale for why he should be reelected.

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I agree with what the Democratic Party has been shouting from the rooftops: Trump is an existential threat to American democracy, and a second Trump presidency would effectively end the American Republic and replace it with a new imperium—especially in the wake of this week’s shameful Supreme Court ruling declaring presidents to be above, and outside of, the rule of law, kings in all but name. If that’s the case, it would be political malpractice of the highest order to field against him a candidate who seems no longer to be in fighting form.

Jill Biden might believe that her husband deserves four more years, as she chanted after that dismal debate performance. She may even genuinely believe, as she told her husband, that he did well in that debate. Her reaction was, to say the least, tone-deaf. The charitable interpretation is that she loves her husband so unconditionally that she can’t see the bitter truth about his cognitive and physical decline. But in this context, her personal feelings have direct bearing on the future of both the country and the individual she loves.

It doesn’t matter how much Jill Biden cheers her husband on. Nor does it matter how many fundraising e-mails political operatives send out attempting to minimize the significance of last Thursday’s debate. None of this will be enough to erase what more than 50 million American viewers saw last week.

If Jill Biden won’t whisper in her husband’s ear that it is time to pass the baton, and if the Democratic party grandees won’t pick up the phone and tell Biden the jig is up, the octogenarian candidate could well go down in a crushing electoral defeat in November. If September’s debate looks anything like last week’s, the result will not be close, either in the popular vote or the electoral college. Trump—despite his felony convictions, despite his being found liable for sexual abuse, despite the fines against him for defamation and against his company for fraud, despite the three more state and federal trials he is facing, despite his escalating threats of vengeance against his perceived enemies that have risen to level of endorsing televised military tribunals for his political opponents, despite his movement’s embrace of political violence—will end up back in the White House. It will be a shattering defeat, not just for the Democratic Party but for the concept of American democracy and the possibility of a pluralist, tolerant, rules-based culture in America. And this entirely preventable defeat will be the result of the Biden family’s hubris—the misbegotten concept that Joe Biden is indispensable, that he, and only he, can carry the torch of American democracy.

There are just over four months between now and an election that could forever alter the fabric of American society. There is time—not much, but there is still some time—for the Democrats to extricate themselves from this mess of their own making. There is time, this week, for every senior Democratic congressmember, Senator, governor, ex-president, and ex–cabinet secretary, to urge Biden to drop out, either by working the phones in private, or, if that doesn’t work, by calling for it in public. There is time for a younger, more dynamic alternative to emerge through open debate and competition—both before and during the party’s Chicago convention. But that window is fast closing. If the Democrats don’t act now, they will be heading into the November election with a candidate that, polls show, a large part of their own base has lost faith in. If they do, and if they lose, they will have no one but themselves to blame.

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Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author of several books, including Inside Obama’s Brain, The American Way of PovertyThe House of 20,000 Books, Jumping at Shadows, and, most recently, Little Wonder: The Fabulous Story of Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Sports Superstar. Subscribe to The Abramsky Report, a weekly, subscription-based political column, here.

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