If not Joe, then who?
The nervous chatter about Biden not running for a second term has been nonstop. His gaffes, physical fitness, age, plunging approval ratings, supposed indecisiveness on the issues, and, most important, his “bad” leadership have been slung at him. Some have even dug up his past history as a presidential wannabe as evidence that he’s not up to the task of beating back Trump or whomever the GOP picks in 2024 as its presidential candidate. An Aug. 4 Yahoo News/YouGov poll brought more bad news. A solid majority of Americans and Democrats said he would be “bad’” for the country running again.
The question “If not Joe, then who?” is far more than an academic exercise in tossing out names of a replacement candidate for him.
There are the usual top presidential candidate suspects, holdovers from 2020. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker and VP Kamala Harris. Warren and Sanders are too left, too old and too East-Coast. Booker as an African American male instantly raises the not-another-Obama-again red herring among many voters.
Harris’ 2020 presidential bid faded quickly. As VP, she has been continually nagged, nitpicked and trashed for everything from not having any substantive policy role to staff mismanagement. The gripes are calculated political hit jobs to diminish her as a potential presidential candidate.
Beyond the familiar names, the Democrats have done nothing to cultivate and promote younger Democrats as replacements for a possible faltered Biden. Time is running out for that.
The Biden-bashing suffers the same problem it did in 2020. It ignores a brutal political calculus. In 2020, Biden was the only Democrat who had any realistic chance against Trump. Four years later, little has changed. In the same YouGov poll, Biden soundly beats Trump in a head-to-head rematch.
The proof of why he’d beat Trump, and why his candidacy is not on life support, has two parts. One is a cursory look at the presidential electoral map: Apart from the two coasts where both old and new voters trend Democrat and have grown in numbers, the bulk of the country is solid red. That is heavily rural, blue collar, less educated, evangelical and traditionally conservative. It was that way in 2020. It will be that way in 2024. This never has been fertile ground for a solid progressive Democratic presidential candidate. That makes a candidacy by California Governor Gavin Newsom a losing proposition.
The second part is Trump’s 2016 win and massive 2020 vote, despite his loss. He won with that constituency. A huge part of it has remained almost devotional in its backing of him, despite the before-during-and-after the horror of his White House reign. The number of counties that Trump won throughout America dwarfed the number that Hilary Clinton won in 2016 and Biden won in 2020. With few exceptions, such as Arizona, that base of support will remain unchanged in the run-up to the 2024 presidential campaign.
Then there’s the Electoral College. It, not the popular vote, decides the presidency. The talk is endless of its gross, outdated unfairness. Yet, the College is a set-in-stone fact of American presidential political life and will remain so, thus giving GOP candidates a boost in the Heartland and Southern states.
The argument oft made about Sanders is that in a few Heartland state primaries in 2016 he peeled off a share of the blue-collar, conservative voters. Yes, but it was in the Democratic primary, and these were Democrats. In a general election, it would have been a far different story. In 2020, this would have been a tough nut for a Sanders-type Democratic presidential candidate to crack. It would be impossible in 2024 with the country’s edge further to the right. The image of such a Democrat as a tax-and-spend big government panderer to minorities who ignores beleaguered white rural and blue-collar workers has been deeply embedded.
The only hope Democrats have in 2024 to make any inroads here is a candidate who doesn’t not stir the notion these voters have of a too-liberal Democrat. Biden is still the only Democrat who can accomplish that. He is still regarded as a moderate, but blunt and plain-spoken, politically non-threatening. He still looks and speaks like, well, a regular Joe.
However, even with Joe’s regular-guy image, it will be an uphill battle in 2024. But without him, the Democrats have no one else to turn to.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.