Speculation and concern-trolling about Joe Biden standing for reelection in 2024 has officially reached a fever pitch.
A flurry of think pieces worrying about the incumbent president’s poll numbers in the Washington DC media has resulted in repeated questions from journalists about the possibility of the president stepping aside, despite strong showings in the 2022 midterm elections. David Ignatius, a longtime columnist for The Washington Post, opened up the latest broadside in DC’s publication of record last week.
“I don’t think Biden and Vice President Harris should run for re-election. It’s painful to say that, given my admiration for much of what they have accomplished. But if he and Harris campaign together in 2024, I think Biden risks undoing his greatest achievement — which was stopping Trump,” wrote Mr Ignatius.
Mr Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, faces many of the same criticisms leveled at her boss, and suggestions that Mr Biden could replace her in the hopes of boosting his own popularity.
And some Democrats are beginning to show their exasperation as the idea has ricocheted around the Beltway media and beyond.
“The answer is no,” California’s Gavin Newsom told CNN’s Dana Bash, almost as an admonishment, on Monday after being asked whether he was considering a bid for president. “I’m not that guy. I’m just not.”
Mr Newsom added that “of course” Ms Harris should be on the ticket with Mr Biden.
“Biden-Harris administration — a masterclass in terms of performance, bipartisan deals on infrastructure, bipartisan deals on guns and debt ceiling, on the CHIPS and Science Act,” the California governor added to CNN. “I mean, by definition, if I think this administration last two, two and a half years, has been one of the most outstanding administrations the last few decades, and she’s a member of that administration, she gets to lay and claim credit to a lot of that success. The answer is absolutely,” he said.
JB Pritzker of Illinois, another Democratic rising star, had a similar answer for CBS in March: “I’m supporting Joe Biden, he’s running for re-election and he’s going to get re-elected.”
Then there’s the incumbents themselves: Mr Biden addressed the ongoing gripes about the idea of him seeking a four-year term at age 80 at a fundraiser this week: “A lot of people seem focused on my age. Well, I get it. Believe me, I know better than anyone.”
An aide to Ms Harris, quoted by several media outlets, even complained about Mr Newsom’s challenge to debate Ron DeSantis, far behind in second place for the GOP nomination.
“It’s disrespectful. Joe Biden is running with Kamala Harris. That’s the Democratic ticket.”
That last criticism, aimed specifically at the California governor, could broadly be applied to much of the conversation about the 2024 Democratic ticket. Beyond the candidates’ own personal feelings and internal polling, one other fact remains: there’s just no real precedent that would allow for either Mr Biden or Ms Harris to go anywhere.
“It’s a perfectly reasonable argument to make. There’s just no real evidence that it’s going to happen,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia told The Independent of the assertion that Mr Biden should step aside because he is not the strongest candidate to put up against Donald Trump.
Mr Kondik, an elections analyst, noted that there hasn’t been an American president who sought to replace a running mate they were elected alongside since Franklin Roosevelt — and that was a particularly unique case, given that John Nance Garner III, his VP, was actually running against him in the Democratic primary that year.
The same goes for Mr Biden himself. The last US president to decline to seek a second term, a member of a club with a single-digit roster, was Lyndon Johnson. Mr Johnson, like Mr Roosevelt, faced a unique reality: his presidency and the very institution itself were poisoned by Richard Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, not to mention the growing unpopularity of the war in Vietnam and surrounding countries.
“I mean, it doesn’t seem like Biden wants to give up. You know, and ultimately, it’s his decision,” said Mr Kondik.
If Mr Biden were to step aside, he would throw his party into abject chaos — there’s no clean process of anointing a successor, and it would require either a primary election or a convention floor fight. Were he to replace Ms Harris, the embarrassment would likely hamstring his 2024 bid and likely lose him more allies than it would gain.
A poll from earlier this month may explain why the chatter about replacing Ms Harris has grown. Forty-two per cent of respondents told a CBS News poll that Ms Harris’ performance as vice president makes them think worse of the Biden administration, while just 18 per cent said it makes them think better.
And a recent interview from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t do Ms Harris any favours. When asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper whether Ms Harris was the best running mate for Mr Biden.
“She’s the vice president of the United States. And people say to me, ‘Well why isn’t she doing this or that?’ I say, ‘Because she’s the vice president.’ That’s the job description. You don’t do that much!”
Those, like Mr Ignatius, who have suggested that the Democrats break tradition have not offered a suggestion for how the party could overcome the aftermath of humiliating one or both of its standard-bearers.
“There’s been talk of dropping tried-and-trusted Vice President Harris from the Democratic ticket to strengthen the general-election slate. Do that and kiss the White House goodbye,” warned Colbert King in the Post last Friday, writing of her continued popularity among constituencies like Black voters where her boss has been less successful.
Mr Biden is almost certainly going to be the 2024 Democratic nominee, barring some major unknown development between now and next November.
“Every four years, there’s always talk about dumping the VP, this or that and ... it just doesn’t really happen,” said Mr Kondik.
“Biden could wake up one morning and decide not to run again, but there’s no way to really predict that in advance…unless you were, like, a tarot card reader.”