Can Joe Biden or Donald Trump be replaced as US presidential candidates?

With less than five months until the 5 November polls, would Democrats or Republicans really consider replacing their candidate? And is it even possible?

This photo taken from a screen shows the first presidential debate between US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in the CNN studio in Atlanta. The first pre-election debate between current US President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be held on June 27 without spectators or reporters in the CNN studio in Atlanta.
The first presidential debate between president Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump went particularly poorly for Biden. (CNN)

Following a US presidential debate that saw incumbent Joe Biden struggle to maintain pace and former president Donald Trump make more than 30 false claims (according to fact checkers), questions have been asked over the viability of both candidates.

The first debate of the election cycle, held in Atlanta, Georgia, was particularly challenging for Biden - who stumbled over his words, mumbled, and appeared to struggle to maintain focus.

But with less than five months until the 5 November polls, would Democrats or Republicans really consider replacing their candidate? And is it even possible?

Given the president's advanced age - and growing perception that he is losing steam in the race - speculation is mounting that some Democrats would like to see Biden replaced as their nominee.

It's not an impossible scenario. But for that to happen, Biden himself would have to pull out of the race.

While he is not yet officially the Democrats' candidate for 2024, his confirmation at the Democratic National Convention is merely a rubber-stamping exercise.

Biden has already secured the number of delegates needed to gain his party's nomination (he has 3,894 delegates of 1,968 needed to be the nominee) - and those delegates have pledged Biden, meaning they will vote for him at the convention.

A potential (small) loophole says that Democrat delegates will “in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them,” potentially providing some leeway in the event that a candidate is incapacitated.

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room at the White House in Washington, June 4, 2024. One of Biden's signature laws aimed to invigorate renewable energy manufacturing in the U.S. It will also helped a solar panel company reap billions of dollars. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Questions have been asked about how fit Joe Biden is to be president following a weak debate performance. (AP)

However, a coup at this stage is unlikely to happen, has been roundly dismissed by key Democrats, and would leave the party looking so shambolic it could make a Trump victory even more likely.

A marginally more likely scenario would see senior figures within the DNC pushing Biden to stand down himself - which would mean his delegates would become free to vote for whomever they like - and would make for a very interesting convention.

Since there are no rules on a natural successor for a nominee who decides to stand down, any interested Democrat could theoretically throw their hat into the ring - although Biden would have some sway over selection.

Names such as vice president Kamala Harris, California governor Gavin Newsom, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Illinois governor J B Pritzker have been thrown out as potential Biden replacements if he does opt to stand down.

However, Newsom has already dismissed the speculation as "nonsensical", while Biden himself has previously said he would not bow out of the campaign.

In the event that Biden stood down as president, Harris would automatically succeed him - but would not automatically become the Democrat nominee for 2024.

Trump has secured 2,265 of the 1,215 delegates needed to win the nomination - so he is the Republicans' presumptive presidential nominee and the Republican National Convention will rubber-stamp his nomination in July.

There is interesting background here, however.

In 2016, a number of Republicans attempted to block Trump's confirmation, pushing for delegates to be allowed to vote freely rather than cast their ballots for Trump.

The attempt failed and, crucially, many of the party members who previously wanted to prevent Trump from becoming the party's official nominee are now staunch Trump defenders.

Republican National Committee member David Bossie told NBC News: “It didn’t happen then, and it’s not going to happen now. There is no one who is going to attempt to do that. ... There’s none of that conversation that has happened in here. Not one iota of it.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate hosted by CNN with President Joe Biden, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Former president Donald Trump is facing legal challenges, but has strong support from his base. (AP)

However, Trump's shot at the White House is far from uncomplicated. The former president has been found guilty on criminal charges of falsifying accounts to hide hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels - and is currently awaiting sentencing that could include jail time.

Additionally, he faces three more criminal cases that have not yet come to trial, and was found guilty in a civil lawsuit that saw him fined $355 million over 'fraudulent' claims made by the Trump Organization. Another civil lawsuit saw him found guilty of sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll.

The legal quagmire that comes alongside a Trump campaign has raised questions about the future of his nomination - but the GOP has firmly closed ranks around him, and it is highly unlikely anyone within the party would attempt to derail his campaign, particularly when he remains so popular with his base.