OK, look. It’s understandable that a lot of Democrats are panicking after President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance – and are now desperately casting about for any alternative.

There are quite a few problems with that, however. The Democrats are probably overreacting; Biden won’t step back; they don’t really have any better options; and even if it all worked out, it would be fundamentally undemocratic.

Still, let’s take some time to unpack this.

Twelve years ago, former President Barack Obama had a disastrous showing in his first debate with Mitt Romney. Do any of you remember that? You may not, because it didn’t lead to hysterical calls for Obama to drop out of the race. Obama’s performance that evening wasn’t nearly as bad as Biden’s, and there weren’t pre-existing doubts about his fitness for office, but still the reaction was a general shrug from both sides of the aisle.

There was no crazy overreaction. You know why? Because it happened in October – when debates ought to occur – and when the two faced off again less than two weeks later, Obama did just fine.

It’s only June, and the debate didn’t really show anything about Biden that the vast majority of us didn’t already know. He had a bad debate; as Obama himself said, “Bad debates happen.”

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A disastrous debate performance isn’t a legitimate reason to withdraw from the race, especially in June. Anything could happen in the next five months, good or bad, for either candidate.

And it’s hard to imagine any circumstances under which Biden would voluntarily withdraw from the race. As a career politician, being president has always been his goal. He’s never spent much time doing anything besides running for office or serving in office. It’s all well and good to sell the story that he had to be convinced to run in 2020 for the good of the country … but it’s hard to believe about a guy who spent his whole life wanting to be president.

There’s no 25th Amendment to invoke to force Biden to step aside as the nominee; all the Democratic Party could do is nominate someone else at the convention, and most delegates are automatically pledged to him unless he withdraws. Even if they weren’t, the people picked to be delegates are going to remain personally loyal to him as long as he’s in the race.

Part of the reason that the talk of replacing Biden is just talk is that the party really doesn’t have any better options. They’d have to quickly settle on a consensus candidate by Aug. 7 in order to make the ballot in Ohio, and no such person exists.

Vice President Kamala Harris hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm in her four years on the job. She hasn’t been involved in Democratic politics long enough to build up a well of activists, party officials or major donors who are deeply, personally committed to her – the kind of loyalty that would be required to secure the nomination under such unusual circumstances.

There don’t seem to be any other potential candidates sitting around who’d be able and willing to do so, either. If Biden withdrew, replacing him could rapidly turn into a chaotic free-for-all. The Democratic Party can’t afford that at this stage.

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Replacing Biden at this late stage would be unprecedented. When Lyndon Johnson opted not to run for re-election in 1968, it was before most of the primaries had taken place. The people deciding the nomination this year wouldn’t be everyday voters, but party activists chosen to be delegates. The candidates wouldn’t have been on the ballot in any state.

Although the Democratic Party has a set of rules governing these circumstances, they’ve never been invoked – and for good reason. They should be reserved for serious circumstances like a health emergency, not a bad debate. If Democrats replace Biden, they’d be doing it in an undemocratic way, abandoning one of their main arguments against Trump.

While that would come as no surprise to those of us who’ve been paying attention, it may shock those swing voters they’re trying to court.

Democrats might think they need to replace Biden. If they do, however, they only create new problems for themselves. They need to keep their focus on getting Biden re-elected. Without that focus, their clumsy end is perilously near.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
jwfossel@gmail.com
Twitter: @jimfossel

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