Joe Biden Isn't Finished Just Yet

Joe Biden

Joe Biden Isn't Finished Just Yet

The logic appears to be that if Joe Biden won’t bow out, there is no point in further weakening him by mounting a public pressure campaign that will go nowhere.


Democrats moved through their various stages of grief after President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance. In the hours after the president walked off the stage in Atlanta, there was a full-blown panic inside his party.

By morning, elected Democrats were offering tepid statements of public support even as the strategists they employ kept feeding anonymous quotes stoking the great Biden replacement theory. After former President Barack Obama implicitly compared Biden’s showing to his own loss to Mitt Romney in their first debate in 2012 (the same cycle where Biden cleaned Paul Ryan’s clock), the default Democratic impulse was to circle the wagons.


It was apparent that Biden wasn’t going to fall on his sword and Democrats have few practical options. There was some hopeful reporting that hinted at a possible family intervention, but it is readily apparent Biden’s wife and children are among the biggest boosters of his continued candidacy. By weekend’s end, Democratic donors had given way to farming analogies: “This is the old horse we’ve got, and we need to ride him ‘til he’s ready for the glue factory.”


Biden weathered the crucial 72 hours when his candidacy was hanging in the balance. He remains more or less in control of his political destiny, though the donor class is not without a say. But he is not totally out of the woods yet.

The New York Times editorial board and other Democratic opinion leaders, both center-left and progressive, have not joined the circling of the wagons in Biden’s time of need. The loss of elite liberal media support isn’t fatal to Biden, just as Donald Trump has been able to largely ignore their conservative counterparts for over nine years. But it does represent a significant erosion of an important layer of protection Democrats enjoy.

Secondly, it is clear that the Democrats’ rally-around Biden play is both practical and probationary. Very few people attempted to spin the debate as a Democratic win. Biden himself publicly conceded that at 81, he doesn’t debate as well as he used to, even if in private, his family is reportedly trashing senior aides and media enablers.

The logic appears to be that if Joe Biden won’t bow out, there is no point in further weakening him by mounting a public pressure campaign that will go nowhere. (This was basically the same thought process behind shielding Biden from a genuinely competitive primary process.) If Biden shows further age-related slippage or drops in the polls — remember that while he is trailing Trump, he is also for now still within plausible striking distance of 270 electoral votes — major Democrats could revisit this.

The window for such second thoughts is limited. By the time of the second debate, if there is one, Biden will already be the nominee. You can’t really say the sitting president, who you need to remain in power until Jan. 20, is incapacitated as a means to replace him. So Democrats will soon be stuck with him. Biden had better avoid slipping on any literal or figurative banana peels before then.

That’s where the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling along ideological bloc lines on Trump’s immunity comes into play. While far more limited in scope than the online left’s hysterics imply — it doesn’t even unambiguously doom special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution of Trump, much less empower the once and perhaps future president to nuke American cities with impunity — it will really fire up the Democratic base about the stakes in this election.

Substituting fear and loathing of Trump for real enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate has been Biden’s party’s strategy since at least 2016. It hasn’t always worked, but misconceptions about what the Supreme Court ruled could add new salience to the Democrats’ flagging democracy push. And the ruling does realistically take a second Trump trial before the election off the table.

For Biden, this is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it enhances the case that Democratic voters should return him to the White House, no matter how diminished, if he is the nominee to ward off a supposed authoritarian wave. But this also enhances the case for fielding a stronger nominee with a better chance of beating Trump.

In the meantime, Biden has to count on two things beyond his own stubbornness: That Democrats continue to view the most practical replacement, Vice President Kamala Harris, as a weaker option while also finding it too daunting for anyone else to throw together a winning campaign on the fly — remember, only Harris can keep the campaign cash they have raised — after a low-probability mutiny against both members of a democratically elected ticket. This is a series of events that might make Trump look like less of a chaos candidate. 

It will be a long, hot summer.

About the Author: W. James Antle III


W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner magazine's executive editor. He was previously politics editor of the Washington Examiner, managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?