The Democrats have been actively avoiding any conversations about a backup plan for their presidential nominee up until now. However, the recent report from special counsel Robert Hur might have compelled them to reconsider their approach.
Hur’s scathing depiction of President Joe Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and “diminished faculties” has sparked a discussion on the president’s age and mental acuity. This, combined with the prevailing perception that Biden may be too old for another term and his frequent trailing behind former president Donald Trump in swing state polls, has raised concerns about his ability to lead the party in November. As a result, there is a growing need for Democrats to consider a contingency plan.
Due to various procedural and political challenges, replacing him would not be a straightforward task. The most probable outcome is that Biden will remain on the ticket. However, it is also conceivable that different situations could arise, leading the party to nominate someone other than Biden at the August convention or even select an alternative candidate for the unprecedented general election competition.
So, here’s how it would work.
The reality is that Biden can only step aside voluntarily or be physically unable to stand for nomination for a backup strategy to be implemented. Currently, there is no dispute: Biden is on track to secure the Democratic nomination, despite concerns within the party. Rep. Dean Phillips, Biden’s unlikely rival, has been cautioning about the potential risks of nominating Biden for months but has struggled to gain support. As a result, the Minnesota Democrat has faced backlash from the party for raising this sensitive issue.
At this point, it is not feasible for a late-entering white knight candidate to emerge, despite only 3 percent of the total delegates being awarded so far. The reason for this is that the filing deadlines for primary ballot access will have passed in all but six states and the District of Columbia by the end of this month. The remaining states are Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and South Dakota. Even if a candidate were able to get on the ballots in all of these states and win every single delegate, it would still have little impact on Biden’s delegate count. On March 5, Super Tuesday, Biden is expected to accumulate more delegates from the state of California alone than from those six states and D.C. combined.
Unless he is incapacitated or faces a highly improbable revolt from his delegates, the only viable alternative is for Biden to willingly pass on the torch. Biden is a proud individual, whose ego has been influenced by his early election to the Senate and his multiple unsuccessful attempts at the presidency before finally succeeding. Convincing him that his current position is becoming increasingly difficult and that stepping down is necessary will be no easy task.
There is a way for him to depart with grace and according to his own wishes. This path involves allowing the Democratic primary campaign to reach its conclusion, which is on June 4 when the final set of states conducts their primaries. By that time, Biden would emerge as the clear winner, having amassed a significant number of pledged delegate votes, well surpassing the 1,968 votes required to secure the nomination.
Biden could make the surprising decision to decline the nomination and endorse another candidate, acknowledging the public’s concerns about having an 86-year-old president in a second term. He could emphasize that he has always portrayed himself as a bridge to the next generation of Democratic leaders. Additionally, he could highlight the thriving economy and his victory over Trump, emphasizing that he fulfilled his duty and safeguarded American democracy.
The moment Biden makes his announcement, the race to find his successor would kick off. Shortly after the announcement, a series of private polls would be conducted to gauge the potential candidates’ chances in the general election, highlighting their ability to defeat Trump. From June 4 to Aug. 19, when the party’s convention commences in Chicago, senior Democrats would engage in a fierce competition to secure their position as Biden’s replacement. This battle for succession would be unprecedented in American politics, reminiscent of a bygone era.
Battle at the convention
Heading into the convention, Biden would still hold significant influence. If the remaining primaries unfolded similarly to South Carolina and Nevada, a large majority of convention delegates would be pledged to Biden. While these delegates are not obligated by law to support the president or any candidate he endorses as his replacement, they have been thoroughly vetted by the Biden campaign. It is highly probable that many of them would follow Biden’s lead if he were to endorse a candidate.
The rest of the top prospects have been strategically preparing for this moment, establishing themselves as influential figures on a national scale and strengthening their image as individuals who work well within a team. Governors Gavin Newsom of California and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, both hailing from predominantly blue states, have emerged as particularly enthusiastic advocates. Their ability to rally support will undoubtedly aid them in their quest to win over convention delegates. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has also been a staunch defender of Biden, actively endorsing him to Arab Americans in Michigan and serving as his campaign co-chair in the state.
The Democrats’ convention, usually known for its lack of excitement, would be anything but this time around. Although the Democrats had limited the power of their “superdelegates” after the 2016 elections, these influential current and former party leaders and elected officials would still have a say in a possible second ballot at the convention. This could potentially give them considerable influence in choosing a nominee during a heated battle on the convention floor. However, it could also revive the debate about the role of party elites in hindering Bernie Sanders’ chances of securing the nomination back in 2016.
In the current situation, each party faction would try to exploit the unique opportunity for their benefit. The potential pool of candidates would be vast, encompassing not only the 2020 Democratic hopefuls but also those who understand that the chance to secure the Democratic nomination may not arise again until 2032.
A new Democratic nominee would then be crowned.
In a different scenario, let’s imagine that Biden overcame his doubts and secured the nomination at the convention in late August. However, what if he then became unable to participate in the November election? According to convention rules, in the event of the nominee’s “death, resignation or disability,” party chair Jaime Harrison would consult with the Democratic leadership of Congress and the Democratic Governors Association. They would then report to the approximately 450 members of the Democratic National Committee, who would ultimately select a new nominee. Additionally, if Harris were to be elevated to the top of the ticket, the committee would also choose a new running mate.
If Biden were to leave the ticket late, it would create a massive problem for the states. Some places are scheduled to send out overseas military ballots just a few weeks after the convention ends, and early in-person voting begins as early as September 20th in Minnesota and South Dakota. While Americans technically vote for electors rather than presidential candidates, any attempt to replace Biden after the convention would likely result in a court battle if votes have already been cast with his name on the ballot.
While Biden is currently under scrutiny, Republicans are also facing complex questions. The presumed nominee, Trump, also faces challenges due to his age of 77 and occasional verbal slips and senior moments. Additionally, his candidacy is marred by multiple legal issues, which raises doubts about his viability as a candidate. However, there is one aspect where Trump’s hold on the GOP nomination may be stronger than Biden’s on the Democratic side. Unlike the Democrats, Republican convention delegates are not just pledged but bound to their candidate on the first ballot. This means that if Trump has the majority of delegates at the Milwaukee convention, he cannot be denied the nomination, even if he is convicted of one or more crimes before the proceedings begin in July. As long as Trump insists on continuing his campaign, he would be able to proceed.
In both scenarios, it becomes evident that in a time where national parties have lost their strength, there are only a few respected individuals who can step up and protect the party’s or even the nation’s best interests. With both Biden and Trump forging ahead, there is no effective way to hinder their progress.