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If Joe Biden steps aside, who takes his place?

OpinionIf Joe Biden steps aside, who takes his place?

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By the time this column is published, President Joe Biden may have announced that he is pulling out of the 2024 presidential campaign. There is simply no other path forward for the incumbent president. The entire country now knows what audiences of Fox News and other right-leaning news organizations have known for some time: Biden is in rapid decline and cannot possibly serve for another four years. 

A new CBS/YouGov poll conducted after the debate showed that 72% of the public no longer thinks Joe Biden has the “cognitive and mental health to serve as president”; almost half of Democrats say he should not be running.  

The White House, and party leaders, have been lying to the public for some time about Biden’s capability. They deserve to be punished for their duplicity; polls suggest voters will deliver that comeuppance in November. 

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Biden’s family gathered over the weekend at Camp David, purportedly to have their photo taken, but surely also to discuss the future of the campaign. Even if they have decided to throw in the towel, there is unlikely to be an immediate announcement. Democrat leaders will have to plan the difficult path forward. That there is evidently no Plan B in the works is astonishing; where have they been? 

Vice President Kamala Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris is a likely replacement if Biden says he is dropping out of the race. FILE: She speaks during the conclusion of the Investing in America tour at Coppin State University in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 14, 2023. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Those echoing Biden’s vows to keep on fighting are either delusional or self-interested. Vice President Kamala Harris can be counted on to support Joe’s ongoing campaign; she knows there’s not a chance in a million that Biden, if somehow reelected, will still be president in 2028. She stands to become the country’s first female president, simply by sticking it out and convincing voters Joe can do the same. As Nikki Haley so presciently said many months ago, “A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for Kamala Harris.”  

In addition, Harris understands that if there is a coup – if Democrat grandees assume the power to pick a new candidate – she will not top the list. True, her approval ratings are currently higher than Joe’s (39.4% vs 37.9% according to Nate Silver’s Project 538), but she proved a dismal campaigner in the 2020 primaries and has been a dreadful vice president. 

First Lady Jill Biden has received scathing criticism for pushing her feeble husband forward. Indeed, her over-the-top boosterism – her insistence that he’s sharp as a tack and absurd lauding of his debate performance – is cringe-worthy.  

But, beyond personal ambitions (who wouldn’t want to be on Vogue’s cover this month?), Jill is also trying to protect her stepson, and knows that without Joe in the White House, Hunter could end up in jail. He has already been convicted of a felony, a real one unlike the manufactured charges brought against former President Donald Trump, and faces another trial shortly. 

The White House has claimed Biden would not pardon Hunter; that’s absurd. Of course, the president would do everything imaginable to keep his son from serving time.  

Republicans urging Biden’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment are posturing; they know there’s exactly zero chance that Attorney General Merrick Garland, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the other incompetents keeping Biden afloat will pull the plug. They are complicit in hiding Biden’s mental collapse from the public; to rally round the idea he can no longer serve as Commander in Chief would be to admit that complicity.  

Many have written about the complexity of Biden withdrawing from the race. Various states have rules against late-day substitutions and there are other questions, like how Biden’s campaign war chest can be redirected. Democrats who managed to change the voting rules in 2020 to accommodate COVID-19 can muster state legislatures to force emergency changes to the delegate problem. Democrats don’t actually like the rules of democracy, they just embrace the concept to thrash Trump. 

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As catastrophic as Biden’s performance was, the most astonishing revelation of recent days – without a doubt – was how it genuinely shocked the CNN talking heads who were on set to recap the debate. Former Obama adviser Van Jones near tears, CNN anchor John King astonished by panicky texts from Democrat donors, former Obama apparatchik David Axelrod stunned that Biden “seemed a little disoriented,” all stupefied by how badly the president performed.   

presidents trump and biden during the debate

Former president Donald Trump and President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN’s studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

How can these people have been so ignorant of the top political conversation among D.C. power circles, on social media and in the right-leaning media for several months? Did they really believe their own nonsense about videos of the president looking confused, trying to sit on nonexistent chairs and rambling off into the ether on multiple occasions being “cheap fakes,” as the White House described them?  

Did they think Biden’s reluctance to sit for real interviews or hold unscripted press conferences was because he was too busy? Did they really believe Special Counsel Robert Hur’s assessment that Biden was mentally weak was a political “hit job?” Do they read only their own biased, predictable and conforming press? 

Worse than a willfully ignorant press has been the concerted effort by Democrat political leaders to shield old Joe from voters. California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, former President Barack Obama, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries – all have assured the country that POTUS was OK, when he was not. Even now, when the emperor has been revealed to have no clothes, they are sticking to their guns. 

First Lady Jill Biden has received scathing criticism for pushing her feeble husband forward. Indeed, her over-the-top boosterism – her insistence that he’s sharp as a tack and absurd lauding of his debate performance – is cringe-worthy.  

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The new talking point on the left is that sure, Biden had a bad night, but he’s been a great president and it’s important to “keep it going,” as one White House aide reportedly told New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Reality check: if Biden has been such a wonderful president, why has he earned the lowest approval ratings in modern history? 

In coming weeks, expect to see Democrats nudge Joe aside and try to rally the party around another candidate. This will get messy; as I have written before, Kamala Harris has worked hard to earn the right to run. She will not retreat peacefully.  

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