Democrats weigh risks and rewards of losing Biden


By Holly HonderichBBC News, Washington

Getty Images Joe Biden speaks during a 4th of July event on the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2024 in Washington, DCGetty Images

Concern about Mr Biden’s fitness to run has seemed to spread among Democrats

President Joe Biden sought to revive his beleaguered re-election effort on Sunday, with two campaign events in Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state.

But the efforts so far have done little to quell the swirling panic as Democrats weigh the risks and rewards of keeping Mr Biden at the top of the ticket.

Calls for Mr Biden, 81, to exit the race have only grown after a halting debate performance last week raised questions about his physical and mental capacity to run. A prime time interview with ABC on Friday fuelled further speculation about his campaign’s future.

A number of top Democratic figures voiced their stances over the weekend, aiming to address the question: is it riskier to stick with Biden or to leave him behind?

The party may be headed to defeat against Donald Trump in November if Mr Biden stays on, but replacing him comes with many unknowns.

Some see potential in a fresh start

Amid the fallout of Mr Biden’s disastrous debate performance, asking the president to step aside could bring some immediate relief.

Some Democrats, including avowed supporters of the president, have said as much, suggesting that concerns about his age and mental acuity had grown difficult to overcome.

The debate “rightfully raised questions among the American people about whether the president has the vigour to defeat Donald Trump”, said California Representative Adam Schiff on Sunday.

Mr Schiff stopped short of saying Biden should drop out in his interview with NBC News. He urged him to seek advice from people with “distance and objectivity” and make a decision about whether he believes he is the best candidate to run.

“Given Joe Biden’s incredible record, given Donald Trump’s terrible record, he [Biden] should be mopping the floor with Donald Trump,” Mr Schiff said. “It should not be even close and there’s only one reason it is close, and that’s the president’s age.”

Mr Biden is 81, while Trump has just turned 78. The ages of both candidates have become an increasingly contentious point among voters.

On the left, polls suggest some voters are losing faith in Mr Biden. In a Wall Street Journal poll released on Friday, 86% of Democrats said they would support Mr Biden, down from 93% in February.

A different candidate may also offer a clean slate in other areas, too. Before this wave of Democratic panic, Mr Biden drew criticism from voters on several policy fronts, including his handling of the US economy and the migrant crisis at the country’s southern border.

Clip of Biden in an exclusive interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos

The president faced a threat of defection from progressive voters who oppose his response to Israel’s war in Gaza. Their resistance cost him more than 100,000 votes in Michigan – a crucial swing state – during its primary in February.

A Biden ticket “is going to drag everybody else down”, said former Ohio Representative Tim Ryan on Sunday in an interview with Fox News. “I think you’re going to see a significant amount of pressure whether it’s today or tomorrow, sometime this week, as members come back that this may be untenable for them.”

Others say the unknown is too big a risk

Any benefit to losing Mr Biden may be muted by the looming risks, according to some Democratic leaders.

If the president stood aside, most of what comes after remains unclear: who would replace Mr Biden, and how? And how would that candidate fare against Trump?

And in recent days, several Biden allies have stressed the pitfalls of charting a new course, arguing that Mr Biden has been a proven success.

“Biden is old,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, 82, on CBS News on Sunday. “He is not as articulate as he once was. I wish he could jump up the steps on Air Force One. He can’t. What we have got to focus on is policy – whose policies have and will benefit the vast majority of the people in this country.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who spent the weekend stumping for the president, said the same at a rally in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on Saturday.

“It’s the hypothetical that gets in the way of progress in terms of promoting this candidacy,” Mr Newsom said. “It’s exactly where the other party wants us to be, is having this internal fight, and I think it’s extraordinarily unhelpful.”

Mr Biden’s public supporters say replacing him may become a direct benefit to Trump’s Republicans, who can argue their opponents are engulfed in party chaos.

“We’ve got to stop talking about this,” Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan said on CNN on Sunday. “We’ve spent a whole week. Republicans are having a great time. I mean, we need to get back to talking about Donald Trump and his peformance.”


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