Nate Silver: It's Probably Too Late for Dems not to Nominate Joe Biden

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

It's increasingly obvious, to the point where even the Democrats are having a hard time denying it, that Joe Biden isn't up to the job of President. But the idea of replacing him is equally vexing; how to do it, who shall replace him, will he step down voluntarily, or will he have to be removed?

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Fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver has some interesting thoughts on that.

I’ve written a lot about Joe Biden lately. But I’ve somewhat intentionally avoided the subject of whether I think Democrats would have a better chance of winning the 2024 election with a different nominee. In the spirit of being transparent with Silver Bulletin readers, I feel like I ought to be more explicit about addressing this. However, my answer probably isn’t going to satisfy anyone:

  • With medium confidence, I think the risks of a serious primary challenge to Biden at this point in time would outweigh the benefits for Democrats.

  • With low confidence, I think the risks of Biden volunteering not to run for a second would also outweigh the benefits for Democrats, but this is closer.

  • With low confidence, and taking full advantage of hindsight bias, I think Democrats probably would have been better off if Biden had announced 6-12 months ago that he wouldn’t seek a second term.

  • I think Biden’s situation is somewhat unprecedented and that these are hard questions for Democrats. Almost no matter what happens, people in 2025 will treat the answers as having been more obvious than they actually were.

I'd like to break those down, one by one.

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With medium confidence, I think the risks of a serious primary challenge to Biden at this point in time would outweigh the benefits for Democrats.

Joe Biden is already facing a primary challenge, of course, from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., although Mr. Kennedy doesn't appear to be gaining much traction, to the point where he has been musing on a possible third-party run. A serious primary challenge, of course, would require old Joe to appear on a debate stage, or at least to increase appearances to counter the upstart; there's little chance of that happening. Whoever is pulling Joe Biden's strings won't allow it. That's not a good look, and if the GOP shows enough smarts to pound sand, they'll capitalize on that lack. Conclusion: Liability for Dems.

With low confidence, I think the risks of Biden volunteering not to run for a second would also outweigh the benefits for Democrats, but this is closer.

If Joe Biden voluntarily steps down, and I see that as the second-most likely prospect for getting a different Dem candidate, then of course all eyes turn to Kamala Harris, who is legally and politically the understudy. Here's the rub: Kamala's ratings are even lower than Joe's. She's inarticulate, abrasive, unlikable, and incompetent; anyone in the current GOP candidate field would beat her like the redheaded stepchild of a rented mule. She also is self-entitled enough that she won't give way voluntarily; there's no easy way to displace her. Conclusion: Liability for Dems.

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With low confidence, and taking full advantage of hindsight bias, I think Democrats probably would have been better off if Biden had announced 6-12 months ago that he wouldn’t seek a second term.

That much, at least, is certain. But announce he did not, despite the concerns of liberals in the press and among voters. He's running, and the Democrats will have to find some other way of dealing with him. Conclusion: Liability for Dems.

I think Biden’s situation is somewhat unprecedented and that these are hard questions for Democrats. Almost no matter what happens, people in 2025 will treat the answers as having been more obvious than they actually were.

Granted these would be hard questions for any party. A brief totting-up of the situation Democrats face looks like this:

  • Their standard-bearer is elderly, obviously impaired, with essentially zero prospects of lasting out a second term.
  • Their standard-bearer is, barring some disaster, running for that second term.
  • The person who is next in line is widely disliked and arguably incompetent, having been chosen solely for her skin color and plumbing.
  • The opposition still has a wide-open field of candidates; not one primary vote has yet been cast, and the primary process will sharpen all involved.
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It's not a position anyone would enjoy being in at this stage of the game. The Democrats are, simply, caught between Scylla and Charybdis, and it's not easy to see a way out.

The GOP, of course, has issues of their own. And not least among those issues is that they do not yet know, at least not with any certainty, who they will be facing next year. But that's nothing new for a political party at this stage in the game. Dealing with a candidate who is obviously failing and refuses to step aside -- that's a harder thing to deal with.

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