Why Biden Has No Serious Primary Challenger
There are times where conventional wisdom falls down on the job. These days, the best example of that is the confusion in pundit-land about President Biden’s glide path to renomination. Jonathan Chait was the latest to express his ignorance in New York‘s Intelligencer.
The hunger for such a challenge certainly exists: A CNN poll finds two-thirds of Democrats want their party to nominate somebody else. There isn’t much mystery as to why. The same poll asked Democrats what concerns they may have about Biden and found that two-thirds cited his age, his health, his mental sharpness, or his vice-president, all of which amount to the same thing. The demand for a different option is robust. What is mystifyingly absent is the supply.
Oddly enough, Chait almost stumbles upon the answer in his final paragraph, but earnestly misses the target.
Biden likes to say, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative.” Lucky for him, Democrats don’t really have one.
That last line – which is echoed all over opinion sections of online newspapers and blog posts – is simply wrong. Contrary to what everyone else might think, there is an alternative – of sorts. In fact, only one person not named Joe Biden can really be the Democratic nominee. Her name is Kamala Harris – and Democrats simply prefer Biden to her.
The fascination with incumbent presidents facing primary challengers clouds everyone’s thinking on this. Chait himself listed the recent attempts to knock off an incumbent from within.
The historical precedents are Eugene McCarthy running against LBJ’s Vietnam War policy in 1968, Ronald Reagan running to Gerald Ford’s right in 1976, Ted Kennedy running to Jimmy Carter’s left in 1980, and Pat Buchanan’s populist-slash-isolationist challenge to George Bush in 1992.
So four presidents have been challenged within their own party over the last 70 years; three of them were renominated anyway. Yet during that same time period, one office – and only one office – had a better record of getting the party’s presidential nod – the incumbent Vice President.
Only four have sought their parties nomination since World War II: Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George H.W. Bush in 1988, and Al Gore in 2000. All of them won. In fact, the one time an incumbent was rejected by his own party (LBJ in 1968), his Vice President (Humphrey) entered the race and won the nomination.
The data make it perfectly clear: if Joe Biden were to choose – or if he were forced – to stop seeking the Democratic nomination in 2024, the party would nominate Vice President Harris. This should be painfully obvious even without the fact that she would be the first Black woman to be nominated by a major party.
Everyone in the Democratic Party knows this. More to the point, in a choice between Biden and Harris, Democrats would pick Biden.
Every. Single. Time.
At present, only three people have any realistic chance of being President on 1/20/25: Biden, Trump, or Harris. Democrats prefer Biden. That’s why he’s running despite being an octogenarian. That’s why no major Democrat is running against him.