If Not Joe, then Who???

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The nervous chatter about Biden not running for a second term has been nonstop. His gaffes, his physical fitness, his age, his plunging approval ratings, his supposed indecisiveness on the issues, and most important his “bad” leadership have been slung at him. Some have even dug up his past failed and flawed history as a presidential want to be as more evidence that he’s not up to the task of beating back Trump or whomever the GOP picks in 2024 as its presidential candidate. An August 4 Yahoo News/YouGov poll brought more bad news for Biden. A solid majority of Americans and Democrats said he would be “bad’” for the country running again.

The question if not Joe, then who is far more than an academic exercise in tossing out names of a replacement candidate for him. The names routinely bandied about carry much baggage. 

There are the usual top presidential candidate suspects’ holdovers from 2020. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker, and VP Kamala Harris, Warren, and Sanders, are too left, too old, and too East Coast. Booker is an African American male, and that instantly raises the not-another-Obama-again red herring among many voters in key states.

Harris’s presidential bid faded quickly. There were endless complaints that her campaign was a poorly mismanaged, unfocused, make-it-up-as-you-go-along campaign. As VP she has been continually nagged, nitpicked, and trashed for everything from not having any substantive policy role to staff mismanagement. The gripes are calculated politically hit jobs to diminish her as a potential presidential candidate. However, they’ve had a damaging effect. 

Beyond the familiar names, the Democrats have done absolutely nothing to cultivate, and promote any younger Democrats as a replacement for a possible faltered Biden. Time is running out for that. 

The Biden bash now suffers the same problem it did in 2020. It ignores a brutal political calculus. In 2020, Biden was the only Democrat who had any realistic chance against Trump. Four years later, little has changed. In the same disparaging YouGov poll, Biden soundly beats Trump in a head-to-head rematch.

The proof of why he’d beat Trump and why his candidacy is not on life support is in two parts. One is a cursory look at the presidential electoral map. Apart from the two coasts where both the old and the new voter demographics trend Democrat and have grown in numbers, the bulk of the country is solid red. That is heavily rural, blue collar, less educated, evangelical, and traditionally conservative. It was that way in 2020. It will be that way in 2024. This is not and never has been fertile ground for a solid progressive Democratic presidential candidate. This makes a California Governor Gavin Newsom candidacy a badly losing proposition.

The second part is Trump’s 2016 win and massive 2020 vote despite his loss. He won with that constituency. A huge part of it has remained almost devotional in its backing of him despite the before during and after the horror of his White House reign. The number of counties that Trump won throughout America dwarfed the number that Hilary Clinton won in 2016 and Biden won in 2020. With few exceptions, such as Arizona, that base of support will remain unchanged in the run-up to the 2024 presidential campaign.

Then there’s the Electoral College. It, not the popular vote, decides the presidency. The talk is endless of its gross and outdated unfairness. That is heavily tilts toward putting GOP presidential candidates such as Trump and Bush Jr. before him in 2000 in the White House. Yet, the College is a set-in-stone fact of American presidential political life and will remain so, thus giving GOP candidates a boost in the Heartland and Southern states.

The argument oft made about Sanders is that in primaries in a few Heartland states in 2016 he peeled off a share of the blue-collar, conservative voters, the Trump base. Yes, but it was in the Democratic primary, and these were Democrats. In a general election, it would have been a far different story. In 2020, this would have been a tough nut for a Sanders-type Democratic presidential candidate to crack. It would be impossible in 2024 with the country’s edge further to the right. The image of such a Democrat as tax and spend, big government, and a panderer to minorities, that ignore beleaguered white rural and blue-collar workers have been too deeply embedded in their view of Democrats.

The only hope Democrats have in 2024 to make any inroads here is with a candidate who did not stir the politically frozen, suspect notion these voters have of a too liberal Democratic presidential candidate. Biden is still the only Democrat who can accomplish that. He is still regarded as a moderate, but blunt, plain-spoken, from a Heartland state, and thus politically non-threatening. He still looks and speaks like well, a regular Joe.

However, even with Joe’s regular guy image, it will still be an uphill battle in 2024. But without him, the Democrats have no one else to turn to.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming; The Midterms Why They are So Important and So Ignored (Middle Passage Press)

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