Dump Biden? This is why appointing another Democrat as president would be a mistake

(Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Dump Biden? This is why appointing another Democrat as president would be a mistake

Opinion piece, Elections 2024

Caitlin E Jewitt

February 28, 2024

Democratic voters and elites are concerned about President Biden’s age and his ability to carry out his duties


as well as his mediocre poll numbers against former President Trump. A move to express dissatisfaction with Biden during Michigan’s primary on Tuesday only deepened doubts.

Some have gone so far as to suggest that the party choose a new standard-bearer at this late date, perhaps through an old-fashioned, mediated convention that ignores the results of the primaries. But replacing the presumptive nominee now would be bad for Democrats and democracy.

Biden will not officially become the nominee until he receives a majority of delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention in August. But even though only a few states have voted and less than 1% of delegates have been allocated, it is already too late for a new candidate to challenge Biden by participating in the primaries. Ballot submission deadlines have passed in most states, and those that haven’t claimed enough delegates to win the nomination.

One question I have often heard is whether the delegates could go into the convention and choose another nominee. They could, but they don’t.

Because Democratic delegates have made a pledge but are not legally bound to their candidates, they can vote for someone else. But the delegates will be loyal Biden supporters, chosen by his campaign and sent to the convention to vote for him. They will not abruptly decide to shift their loyalties elsewhere.

The only way Biden’s delegates would abandon him is if the president decides not to run and encourages them to vote for someone else. If an ambitious incumbent were to make that decision, it would likely require at least a lot of convincing from party icons like former President Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with a clearer sense that he is likely to lose in November than any other Democrat. .

However, it is not clear who the other Democrat would be. The most obvious choice would be Vice President Kamala Harris, but she is underperforming Biden, making that a risky and unlikely scenario. In the absence of another clear alternative that unites rather than divides the party and is made up of a diverse coalition of voters and factions, Democrats are unlikely to be able to agree on another candidate. The delegates could descend into chaos and an all-out battle on the convention floor, which would certainly not improve the parties’ chances of winning in November.

Before going down this path, Democrats should take note of their own history. Delegates routinely determined nominees without direction from voters in primaries and caucuses.

In 1968, the Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey as president at their convention in Chicago. Humphrey was not the choice of Democratic voters; That was not possible, because he did not participate in any primaries. When he was nominated at the insistence of party elites and delegates, protests raged in the streets of Chicago, and police and National Guard troops violently clashed with demonstrators.

Humphrey subsequently lost to Richard Nixon, and Democrats, recognizing the internal rift as a threat to the party, took swift, meaningful steps to repair it. The McGovern-Fraser Commission overhauled the parties’ presidential nomination process and took power out of the smoke-filled chambers of party elites. The committee’s recommendations strengthened the link between voters’ preferences and the eventual nominee.

Since then, the Democratic Party has maintained its promise to give voters a say. As recently as 2016, when the party created the Unity Reform Commission after the nomination battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Democrats sought to increase participation by encouraging primaries over caucuses and increasing confidence in the fairness of the nomination process.

If this year’s delegates were to vote for anyone other than Biden, these goals would be undermined, returning the Democratic Party to the decidedly less democratic era when voters’ preferences didn’t make much of a difference.

I have argued that the parties retain more influence in the nomination process than is usually recognized, including by setting the rules of the contests. There is also an argument that the parties should have


an argument that was especially salient in 2016, when Republicans tried to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination.

But if either party wants to shift the balance of power back to party elites, it must do so in a deliberate, transparent manner, as the Democratic Party has repeatedly failed to do after voting is underway.

Perhaps Democrats would be better served with another candidate for 2024. But it’s too late for that now. Primary voters had no meaningful choice on the issue, not because no serious candidates could emerge to run against Biden, but because no one did. The delegates and the party should not decide to go in a different direction after a number of potential candidates refused to face the voters.

As Democrats return to Chicago this summer for another convention, they should keep in mind that while their nominating process isn’t perfect, it is more Democratic than ever. They have good reasons to keep it that way.

Caitlin E. Jewitt is an associate professor of political science at Virginia Tech and author of The Primary Rules: Parties, Voters, and Presidential Nominations.


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