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The anti-Biden campaign is spreading to the Senate

Time's up. Credit: Getty

July 8, 2024 - 2:30pm

Amid a growing cascade of calls for President Joe Biden to step down as Democratic nominee, Virginia Senator Mark Warner broke ground last week as the first elected official to publicly signal his openness to such a possibility from within the Senate. Reports emerged over the weekend that Warner has started to organise discussions among senators to “talk about Biden’s future”, with an eye to asking him to withdraw from the race.

A huddle was scheduled for Monday but was abruptly called off, since the news leak “made it impossible for there to be a private conversation”. However, such conversations will almost certainly take place informally as the Senate reconvenes this week, until another meeting can be arranged.

Though the sentiment may have been conveyed diplomatically by Warner’s office, it is one pregnant with significance. Because while the House has seen a handful of Democrats break ranks with the President (four more representatives joined their ranks on Sunday), so far no one else in the upper chamber has openly made gestures in that direction. Should Warner be able to convince others, it would allow for a sea change within the party leadership. His manoeuvres come as a high-stakes interview with George Stephanopoulos failed to move the needle on perceptions about Biden’s fitness for office.

The Virginia lawmaker, who is seen as an affable centrist, has reportedly been talking to colleagues since the night of Biden’s disastrous debate performance. Warner has raised questions about whether Biden as nominee will bring incumbent blue senators down with him in the coming election, potentially putting Democratic control of the Senate in jeopardy and knee-capping the party’s ability to play the part of an effective opposition should Trump be elected to a second term.

It is always a troubling sign for a party in power when it begins to think about the next campaign in terms of what can be saved rather than what can be gained, as we just saw with Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives in the UK. Yet Warner is probably right to start asking such discomfiting questions in the summer rather than in the autumn when it will be exponentially more difficult to get rid of the nominee post-Convention.

The last time the Democrats were in a roughly comparable situation may have been in the chaotic year of 1968, but then-incumbent Lyndon Johnson had been wise enough to withdraw that March. To have this level of division over an incumbent nominee this late in the game is unprecedented for modern Democrats.

To those scoffing at the seemingly negligible size of the dissenting chorus (after all, one Senator and a few Representatives may not be much to go on), Axios reports that beneath the image of calm there are many more voices in Congress who are “close to speaking out or signing letters telling Biden it should be over”. National polling trends suggest that concerns around Biden’s ability to run and govern continue to be prevalent among the voting public, with 80% saying he is too old to run according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll — a figure largely unchanged from pre-debate polling.

Notwithstanding a recent bump recorded in Biden’s favour among swing states, his campaign has struggled to overcome the larger narrative around age. The following weeks will be critical for determining the shape of the November race and Biden’s place in it. The President’s appeal to the party establishment had always been his reputation as a safe bet: he had never been the most inspiring choice but he had been one of them for so long, after all. His experience and longevity, as well as relative lack of political liabilities, meant that he was the candidate of absolute minimal risk in the last presidential election, despite signs of senility creeping in.

Now, that equation has been turned on its head. It was, of course, the US Senate that elevated Biden to national prominence so many years ago and it may just be the same body which now pushes him into the political abyss. Et tu Warner?


Michael Cuenco is a writer on policy and politics. He is Associate Editor at American Affairs.
1TrueCuencoism

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Tom Condray
Tom Condray
3 days ago

Having watched American election campaigns since 1960, and voted in every one since 1972, this time is different.
Almost all the talk about Biden is how he might/might not contribute to the election of Democratic members of Congress, while ensuring the Executive Branch continues to be led by a Democrat.
Other than Warner, and more as an aside than a prime reason, practically no one in the Democratic party is at all concerned about Biden’s ability to serve as President for the next four years. This is what I find so appalling. Here we have one of the two powerful political parties in this country continuing to support their candidate who cannot possibly remain compos mentis until January, 2029.
This party has in recent years developed a tenuous association with what is good for the country its candidates supposedly wish to serve. Supporting a man obviously suffering from a serious cognitive deficit–which will only get worse with time–is an absolute abrogation of the responsibility we all have as citizens to protect, preserve, and defend this nation, and the Constitution which is its founding document.
A Biden candidacy is a travesty.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 days ago

The great defenders of democracy had no issue with the corpse of Joe Biden running the country for four years, but now that he threatens their chances to win an election, they are suddenly overwrought by his cognitive decline. They clearly care more about their own personal interests, than that of the people they represent. We see the same thing in France. Macron will stop at nothing to maintain his own power, even if it plunges his country into political chaos. He has aligned himself with radical leftists and devout antisemites because he puts his own interests above those of the people he represents.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Maybe they just think that even a senile Biden – with his current handlers around him – would be better for the country that a rerun of Trump. Not a happy choice, to be sure, but at the very least they have a point.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You can argue they believe nameless, faceless handlers will run the country better than Trump, but that’s not an argument in favour of defending democracy.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
4 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

As long as it’s their decision and not the electorate’s?

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
3 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Their point is that elections are not all they’re cracked up to be, for they admit the possibility of the impossible, a donkey in the loser column.

Philip Broaddus
Philip Broaddus
3 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I live in the SF Bay area. Crime is out of control since Biden took office. I live in a wealthy urban area and since a year ago tooth paste and sundries are in locked cases at the nearby Target. The police no longer write tickets for traffic violations. Stop signs are disregarded. Sideshows occur on The SF Bay bridge at night and on Highway 80 just north of Berkeley and nothing comes of it. On a recent visit to the Target in Emeryville I noted that the two security guys had 9mms. At my local veg/fruit market in north Berkeley, an institution, there’s a person now that checks receipts as you leave. If you venture into Oakland for pho, there are hookers on Green Day’s boulevard of broken dreams, every block, some in the middle of the street, showing everything. The collapse has occured due to Biden and liberal policies.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke
3 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I imagine virtually everyone would prefer a senile Biden to Kamala Harris. She is a significant part of the problem. If Biden replaced her (from January 2025) Biden might scrape through but I don’t suppose she would go quietly.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
3 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The fable The Emperor’s New Clothes comes to mind. in at least some versions of the tale, after a boy blurts out that the emperor has no clothes, the crowd starts whispering in agreement but the emperor, though startled, and his courtiers continue to pretend that he wears the finest robes. As in fiction, so in real life.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Biden could end up like Pope John Paul I

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
3 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

It would seem to me that the Biden Camp is making the same mistake as the Johnson Camp in the UK. Jill Biden is seemingly wanting to be a pseudo Potus just as Carrie Johnson was trying to be a pseudo PM in Downing Street. We know the outcome of that.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 days ago

How do people like Warner, who was party to this charade, think this sudden change will work? Money donated to Biden/Harris cannot be simply shifted to whoever is selected. Harris, at least, must stay; otherwise, the donations have to be returned. Further, who is the white knight to save the party – a governor who has already ruined a city and a state? A former first lady who can’t stand the place despite profiting from life here? The VP who is even less popular than her boss?
The Dems are stuck in a mess of their own making. People knew Biden was not up to the task when he campaigned from a basement last time. In the interim, his situation has worsened because that’s how mental deterioration works. Then there is Edith Wilson 2.0, who is not going to part with the trappings because someone asks politely. That people like Warner are taken seriously for admitting what they spent four years denying speaks to the tenuous state of American politics.

Buena Vista
Buena Vista
4 days ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Your comment about Warner is spot on, and I can assure you he is no “affable centrist”. He marches in lockstep with the Democrat Party.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
4 days ago

“…as well as relative lack of political liabilities...”
Guffaw, guffaw! Biden has a treasure trove of political liabilities, but State media will not publish them. He was written off back in the ’80’s for being a serial liar and plagiarist. His bagman son is a train wreck and the family is a true crime story. But don’t worry, the intrepid reporters from all the usual sources will be back in business “investigating” every red herring when Orange Man Bad returns.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
4 days ago

This is the first election of my lifetime where there is a significant non-zero chance that one or both of the candidates might be dead by election day.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
4 days ago

I think Bill Maher said something like “this is the first election where people on both side hope that their candidate will be dead before Election Day”

John Tyler
John Tyler
4 days ago

Any nation in which the electorate is presented with two such elderly and declining candidates for executive power needs a serious reboot of its system.

Peter B
Peter B
4 days ago

It’s starting to feel like watching a rabbit trapped in the headlights. Everyone can see that Biden isn’t capable any more and needs medical help and that it’s actually cruel to let him continue. And yet they seem paralysed to act.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
3 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Who’s to bet that the arm interventions Biden promoted has accelerated his dementia.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
4 days ago

I heard some people are getting nervous about our enemies sensing weakness and attacking us. I think that the laugh will be on them if they try it and it turns out that even if a corps sits in the Oval Office, the US will continue to be run by the bureaucracy just as well/poorly [pick your choice] as before.

Consider this the next time you think about voting.

Pyra Intihar
Pyra Intihar
3 days ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

The recent SCOTUS Chevron case struck a blow to the bureaucratic state. I’m looking forward to seeing how this ruling has out in real life, particularly if Trump is elected.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
4 days ago

I’m less sure. I think Biden (or at least his handlers) are determined to tough it out and kingpin dems are not prepared to go up against him. Looks irresponsible to me. .uS hs world’s bigfest nuclear arsenal.and no one kmow wtf has their hand on the trigger…stuff of novels or nightmares, or maybe both.
.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
3 days ago

Looks to me like Joe Biden has turned the tide, for now. More people in leadership are now backing him than calling for him to leave. But the tide goes in and out twice a day. With the NATO conference opening tomorrow, we’ll see if the tide turns.