Will Joe Biden step down? An expert Q&A

Dafydd Townley, University of Portsmouth

Joe Biden’s extremely weak performance at the CNN TV debate last week, has prompted senior figures in the Democrat party to question whether he is fit enough to stand for the upcoming presidential election. Former speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said it was reasonable to ask: “Is this an episode or is this a condition?”

Ahead of an interview with Biden by ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos tonight, The Conversation’s Rachael Jolley asked Dafydd Townley, who studies US elections, what might happen next.

Are the Democrats considering replacing Joe Biden?

Following the Biden’s disastrous performance in the first presidential debate on June 27, an increasing number of Democrats and their financial backers that have suggested that it is time for him to step down.

A YouGov/Economist poll conducted after the debate suggest that Biden has slipped further behind Trump in November’s race for the White House. Although Biden is trailing Trump by only two percentage points with all voters, he is now facing an uphill battle to win a second term of office. Other polls should the gap widening faster since the debate.

While the majority of those within his party are still publicly supporting him, there have been some calls from party members and supporters for him to step down.

Although admitting that he “screwed up” the debate, which he claimed was due to travel and jetlag, Biden has not reassured party members with speeches at fundraising events.

At one event in New York, on June 29, Biden gave a 15-minute speech from a teleprompter before leaving without taking any questions. One audience member said that “doing that for the next five months is not going to be enough”.

Are senior figures still backing Biden?

The vice president, Kamala Harris, has maintained that Biden is still the person to lead the Democrats in November’s election. On July 3, she told her campaign team: “Joe Biden has devoted his life to fighting for the people of our country. In this moment, I know all of us are ready to fight for him.”

However, Pelosi, a leading Biden supporter, called on Biden to speak to serious journalists to confirm to Americans that “he has a vision, he has knowledge, he has judgment, he has strategic thinking” and the ability to show the kind of leadership he has shown over the last four years in the White House.

Who are the key Democratic figures saying Biden should go?

The first public call for Biden to step down from within his own party came from Texan Representative Lloyd Doggett on Tuesday. Doggett said that Biden should “make the painful call and difficult decision to withdraw” from the campaign.

More worrying for Biden are the calls from major Democratic donors who are calling for an embargo on campaign donations until Biden steps down and are using multiple outlets to make their case.

One of the first of these to suggest that Biden needs to step down was Democratic donor Whitney Tilson, and former firm Biden backer, who said that while Biden had been “a great president”, the debate confirmed “sticking with Biden is not the answer”.

Abigail Disney, a major Democrat sponsor and heir to the Disney family fortune, told CNBC that she was convinced that “if Biden does not step down the Democrats will lose.” She warned that if Biden continued to lead the campaign she would withdraw her financial support.

Damon Lindelof, a long-term sponsor of Democratic campaigns, wrote in Deadline that withholding funding was the only way to get Biden to step down.

Who is in the frame to replace him?

Kamala Harris, the current vice president, is the obvious candidate should Biden decide to step down. But the Democrats are already divided over whether she would be a suitable replacement.

Many party figures are concerned that Harris would fare badly in a national election. She has been criticised heavily by both Republicans and Democrats for her management of the southern border with Mexico.

However, Harris has become more vocal and independent of the White House over the past 12 months, in particular on abortion and birth control rights, seen by many as a key issue in this election.

There has been a raft of Democratic governors touted as potential replacements. These include California’s Gavin Newsom, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro.

In the recent Ipsos/Reuters poll, Harris does best against Trump trailing him by just 1%, while Newsom trails by 3%, and Whitmer by 5%. But none of them did as well as Biden. The only one who did was Michelle Obama, the former first lady, who led Trump by 11 points.

Similar figures for Harris were reported in a CNN/SSRS poll taken just after the debate. It showed Trump leading Biden by 6%, but places Harris just 2% behind Trump, with Harris gaining more support from women than Biden.

Biden’s family are encouraging him to stay in the race.

What could happen next?

Biden has told his closest allies that he has just days to save his presidential campaign, and the ABC interview tonight will be a big part of that. He has to be sharp and across the brief and impress viewers with a completely different performance to that of the debate. If not, trouble is not going away.

If he decides to step down, then his replacement will be decided by party members at the Democratic convention from August 19 to 22, which make the convention reminiscent of those in the 1960s.

In 1960, John F Kennedy emerged as the Democratic nominee at the party convention after the Kennedy camp worked the event and the party swung behind him, with Lyndon Johnson as his vice president.

What Democrats will hope to avoid is a repeat of the 1968 convention in Chicago where police clashed with anti-Vietnam war protesters in the streets and Democrats fought amongst themselves inside the convention. Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, emerged as the nominee and was subsequently beaten in the election by Republican candidate Richard Nixon.

If Biden refuses to step down then there is currently not enough opposition within his own party to remove him from the ticket.

But the next few hours, days, and weeks, will be crucial. Should the Democrats fail to unite behind a single candidate before the convention, then there might well be a chance of the Chicago event also turning into a major battle.The Conversation

Dafydd Townley, Teaching Fellow in International Security, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.