The drop out debate: Biden has already lost a big part of the battle

Joe Biden's debate debacle has made him new enemies

By Heather Digby Parton


Published July 1, 2024 9:37AM (EDT)

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to the media before he and first lady Jill Biden depart the White House on May 29, 2023 in Washington, DC.  (Getty Images/Tasos Katopodis)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to the media before he and first lady Jill Biden depart the White House on May 29, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images/Tasos Katopodis)

If there's one bright spot during the very dark last few days, it's that we didn't have to hear much from Donald Trump and his henchmen. Of course, he was very unhappy about that and whined on his Truth Social platform that nobody was giving him the credit he deserved:

Mostly he's just been yelling at the clouds while his people have been keeping a low profile. It's been years since we've had such a respite and it almost makes the hell of this Biden debate debacle bearable. Almost. It's been a very rough few days and from the looks of it, things are not going to let up any time soon.

We're still awaiting the poll results to see if voters have decided to vote for Trump in light of Biden's miserable debate performance last Thursday. We've seen some numbers that show more people think he shouldn't run for a second term than said the same last month, but the number was always pretty high. (A majority say the same thing about Trump, for comparison, which is fewer than say it about Biden.) But we haven't yet seen the effects of the debate on voter preferences. Those will start coming in over the next few days and we'll get a much better sense of just how serious the damage is among actual voters. 

Among political pundits and analysts, it's clear: debate fallout has been catastrophic.

While there are those who say that Biden should stay the course and, so far, the Democratic establishment is backing the president, the vast majority of liberal writers, talking heads and newspaper editorial boards have decided that Biden must go. It's easy to just dismiss those voices and say they don't reflect the needs and desires of the American people but it would be a huge mistake to underestimate how hard it will be for Biden to have to fight both Trump and a media establishment that is convinced that he should withdraw from the race. As Biden would say, it's a big f-ing deal.

Part of this is driven by the fact that many members of the press apparently believe that they were lied to by the White House about Biden's fitness and are personally offended by that. Throughout many of the op-eds and analyses of the situation is a clear sense of self-righteous anger that they were not let in on the secret. It's not an uncommon reaction. I recall that the media had a similar solipsistic view of President Bill Clinton's refusal to admit to them that he had had an affair with a White House employee. In that case, the public had a much more nuanced opinion of the scandal and the Beltway media's objections didn't carry much weight. Clinton not only survived, he had a high approval rating and kept it throughout the rest of his term.

Of course, Bill Clinton wasn't running for re-election. His vice president, Al Gore, was, and he paid the price with the media which treated him woefully during the 2000 election largely because of the burning resentment they felt toward Clinton. You're all familiar with how that went. And you know how the lingering effects of that relationship dogged Hillary Clinton over the next 16 years as she pursued her own political career. 

We need your help to stay independent

Here's an example of how the new media narrative is shaping up, from media reporter Brian Stelter who says it's now a referendum on Biden and there's no more reason to bother covering Trump's lies since his base and the GOP's elites don't care.

So, even if the public decides that Biden's performance wasn't a deal breaker and his numbers have remained close to Trump's despite the voters' clear concerns about him, he'll have an even tougher uphill climb than he already had with that media narrative. It's not illogical or untoward even for people who think Biden should stick it out to be genuinely concerned about that since the stakes are so high. 

While "Biden must go"  may be the prevailing consensus among the media, what should happen next is not so clear. There are people demanding an open convention in which there would be a floor fight and delegates rather than voters would decide who the candidate should be. I maintain, as I did right after the debate, that as entertaining as it might be, it would likely be a disaster. The Democratic Party is not known for its discipline and cohesion on a good day and the last thing they need is a knock down drag out internecine fight before the whole country just two months before the election. 

In my view that leaves only one option. If Biden decides in good faith that he can't continue, then the only answer is for him to formally pass the torch to his vice president, the person 81 million people voted for four years ago to replace him if he could no longer be president through illness or death. {Let's face it, as the oldest president in history we were all very aware of that possibility.} If that's more or less happened now there's no reason to look anywhere but the person who has been on the ticket from the beginning for that very purpose. That's why we have vice presidents. 

Yes, it's meant for a president's term not a campaign but the principle is the same, particularly under these conditions. It's just too late for a full blown nomination battle. If this happens the party should strive for a seamless transition that's seen as a continuation of the Biden administration and the Biden campaign that's already been laid out. There's no time to completely re-tool. 

And there are important technical reasons for that as well. As legal historian Mary Beth Williams pointed out on Twitter, the campaign war chest assembled by the Biden-Harris campaign cannot be easily transferred to any other candidate. That requires the permission of every original donor:

The B-H campaign fund can donate to candidates, but is subject to the same limits as individual contributors. 

Any or all of the war chest can be transferred to federal, state, and/or local political parties, but then the limits on party donations to candidates are in effect. It can also be transferred to a super-PAC, but no coordination with campaigns is allowed. 

The DNC could run the general election campaign, but my experience on three "coordinated campaigns" (Gore, Kerry, and Obama '08,) leaves me very cold on that option.

It took B-H four years to build that war chest, and no candidate could come close to raising that amount in four months. Plus, all the media time is already purchased, the campaign offices are contracted, staff hired, etc.

The only two candidates with full, easy access to all that money and infrastructure are Biden and Harris. 

Harris is being a loyal soldier and has been out there forcefully backing Biden. And if he decides to stay in, the campaign should make sure that she stays front and center going forward because all eyes will be on her like never before. Whether anyone wants to admit it, the very real prospect of a vice president having to step in, one way or another, has never been so acute. 

The next couple of weeks are going to be agonizing for everyone, not the least of whom is Joe Biden himself. James Fallows put it well in a tweet on Sunday: Be wary of anyone who says this is an easy call. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cnn Commentary Debate Donald Trump Elections 2024 Joe Biden Kamala Harris Media Polls Project 2025 The Big Lie