Too Late to Not Nominate Biden
The time to change horses has past, Nate Silver says.
Nate Silver writes these days at his Substack site, Silver Bulletin. His most recent piece has some trenchant comments about the Democratic Party's situation with Joe Biden and the 2024 election. Worth considering as you consider the latest polling (for discussion, see video above), which purports to show Trump beating Biden by ten points.
Silver piece is titled: "It's probably too late not to nominate Biden". A bit of an awkward title, but you get the idea. In it he answers the question: Do Democrats have a better chance of winning in 2024 with a different nominee?
• With medium confidence, I think the risks of a serious primary challenge to Biden at this point in time would outweigh the benefits for Democrats.
• With low confidence, I think the risks of Biden volunteering not to run for a second would also outweigh the benefits for Democrats, but this is closer.
• With low confidence, and taking full advantage of hindsight bias, I think Democrats probably would have been better off if Biden had announced 6-12 months ago that he wouldn’t seek a second term.
• I think Biden’s situation is somewhat unprecedented and that these are hard questions for Democrats. Almost no matter what happens, people in 2025 will treat the answers as having been more obvious than they actually were. [emphasis Silver's]
In other words, Silver thinks the Democrats — meaning Biden at this point, since other Dem leaders seem totally deferential — have lost their window to change horses. Here's why he thinks that matters:
[L]et’s imagine that one of the candidate’s on Chris Hayes’s list —Whitmer, Josh Shapiro, JB Pritzker, Raphael Warnock and Gavin Newsom — announces tomorrow that they’re challenging Biden. ... What would happen?
Well, for one thing there would be an absolute media shitstorm. It would displace everything else from the news cycle — yes, even the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce news. Every critique of Biden would be highlighted and validated.
Still, the challenge probably wouldn’t work. The opposing candidate would be very much at a standing start — none of the candidates I mentioned have run for national office before, and a presidential campaign typically takes six months to a year to get up to speed. The value of optionality would be considerably diminished if voters and party elites didn’t have enough time to fully evaluate all their options. So the most likely outcome would be Biden being nominated anyway, but with battle scars that were probably harmful to him in the general election. [emphasis mine]
That's scenario 1. Here’s scenario 2:
Let’s say Biden calls a surprise press conference tomorrow — and he announces that he’s had second thoughts and won’t run for a second term.
This at least eliminates the possibility of primary-challenge-damaged-Biden being the party nominee anyway. However, it creates other issues for Democrats. The main one is what the hell happens to Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris consistency polls worse than Biden does against Trump. But Biden would be under pressure to give her a full-fledged endorsement. Even if Biden believed deep down that she wasn’t the best nominee, a non-endorsement or half-assed endorsement would make for another huge media shitstorm, without the party having little time to navigate out of it.
What if that process did start now? What would be required to maximize the chance of success?
You’d need Biden to stand down, you’d need party leaders to send a clear message that they wanted an open nomination process and not just Harris by default, and you’d need to make sure that Whitmer and/or other candidates the establishment liked were actually interested in running and the choice didn’t feel force-fed to voters. Ideally you’d also want to do all of this without someone leaking to Politico or the Washington Post and upending the process.
Silver dryly concludes "that’s probably too much to ask for." Too much indeed.
My own too-early guess
Absent the landing of any of the several black swans hovering over this race — the most likely being death or incapacity — I see the following as likely:
Biden and Trump both win nomination.
Third-party candidates do damage to both, not just one.
The Never Trump trumpets will be sounded endlessly, court dates included in that.
Trump runs a vicious campaign against Biden's stumbles, often through surrogates.
Trump (if he's smart) pivots to Kamala Harris, dismisses Biden and makes her his opponent.
Abortion plays a role in the outcome, but not a decisive one.
In this scenario, if the economy stays weak, Trump has an even chance. If Democrats lose, blame Biden and Dem leadership. If Trump loses, blame not enough pro-Trump support to offset the virulence.
Biden improves his odds if the auto strike is wildly successful and he manages to wrap himself fully in that flag. His odds also improve if he gets rid of Kamala Harris as a running mate. Trump improves his odds if he succeeds in making Harris his real opponent. He could also help himself by blunting Biden's strike support with a show of support of his own.
One more thing
You may have noticed, I've left an actor out. Perhaps you've guessed who that is. I’ll let that lie for now, except to say this: A lot will depend on Trump's vice-president pick.