Politics Opinion

If Biden can't do the job, Democrats need to consider alternatives

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

After a dismal debate performance by President Joe Biden, who can the Democrats turn to?

After a poor performance in his head-to-head debate with former President Donald Trump, many Democrats are calling for President Joe Biden to reconsider his re-election bid. Even if he had a cold, as claimed by his doctor, he appeared hesitant and incoherent.

Given several opportunities to counter Trump’s evasions and extravagant claims, Biden faltered. The decision to participate with a cold was a bad choice and ultimately his alone.

As former adviser to Barack Obama and CNN commentator Van Jones said:

‘“That was painful. I love Joe Biden, I worked with Joe Biden, he didn't do well at all, he did not do well at all,” he said, adding that Biden lost the debate in the first three minutes.’

So, if the Democratic National Committee (DNC) approaches Joe Biden and convinces him to stand aside, which president/vice-president combination should the Democrats nominate at their 19 August convention?

Vice-President Kamala Harris (aged 59) has the inside running. Harris is internationally well-recognised. Her stance on abortion rights is popular with women of all political persuasions.

Domestically, Harris has been steady but, at crucial times, hesitant. Biden has called her a work in progress.

As Harris polls lowly with Americans, it would be better for the Democrats to present a team to the public. It would also benefit them to have a team that accentuates the age difference with Trump.

Considering the likelihood of male/female and mixed-race representation, these are the possibilities (age in brackets):

Kamala Harris / Andy Beshear (46)

Andy Beshear is a moderate Democrat who works well with Republicans. He has a strong anti-pharma record and supports reforms to health care and pensions. This combination will attract the disenchanted younger voters and will appease Southerners. On the other hand, Progressives within the Democratic Party may consider them too moderate.

Kamala Harris / Josh Shapiro (51)

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro is a smart-as-a-whip attorney who works well across the aisle. He would be a counterpoint to Harris and a worthy stand-in. However, as a devout Jew, he will upset some Progressives and may not bring new voters to the party.

Kamala Harris / JB Pritzker (59)

The billionaire Governor of Illinois, JB Pritzker is a clever financier who controls state taxes expertly. However, he has aggravated many Republicans with his robust progressive views. He has been a relentless defender of abortion and the LBGTQ+ community. This team may be too radical for some and may not attract independents.

The other high-profile contender for the Democrats is Gretchen Whitmer. The popular 51-year-old Michigan Governor is a pragmatist from the Rust Belt. She has signed over 1,000 bipartisan bills and created manufacturing jobs using Biden’s infrastructure aid. However, her high spending and COVID lockdowns attract strong criticism. She is a leading member of the DNC.

Gretchen Whitmer / Wes Moore (45)

Wes Moore is a smart, articulate war veteran. The Maryland Governor is strong on social issues such as housing and education. He has yet to prove himself in combatting the ongoing crime issues of the state’s largest city, Baltimore. This combination is unlikely to attract voters from the South or West, but younger liberal and independent voters will be energised

Gretchen Whitmer / Rubén Gallego (38)  

Congressman Rubén Gallego is an Iraqi war veteran from Arizona. Once a progressive, he now presents himself as a centrist Democrat. He will attract working-class and minority votes. However, critics will attack his flexible stance on immigration. Also, he is likely to win the crucial Arizona Senate seat, and the Democrats cannot afford for him to stand down. Nevertheless, this is an enticing combination, now or in 2028.

An outside contender is 56-year-old Gavin Newsom. Newsom is a centrist. He upset many progressives when he championed controversial programs to force unhoused people into mental health and substance abuse treatment. He also faces criticism for California’s sluggish growth and he is not very popular outside of California.  

Nevertheless, in a state that is facing dramatic climate change emergencies, Newsom is promoting many decisive green initiatives. On 11 April, solar power alone provided more than 100 per cent of demand for the first time ever in California.

Gavin Newsom / Wes Moore (45)

This combination would have wide appeal across America, young and old. However, this would be out of kilter with a Democratic Party that openly promotes women’s rights. Also, their lack of international experience could count against them.

Gavin Newsom / Lisa Blunt Rochester (62)

Lisa Blunt Rochester, a representative from Delaware, does not have a high national profile but is highly rated in the Democratic Party. A dedicated Biden supporter and an exceptional communicator, her combination with Newson could be dynamic. However, this team is unlikely to connect with conservative American voters.

There are other possible contenders and combinations, but these are the most likely.

Of course, it is dangerous to underrate Biden. He is a tough competitor who may bounce back before the second debate scheduled in September. However, at this stage, he must seriously consider endorsing someone else. His successor needs to run on Biden’s strong economic record and shine an intense light on his opponent’s dysfunction.

Patrick Drennan is a journalist based in New Zealand, with a degree in American history and economics.

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