Biden’s arguments for staying in the 2024 race, parsed

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There are surely good reasons for President Biden to resist pressure to drop out of his 2024 reelection race. They’re just not always the ones he and his team put forward.

In recent days, Biden and his campaign have offered a number of justifications for why he shouldn’t cave to that pressure and pass the torch to someone else. Often, the suggestion is that he’s best-positioned to take on Donald Trump or even the only one who can defeat him — despite Biden’s poor poll numbers. Even more often, it involves a novel reading of the electoral landscape that bears little resemblance to the available data.

So as Democrats continue their lengthy internal debate, we thought it worth parsing some of the arguments put forward by the incumbent and his team.

“All the data shows that the average Democrat out there who voted — 14 million of them that voted for me — still want me to be the nominee, number one. … I wanted to make sure I was right, that the average voter out there still wanted Joe Biden. And I’m confident they do.”

“I’m getting so frustrated by the elites … in the party who — they know so much more.” (Monday MSNBC “Morning Joe” interview)

There is clearly an effort afoot to pitch this as powerful people trying to push Biden out. But it’s not just the “elites” who want Biden to step aside, nor is it clear that the “average” Democratic voter wants him to stay. Indeed, as much as half of Biden’s base wants him out, according to multiple polls, and it appears the average Democratic voter is straddling the fence.

In a post-debate CNN poll, Democratic-leaning voters said 56 percent to 43 percent that their party would have a better chance with “someone else.” A New York Times-Siena College poll showed Democrats split almost evenly on whether their party should have a different nominee. In a CBS News-YouGov poll, 46 percent of Democrats said Biden shouldn’t be running, versus 54 percent who said he should.

Yes, polls can be off. But even if these are off by a few points, that’s a huge proportion of the base that wants someone else — even long after the primaries ended with Biden as the presumptive nominee.

“Number two, remember all this talk about how I don’t have the Black support? Come on. Give me a break. Come with me. Watch. Watch.” (“Morning Joe”)

It would be shocking if Biden didn’t win a strong majority of Black voters. But the real question is how much support he bleeds among this extremely important and often overwhelmingly Democratic group. And virtually every poll shows him struggling, relative to past Democrats.

Democrats haven’t taken less than 80 percent of the Black vote since at least 1972, and Biden won them 92 percent to 8 percent in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center’s Validated Voter survey.

A large-sample May poll from the Pew Research Center showed Biden ceding about twice as many Black voters — 18 percent — in a head-to-head matchup with Trump. That poll showed more than half of Black voters wanted to replace Biden in the race.

“The New York Times had me down 10 points before the debate — nine now, or whatever the hell it is. … New York Times had me behind before anything having to do with this [debate] — had me behind 10 points. Ten points, they had me behind. Nothing’s changed substantially since the debate in the New York Times poll.” (Friday ABC News interview)

The Times-Siena poll just before the debate actually had Biden trailing by between three and seven points, not 10 points, depending on whether you include third-party candidates and whether you focus on likely or registered voters.

(Indeed, no high-quality poll this year — as compiled by FiveThirtyEight — has shown Biden trailing Donald Trump by double digits.)

Biden’s deficit in the Times-Siena poll grew after the debate to between five and eight points, depending on how you slice it. The shifts in this and other polls have generally been within the margin of error, but there have been enough polls showing a small shift against Biden to logically assume there has been a shift.

Other polls since then also suggest voters are even more concerned about Biden’s age and acuity and view him less positively. His deficit in the national FiveThirtyEight average of polls has grown by about two points since the debate, and his average approval rating has hit an all-time low of about 37 percent.

“Pres Joe Biden is the only person standing between us and another Donald Trump term …” (Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo on Saturday)

This is a close election. It will be until the end. Pres Joe Biden is the only person standing between us and another Donald Trump term which, as we know from Project 2025, would be far worse. Now is the time to stand behind the only guy to ever beat Trump, so we can do it again.

— TJ Ducklo (@TDucklo) July 6, 2024

While not explicitly saying that only Biden can beat Trump, that has been the tenor of much of the pushback. Biden and his allies will often note that he’s the only candidate who has actually beaten Trump (in 2020), for instance.

For what it’s worth, Biden said in December that “probably 50” Democrats were capable of defeating Trump. Months earlier, Biden said that he wasn’t the “only” one who could beat Trump and protect democracy but that he was “best-positioned” to do it. (Trump, it bears noting, has been involved in a total of only three competitive campaigns, including the 2016 primaries and general election.)

As for whether Biden is best-positioned? The limited polling we have shows other Democrats performing similarly to Biden in some cases and better in a couple of cases. Michelle Obama leads Trump by double digits in a Reuters-Ipsos poll, and Vice President Harris did slightly better than Biden in the CNN poll (though worse than Biden in other polls).

And many other potential candidates are far less well-known, which often depresses poll numbers. That leaves open the possibility that voters could find them more compelling than a president with a 37 percent approval rating.

The fact that many Democratic Senate candidates are currently running better than Biden in their states would surely suggest that someone else could at least theoretically be stronger in the presidential race. Of course, that’s just in theory.

“I don’t care what those big names [liberals and Democrats suggesting he drop out] think. They were wrong in 2020. They were wrong in 2022 about the red wave. They’re wrong in 2024. … Not only were they wrong, I said they were wrong beforehand. … I was not surprised; I predicted it.” (“Morning Joe”)

Biden was counted out by some in the 2020 primaries, after losing the first three states. (His big win in South Carolina put him on course for victory.) But he was the widely acknowledged favorite in the general election throughout. And general elections are more predictable, because of partisanship.

As for 2022, while plenty of analysts and politicians floated the possibility of a “red wave,” that generally didn’t come from liberals and Democrats. And high-quality polling was not as troubling for Democrats then as it is now. Indeed, predictions of a red wave largely ignored the quite-accurate polls.

“I carried an awful lot of the Democrats the last time I ran in 2020.” (ABC News)

Biden did over-perform most key Democratic Senate candidates in the 2020 election — 8 of 10, to be exact — making it plausible that his performance helped them.

There is some question about how much of that was voters just not liking Trump, but exit polls showed a slight majority of voters (52 percent) had a favorable opinion of Biden at the time.

That said, Biden’s image is in a far different place now; his favorable rating is about 38 percent. (Favorability is more of a personal measure, while approval pertains to job performance.)

“But if any of these guys don’t think I should run, run against me. Go ahead. Announce for president. Challenge me at the convention.” (“Morning Joe”)

There is no plausible path for anyone else at the convention if Biden doesn’t drop out. But that’s not because the base doesn’t want it, necessarily; it’s because the vast majority of the delegates are pledged to Biden after his performance in the primaries.

“The voters — and the voters alone — decide the nominee of the Democratic Party. How can we stand for democracy in our nation if we ignore it in our own party? I cannot do that. I will not do that.” (Monday letter to fellow Democrats)

It’s valid to point out that Biden was the overwhelming choice of Democratic primary voters. Big-name Democrats could have challenged him. They didn’t, for a variety of reasons, and he won big.

Having delegates pick the new nominee or coronating Harris is clearly less of a democratic process.

But the idea that urging him to drop out is ignoring democracy is a bit of a stretch. His allies aren’t talking about delegates overturning the results; they are talking about persuading Biden to willingly drop out in light of new evidence raising concerns about his ability to campaign. And voters who were reluctant to vote for him in the primaries didn’t have a real, viable alternative.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post