This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Last week I asked, “Should Joe Biden run for reelection? If not, who would you choose to replace him on the Democratic ticket?” If Up for Debate correspondents were representative of the American electorate, Biden would be in trouble––the overwhelming majority of you want him to retire. Your most-frequently mentioned replacements: Gavin Newsom (the governor of California) and Amy Klobuchar (the senator from Minnesota). But let’s start with Biden’s defenders.
Among their arguments:
- “He’s already shown he can beat Trump, which no other Democratic candidate can claim,” John writes. “He’s got what it takes to win.”
- “He steady … doing as well as anyone could with the hand he was dealt,” Brad writes. “I’m tired of the press flooding the news with polls and op-eds saying he is too old––usually from people who think that Bernie should make another go at it.” In my defense, Brad, I think Bernie Sanders––and Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Donald Trump––are all too old to run, and that Dianne Feinstein is too old for the Senate.
- “If inflation is down and his poll numbers are up, and his health remains at least as good as now, I would recommend Biden run for reelection,” J writes, “but that he waits until late 2023 to decide.”
JD prefers Biden with a new VP:
Look, I get it, he is old, he is slowing down, and he will be 82 (!) when he runs for his second term. We should have someone else to build a broad coalition to win the presidency.
But we don’t, we have Biden. My friend and I argued about this for an hour last night: he wants Liz Cheney to run for the Democratic nomination. While Ms. Cheney’s personal integrity and spectacular performance during these 1/6 hearings is without peer, she is a conservative. She isn’t a moderate conservative. Americans deserve at least some choice with a difference that matters. She would be unlikely to govern as a moderate. One last point, and sorry to be saying this, the member of the Biden Cabinet with the proven track record to communicate and challenge conservatives is NOT Kamala Harris, it is Pete Buttigieg. Biden and Buttigieg are the best team to rechallenge Trump.
Jonathan wonders if there’s any other viable choice for Democrats:
I will likely vote third party as always, and by pretty much all rights, Biden should not run again. He’s old, sluggish, and lacks the charisma of ten years ago; he’s failed to unite the country behind a bipartisan agenda while also failing to advance a partisan agenda; he’s presided over a troubled economy and troubled foreign affairs. The trouble is, who is going to make a serious bid to replace him? Prominent Democrats are either just as old and ineffective as Biden, or else they are scions of wildly unpopular progressive politics. Biden could make a short, rousing speech: “It’s time to pass the torch to a new generation …” But is there anyone to pick up the torch?
As for Biden skeptics, who come from many different perspectives, Perry makes the case for a change:
I still support President Biden. He is a good man and does what he thinks is right. But I do not think Biden should run again. He is showing wear and tear. He looks despondent at times. He knew he was getting a bust hand when he stepped in. The aftermath of the Trump administration left the country broken and in trouble. The war in Ukraine did not help. The debacle in Afghanistan, however unavoidable, also served as a depressant. The economy finished any hopeful expectations. The Supreme Court was the icing on the cake.
The president needs to step down for the country. Many see him as too old and the Right’s feebleness campaign seems to have infected his base. Even the most hardened Democrats should start looking for someone who can beat [Ron] DeSantis or [Tucker] Carlson.
Suzen makes a case for Amy Klobuchar:
I am hoping that almost all of your responses are a resounding “no” to Biden running again. I can’t imagine who would feel comfortable with a person of his age and unpopularity. So often, when people grasp at names for the next president, they come up with those who have recently made headlines, disconnected to any qualifications or interest in the position. So the name Amy Klobuchar is not tossed around. She’s simply in the trenches, quietly getting the work done. She’s a liberal who tracks as moderate and has a pristine record, aside from supposedly throwing a comb at someone. That this was ever an issue was par for the course for the 2020 election cycle. Klobuchar not only has the toughness and smarts needed to spar in what will surely be an outstandingly ugly campaign, but she has the personality to connect with the working class and those scared off by the liberal fringe. I do fear that this country is still sexist enough to reject a qualified woman who has proven herself many times over, but if anyone can reach the average Democratic voter and pull some over from the other side, it is her.
We need a woman in the White House. Ms. Klobuchar is a moderate. She is articulate, experienced, and under 70. Ms. Klobuchar also ran a strong campaign in the last election.
Unfortunately, I feel that many men are still dismissive of women. As I can attest to in my own career, women are often willing to speak truth to power. Perhaps it is because, even when we may be the most qualified, we rarely get the job we deserve. This allows us the freedom to speak more freely; we answer only to ourselves with no expectations. However, to be successful, Democrats, independents, and Republicans need to unify, as we did behind Joe Biden.
Corrine favors a Newsom run:
I don’t think Biden should run again, and I love him. Owing to his age as well as the need for someone aggressive, I think he needs to decide not to run but assist in priming suitable Dem candidates. I would love Stacey Abrams to run but I’m hoping she wins Georgia governor and serves there for a while. I’m impressed by the moves by Gavin Newsom lately. I would love Sanders or Warren but I don’t think they’ll be as electable.
So does Larry: “I would like to see Newsom run in 2024. He is young, photogenic, and most importantly, willing to call out Republicans right on their home turf. What a refreshing change that would be.”
Eli makes the case for Mayor Pete:
I generally have a favorable view of Biden, and approve of his presidency overall. His administration has faced a number of challenges at the legislative, judicial, and bureaucratic levels, yet he has still made some progress on substantive policy matters. That being said, I do not think he should run for reelection in 2024. Biden pledged to be a transitional figure, serving as a bridge from the older, whiter, working-class Democratic Party of the past, to the more diverse, educated, and progressive Democratic Party of today. I believe he has fulfilled this role, and after one term as president, it will be time for him to pass on his status as leader of the party. Biden already struggles to maximize the power of his bully pulpit; criticisms from pundits of his administration lacking rhetorical and ideological forcefulness are not without their merit.
My personal choice for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024 is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. I supported Buttigieg in 2020 because I thought he fell in a sort of ideological sweet spot within the Democratic Party. His rhetoric and temperament, as well as his identity as a religious, white, male veteran from the Midwest, often led people to view him as a moderate; despite him being closer to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on issues such as drug policy, institutional reform, and taxes. As a mayor, presidential candidate, and now as a Cabinet member, he has experience with policy, campaigns, being an executive figure, and working in and with Washington, D.C. These characteristics, along with his unflappable style, make him a stellar candidate to not only counter whatever attacks Republicans may throw at him and other Democrats, but also to illustrate, and hopefully implement, his vision for the United States.
Gidon wants a nontraditional nominee to win over independents:
Our democracy is at stake in this presidential election, under lethal threat from a Republican Party whose rank and file and elected officials now place seizing and maintaining power by any means and remaking the country as they see fit over the Constitutional order and democratic values. We are in a supreme national emergency, and we must act in concert with this recognition. This by no means justifies law breaking, but Democrats must come together to prevail upon the few individuals from outside the traditional political system who could generate a great enough outpouring of support and energy to ensure a resounding Democratic victory in 2024, with coattails for Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and House to ride on. No currently serving Democratic elected official at any level of government can achieve this.
Two individuals come to mind who may have the ability to do this, one more so than any other potential Democratic nominee: Michelle Obama. (And she offers a two-for-one deal, to boot, as the former president would return to the White House as first gentleman).
A second possible candidate of this sort is Jon Stewart.
Jameelah makes the case for Stacey Abrams:
Joe Biden should step down. The current Democrats are immensely unpopular among young people. Part of their unpopularity is not Biden’s fault. Another Joe, the coal-loving Manchin, is far more responsible for the Senate deadlock than the current president. Factors somewhat outside the party’s control are leading to a recession for which Biden will inevitably be blamed.
But Democrats need to acknowledge that they’ve created several generations of disillusioned youth by repeatedly ignoring them in favor of older moderates. Currently, they take very little accountability for their missteps. They choose to blame the Supreme Court’s issues on the laziness of “young people” who did not vote in 2016. (I find it funny that they never assign even a tiny bit of blame to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who refused to retire earlier on during the Obama administration.)
In young people’s minds, Joe Biden is the face of a movement that has done nothing for them besides laugh in their face when they ask for affordable degrees and reasonably priced healthcare. I dare American moderates to keep complaining that Joe Biden has “given in to the leftists in his party and pivoted toward their ideas.” No average informed voter from any other developed country in the world would describe Biden’s outlook as “progressive.” Centrists are making themselves look stupid. Democrats can be as smug as they want about the impossibility of young progressives’ ideals. But like it or not, they cannot win the election without young people’s support. Millions of old people are dying. Young people are reaching voting age. Trump is going to turn out voters of every generation. Do the math.
Kamala Harris cannot run. She will be associated with her administration’s failures. Bernie Sanders should not run. He could die at any second, and the Democratic party has proven that it would rather go down in flames than allow him to be nominated. If I had to choose a replacement, I’d pick Stacey Abrams. She is one of the few people in the Democratic party who has proven she can (and will) help maintain fair elections outside of safe blue states. Most importantly, Abrams is one of the few people who can inspire young Americans to vote without losing the Democrats’ sacred moderates.
Peter wants “a national unity ticket consisting of a prominent Democrat (Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar or Sherrod Brown) and a prominent Republican (Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger, or a retired military figure like William McRaven) who run together as independent and patriotic Americans who are committed to the restoration of the rule of law and fidelity to the Constitution.”
Julie, who is 57, represents the progressive wing of the Democratic Party:
I supported Warren for 2020, but then voted Biden, who started off with great ideas for the economy, human rights, and climate, then just kept being “vanilla man.” His generational Achilles’ heel made it impossible to take bold stances instead of trying to “win friends and influence people.” Now we are trapped in an autocratic theocracy run by the Supreme Court. We need a bold president willing to take risks and put the balance back in place. We need younger people … I think Harris would make a much better leader.
Dianne writes: “I’m 78, and I believe we are entitled to younger, newer leaders. We need their ideas and energy.”
Patricia is worried about a reelection bid:
I have been a long time supporter of Joe Biden. I met him many years ago when he was a dynamic, forward thinking, articulate man. I am now horrified that he will try to run again. Initially, he said that he would be a one-term president. What a wonderful idea that was! He could get things done without reelection fears. Such a disappointment that he is now wanting to run again. He is opening the door for a Republican. I do not believe that Kamala Harris is the best candidate for the Democrats. I am hoping and praying that we might have another option.
I feel that the Democratic Primary should be an open field. I work in health care and I see very few men of Joe Biden’s age that I would trust to watch my pets let alone run a country. Even if he is in full control of his faculties the inevitable senescent changes he is experiencing and is most likely unable to appreciate, given those changes, make him unqualified. There is a reason that older adults have to test more often to maintain a driver’s license. On top of that he is very unpopular especially among younger voters who see him as out of touch, ineffectual, and not progressive enough. The Democratic Party needs to embrace its younger politicians and give them an opportunity to lead. They need open competitive debate and to embrace the results of that debate rather than falling in line with the same platform that has yielded mediocre results. In short, Joe Biden steps aside and allows the nomination process to play out in an open and democratic manner.
Nancy has fallen for Liz Cheney:
In the 42 years since I turned 18, I have voted for both parties. There is not a single Republican that I would like to see in the White House any time soon, so whoever the Democrats nominate, he or she has my vote.
I have a lot of respect for Joe Biden and his service to our country. However, as keen as his mind may be, he has begun to portray an image of frailty that elderly persons often do. I am thankful that he was there to lead us out of the Trump years. Perhaps the country really needed his leadership as a period of convalescence from the injuries that Trump left behind.
However, a couple years have nearly passed and it is now time for this country to “dummy up” so to speak. It shouldn’t matter what a person’s political leanings are, there are some things that we all must agree and abide by in order to confront and defeat misinformation and maintain civil discourse so that our elections not only are free and fair but so that they produce candidates with much higher levels of integrity and honorability and honesty and intelligence than what has been offered up to the nation in recent years. Those candidates who demonstrate those qualities both publicly and professionally seem to be few and far between on both sides of the aisle. In fact they seem to be such an exception that when they are revealed it is more than a breath of refreshing air!
One shining example of someone who exemplifies these character traits is Liz Cheney. I am a lifelong Democrat and do not agree with any of her policy positions but I definitely have respect for her and believe that she truly loves this country and would always choose to do the right thing. I believe she should either run as an independent or heaven help the Democrats if her Republican Party comes crawling back and makes amends with her as she could be an unstoppable force for them. I don’t agree with her position on most issues, but if the Democrats lose to someone like her I could easily accept it since our country would still be able to hold our heads up high and it would restore dignity to America.
Sid’s perspective is Bernie or Bust:
The major problem with the Democrat powers-that-be is the mistaken, outdated assumption that voters exist on a spectrum with registered Democrats on the left, registered Republicans on the right, and independents in the middle. Therefore, the reasoning goes, in order to court the independent voters who ultimately decide elections, Democrats must field a centrist. The problem is that this approach, though arguably valid in the ’90s, completely ignores the reality of the world we exist in today. Namely, independents aren’t in the middle: they’re predominantly made up of people so alienated by both major parties that they can do nothing but despair.
The problem is that the primary system doesn’t select for the most electable Democratic candidate—specifically because it locks out of the process (depending on each state) the voting bloc that ultimately makes the biggest difference. Elections are won and lost based on bringing independents on board, and the Democratic Party has consistently (and deliberately) done everything in its power to prevent the best candidate they have in terms of capturing those independents from actually receiving the nomination.
Yet the Democrats continue to insist on business as usual, because of a generationally outdated notion that a “socialist” can’t win in the United States. Sure. Thirty years ago, no way. But today? All evidence (outside the Democrat echo chamber) clearly suggests that most Americans are not only receptive to, but desperate for a genuine alternative to the soul-sucking electoral choice of either more-of-the-same in a different package or rabid psychosis. Sadly, the Democrats have made it abundantly clear that they would prefer to lose without Sanders than win with him. So they will. Again. Trump and his ilk may not be what the Democrats want, but based on their hubris to date that is what they will get.
They will have only themselves to blame.
Among other potential 2024 candidates that readers favorably mentioned: Andy Beshear, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Roy Cooper, Mark Cuban, Tammy Duckworth, Dwayne Johnson, Mitch Landrieu, Chris Murphy, Beto O’Rourke, Jamie Raskin, Adam Schiff, Mark Warner, and Elizabeth Warren.