Democrats and democracy would benefit greatly if a serious contender were to challenge President Joe Biden for the party’s nomination and give voters a say in who is best-suited to take on Donald Trump.
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Democracy works best when people have real choices, and a lack of those has always been one of the main problems of the US’s two-party system. Heading into next year’s presidential election, for example, voters will likely have the same two options as in 2020… and even then most voters weren’t crazy about either one.
If anything, both of the likely candidates are even less appealing to voters now.
In the case of Joe Biden, the right-wing media and congressional Republicans have had three years to characterize the president as a corrupt criminal mastermind who is also senile.
While they have not presented any tangible evidence for the former, just the relentless accusations are doing the trick. Almost half of all Americans believe that Biden definitely or probably broke the law in connection with the business dealings of his son Hunter.
That may be unfair, seeing how there is no proof of wrongdoing on the part of the president, but politics isn’t exactly a gentleman’s game these days, which means it doesn’t matter why voters believe certain things, it only matters that they do.
For his part, Trump went on a post-election crime spree, which resulted in an unsuccessful coup, a deadly insurrection, and two criminal indictments. For good measure, he was also indicted for stealing classified documents, as well as for some financial crimes, and found guilty of fraud and sexual abuse.
He also hasn’t become saner, to put it mildly.
And then there is the age issue. While neither Biden nor Trump were spring chickens in 2020, either of them would leave the White House in 2028 as the oldest US president in history.
It’s undeniable that both have had “senior moments,” and it’s just a reality of life that human beings at their age, no matter how good their medical care, are slowing down physically and mentally.
In addition, when Americans head to the polls next November, they are not just electing their leader for the coming days and months but rather for four years. That’s not much of an issue for candidates in their 50s or 60s, but it should be considered if the president will be in his 80s, as both of them would be during their term.
To Republicans, none of these things matter. They remain enthralled with Trump, and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will comfortably emerge as the GOP nominee. But at least he bested a crowded field of candidates (even though they refused to take on Trump, faced an uphill battle to win over the GOP base, and it is not quite clear why some of them even ran in the first place).
Democrats, however, do not have the luxury of choice… and that’s bad for them, for the country, and for democracy.
Sure, Biden has drawn two challengers so far, but neither really deserves that designation. Before deciding to run as an independent candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was more popular among Republicans than Democrats, and the new entrant into the race, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), is also not really a viable option. As a conservative Democrat, he will have a hard time attracting support from the progressive wing of the party.
Look no further than his first ad, in which he talks about where he learned how to shoot, which is probably not something most Democratic primary voters are terribly interested in.
Of course, while Phillips won’t be able to win the primary, he will be able to do damage to Biden if he runs a confrontational campaign. As one of the richer members of Congress, he can spend a lot of his own money, and right-wing outside groups will only be too happy to “help” him.
However, even though Phillips is the wrong person to run against Biden, that doesn’t mean the president shouldn’t get a primary challenger.
In fact, it would be good for the Democrats if one or more of the party’s rising stars, like Govs. Gretchen Whitmer (MI), Gavin Newsom (CA), or Josh Shapiro (PA), were to announce their candidacy.
The fact that they don’t — even though polling indicates that Biden is vulnerable — shows how little choice American voters really have.
Because not only are they forced to pick between just two candidates in the general election; in most districts, the outcomes of primary races in one or both parties are foregone conclusions as well.
That has never been more apparent than this year.
Biden’s net favorability is -14 percent. Trump’s is even worse at -16 percent. That means the American people do not like these guys. And yet, they will likely be forced to choose between them.
While especially pronounced this time around, this isn’t a new problem.
Incumbents are generally not challenged, and in many instances when they are, a hand-picked establishment candidate whose “time has come” is ready to take them on.
It is really rare for somebody to come along and upset this tired pattern. Barack Obama did it in 2008 and Trump in 2016.
Of course, Obama and Trump both then became the favored establishment candidates in subsequent cycles.
This narrowing of the choices available to all voters threatens democracy itself.
And that is why a competitive disruptor should join the race on the Democratic side and take on Biden.
If the president prevails, then Democrats will have spoken and he will have earned the right to run again.
However, if they feel that Biden carries too much baggage — the allegations of corruption, high inflation, the perception of a failed immigration policy, and his age — then they can turn to somebody else.
Obviously, this only works if such a primary is a battle of ideas rather than a mudslinging contest.
For example, there is a big difference between a challenger saying, “It’s time to turn to a new generation of leaders,” and one ranting that “Biden is a senile fool who is a liability for the entire country.”
Another benefit of a competitive primary is that Republicans can’t train their fire solely on the incumbent. If they have focused only on maligning and defeating Biden, what will they do if the Democratic standard-bearer ends up being one of the younger governors?
They’d have to go back to the drawing board and indoctrinate their supporters all over again. That is especially true because two of their main areas of attack, the “corruption” of “the Bidens” and the president’s advanced age, wouldn’t apply to any other candidate.
For all of these reasons, it is extremely irresponsible for the Democratic Party to just throw up its hands and say: “Well, surely Joe is our best bet, so we’ll just roll the dice with him.”
Because only a competitive primary would ensure that the Democrats are really putting up their best candidate against Trump – in what will surely be another existential election for the country.