Joe Biden’s path to renomination by the Democratic Party will mark a victory of one apparent impossibility over another. The journey is expected to start officially some time this month.
Every serious discussion about Biden’s reelection has been sparked by the near-impossibility of picturing a man who is obviously too old for the job going through the rigours of another campaign while portraying himself as a steady hand when his instability is so widely acknowledged even by his own coalition’s voters.
Nevertheless, that impossible runs into the impossibilities of understanding how Biden might be pushed aside (barring a medical emergency, he plainly can’t be) or figuring out how any aspirational Democrat could be persuaded to challenge him.
The factors that initially made Biden the nominee—his moderate branding and just-enough positioning—continue to shield him from a united opposition on either flank. Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, his younger adversaries who campaigned against him in the 2020 election, have been accepted into his administration (where their brands aren’t exactly thriving).
The next generation of Democratic governors, including Gavin Newsom, Jared Polis, Gretchen Whitmer, and Josh Shapiro, have positioned themselves for the post-Biden scenario and are only prepared to take over if he does.
Additionally, Biden has stayed away from bets and setbacks that may incite a sizable base to rebel. (Build Back Better was subsequently replaced by the Inflation Reduction Act, but it still managed to pass; our engagement in the Ukraine has appeased liberal hawks while avoiding a direct confrontation with Russia that may have made the anti-war left bestir itself.)
None of this makes it any easier to picture his campaign for four more years. However, it is surpassed by how challenging it would be to organise any credible and serious force within the Democratic Party to oppose it.
The Trump era has shown us, however, that disreputability has power in American politics in addition to seriousness and respectability. There is currently no obvious opportunity for a significant competitor like Newsom to succeed Biden as the Democratic nominee.
There is room for someone with less to lose to try to run the same play as Eugene McCarthy in 1968, Pat Buchanan in 1992, or even Bernie Sanders in 2016 — to offer themselves as a protege. However, the president’s numbers have consistently been poor, a clear majority of Democrats prefer that the president doesn’t run again, and Biden is struggling in the polls in New Hampshire (he led a more recent poll, but with only 34% of the vote).
Only Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the well-known anti-vaccine activist who launched his own campaign in Boston earlier this week, is currently acting in an audition for that part. His name trades on a distinct brand of older-Democrat nostalgia, and his anti-corporate crankiness speaks to a trend that used to be prevalent on the left before Trumpism absorbed a lot of paranoia and conspiratorial energy, making him an interesting test case. He is also far outside the current liberal mainstream.
This makes it feasible to envision him finding a real constituency of Democrats who aren’t entirely content to be a part of the coalition that values official knowledge and who combine holistic views on medicine with scepticism about the conventional narrative on, for example, the Kennedy assassinations.
RFK Jr. is a terrible choice for Democrats who wish to oppose Biden without making a statement against vaccinations due to his reputation as a conspiracist. Therefore, it should be quite simple for the party to create a cordon sanitaire around his candidature, making it impossible for him to receive more than 10% of the vote.
That 30% mark, which was crossed by McCarthy and Buchanan in the New Hampshire primary, is the one that, if crossed, would actually cause problems for Biden. I believe there is sufficient unhappiness based only on age and fitness concerns for such a breach to occur. But other than RFK Jr., who is more mainstream, is there anyone else who desires to cause those issues, so increasing their profile at the expense of