Fed-up progressives threaten to primary Biden in 2024

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Onion ably channeled the mood among Biden’s party lately in a piece this morning.


Progressives have been talking tough lately about making him sweat in the next primary but I think that’s just misdirected rage from the Dobbs ruling talking. Riddle me this: Bearing in mind that any primary challenge would risk splitting the party and reducing Democratic turnout in the general election, who might the GOP plausibly nominate such that lefties would feel comfortable running that risk?

There are only two potential Republican nominees, one of whom is Trump. And if he’s the nominee, most Democrats will consider it a five-alarm fire warranting utmost party unity in defense of the incumbent. Not only will no big-name progressives like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren challenge Biden (Bernie’s spending his time lately attacking Joe Manchin for ruining Biden’s agenda, in fact), I think any lesser lefty who gets in will be pummeled by accusations that they’re the new Ralph Nader — but with even more at stake this time than was the case in 2000. No liberal wants to be known as the person who launched a protest candidacy at Biden’s expense and ended up helping Trump to a second term.

The other potential nominee is DeSantis, but DeSantis is a stronger general-election candidate than Trump is by practically every measure except name recognition. Dems would certainly stand a better chance of losing to him than to the former guy. That being so, the argument against someone challenging Biden from the left in a primary is even stronger: Democrats can’t afford any party divisions ahead of November 2024 if they’re facing a potential juggernaut like the governor of Florida. Besides, the effort to convince voters that DeSantis might be as scary as Trump, if not scarier, is already under way. By the time the primaries begin in earnest, it’ll be Democratic Party dogma that electing a Republican in 2024 means the end of the country irrespective of whether that Republican’s name is “Trump” or not.


But hey. They said that about Bush in 2000 as well, no? They always say it. And that didn’t stop Nader.

The Hill says leftists are weighing their options:

“Unless Biden comes to his senses and announces that he won’t run again, a contentious battle for the nomination seems very likely,” Norman Solomon, founder of the progressive network RootsAction, told The Hill…

“The tone-deaf and self-centered thing for him to do would be to soldier on, insisting that he should be president until January 2029, while damaging the party’s prospects in the process,” Solomon added…

“I don’t think it’s a given, frankly, that he would win the primary,” said Steve Phillips, a progressive Democratic strategist who works on issues related to race and democracy. “I don’t think a primary and or its outcome is cataclysmic.”…

“That fight to roll back all of the civil rights progress in this country continues, and yet that’s a fight that Biden is reluctant to lean into,” he said. “That’s what accounts for his poor approval rating. We want this to be a multiracial, multicultural country unapologetically, but Biden doesn’t want to fight those fights with the same intensity that the right does.”

Thought experiment: What if there were a Democratic analogue to DeSantis on the left, some hugely popular young governor who’d captured the base’s imagination? Do we think Biden would be inclined to run again in those circumstances?

I think he’d be less inclined. Part of the reason he feels obliged to run again is simple vanity, of course, a politician’s belief that only he can save the country from the bad guys in the other party. But in Biden’s case, the thinness of the Democratic bench makes that a reasonable position for him to hold. He probably is a stronger candidate against Trump than Kamala Harris or Gavin Newsom or J.B. “Who?” Pritzker. But if Newsom had a successful track record as governor *and* had made some inroads with centrists via his policies, as DeSantis did with Dems by resisting lockdowns in Florida, what then?


In that case, I think we’d see more saber-rattling by lefties about a primary, if only to try to scare Biden into retirement and clear the way for a Newsom run. As it is, with no top-tier electable alternatives to Biden on the horizon, even staunch progressives like Ro Khanna of California are sticking with Sleepy Joe. “I believe that our party needs to unify behind the president and I will support him in 2024,” he told The Hill this week. “But the goal should never be to just attack or weaken him. The threat of another Trump presidency is too serious for that. Biden has beaten him once and deserves our respect.”

As I say, I think Dems would resist primarying Biden even if DeSantis were the GOP nominee, not wanting to split the left ahead of a tough fight. But if Trump were to retire, removing what lefties regard as an existential threat to the country, there’s a better chance of Biden being challenged and/or retiring as well. They’ll subordinate all other interests, including the urge to oust a deeply unpopular octogenarian as their own nominee, in the name of defeating the former guy.

…I think. If gas prices really do triple this fall and Biden’s job approval drops to six percent or whatever, I reserve the right to revisit my opinion. Certainly, there’s some appetite even among Dems on the Hill for a new nominee next time; the question is whether they can manage to suppress that appetite as the imperative to beat Trump weighs on them.


One Democratic senator who requested anonymity pointed to a recent New York Times-Siena College poll showing that 94 percent of Democrats under the age of 30 would prefer another Democrat as the party’s standard-bearer in 2024.

“It shows there’s a strong reservoir of sentiment to bring in a change of administrations,” said the lawmaker, who said the midterm election results will be impacted by Biden’s low approval rating.

The senator said “I think we have a shot” to keep the Senate majority, an optimistic view shared by many Senate Democrats, but warned Biden will weigh on Democratic candidates and predicted that younger rising stars will begin to jockey for the party’s nomination starting in 2023…

Senate Democrats don’t want to publicly question Biden’s viability as a candidate in 2024, but privately they’re holding back on endorsing another White House term until they see how the midterms play out.

If Trump announces tomorrow that he’s done with politics, a real push on the left to oust Biden would begin the next day. Probably an unsuccessful one — but Democratic politics would get interesting very quickly.

Here’s Newsom doing his “we don’t fight hard enough” shtick and babbling about “the narrative.” When inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years and gas prices are (or were) setting records, your problems are much bigger than narratives, my dude.

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