The debate from the extensive highlights I watched was a disaster for both candidates. Joe Biden was old and slow, forgetful at times and deeply unimpressive. He gave all indication that he would cognitively struggle filling the office of president for four more years. Donald Trump was mean, dissembling and rambling. His answers revealed, once again, that he really has no ability to come up with honest answers to difficult policy questions and his entire world view is based on lies.

If Biden and Trump at the candidates that are on the ballot in November, I will definitely and enthusiastically vote for Biden—because I care about US democracy.

That being said, I think there are four basic truisms that need to be faced head-on now, particularly by those of us who believe that the country’s future is in peril. They are:

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  • Trump is an eminently beatable candidate. He has very high negatives and many voters don’t want to vote for him (though that doesn’t mean that they won’t in the end).
  • Biden is not the candidate to take advantage of Trump’s weaknesses. I’ve been going on about this since February, but Biden is simply not a strong candidate. He only won, narrowly, 4 years ago because he is not Trump. The debate last night only confirmed how weak he is.
  • A better Democratic candidate should have a small but consistent lead. The economy is doing well overall, and the Republicans have real problems with their position on abortion—this should be a Democratic election to lose.
  • If Biden can’t win, it would be better to replace him asap, so that the Convention in August can nominate someone else. One of the reasons a convention happens so late, is to maintain flexibility in the nominating process in case a candidate becomes unelectable/unwell, etc.

People seem to get upset at the idea of replacing a candidate before the convention. However, historically, procedurally and ethically there is absolutely no reason that this can’t be done. It is indeed the American way. The whole point of having a party convention when parties do is that it gives them time to choose a candidate who can perform well in the general election.

In US history many times it was not clear who the chosen candidate would be until the convention.

1976

In 1976, Ronald Reagan remained in the race until the end, forcing floor votes, doing political maneuvers (even though Reagan was not the nominee, he actually chose a VP candidate to try and convince delegates to switch to him).

US Election: Should Biden Bow Out?
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US Election: Should Biden Bow Out?

A selection of what European newspapers are saying about whether Joe Biden should run for US president again.

Reagan and Ford at the 1976 GOP convention

In the end Gerald Ford won the nomination—and the struggle probably helped him. It was thought he was going to be a weak candidate and struggle against Jimmy Carter (one of the reasons Reagan stayed in) but in the end Ford performed very well and almost won.

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1980

The Democrats had their own version of 1976 four years later, when Ted Kennedy challenged Carter. Kennedy was actually further behind Carter than Reagan was behind Ford, but he continued to challenge the nomination until the end. Kennedy certainly didn’t believe that Carter had some God-given right to the nomination, and even challenged the party’s rules from the convention floor to try and force an open vote. When he lost that vote, he continued to fight Carter forces every step of the way on the platform.

The 1960s

Before this what was interesting was how often it was not clear who would be a party’s nominee until the convention itself had a vote. In 1960, for instance, John F. Kennedy was the front-runner heading into the Democratic Convention—but he was by no means the anointed candidate. Lyndon Johnson was still fighting hard, and people were wondering what the vote would be like. It wasn’t until the delegates got to the convention that it was clear that Kennedy had an insurmountable lead—and only after the first vote was held was his victory secure.

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JFK after his victory at the 1960 Democratic Convention.

In 1964 the Republicans had a wild convention in which the party’s moderate wing (led by Nelson Rockefeller) tried to block the front runner, Barry Goldwater, from being nominated. The moderate forces were not at all cowed into supporting Goldwater until the first vote revealed he could not be stopped.

Earlier Selecting Candidates at the Convention was the Norm

I don’t want this to turn into a piece of political history—but before the 1960s it was completely normal for parties to not know their nominees until the convention itself. This was for practical and political reasons. Practically you wanted to get the delegates from all over the country together before a party decided. Politically it allowed parties time to make up their minds. In 1952 both the Republicans and Democrats had no idea who they would nominate until their conventions.

The Republicans went into their convention with two candidates running neck to neck—Senator Robert Taft and Gen Dwight Eisenhower. Taft was quite similar to Biden politically today—the safe choice of the party establishment. However, it was thought that he had electability issues (he did). In the end the party opted for Eisenhower because he was the strongest candidate—and he went on to victory.

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Eisenhower celebrating at the 1952 GOP convention.

A salutary lesson for people saying you must stay with a losing candidate—you do not have to.

How this Could Happen Now

The Democratic Party Convention is still almost TWO months away—August 19-22. That is more than enough time both politically and structurally to make a change. It even gives the Democrats the ability to allow possible other candidates to showcase themselves to the delegates.

It will only happen now if Biden either by himself, or through the persuasion of others, comes to believe that he does not represent the best chance to beat Trump. He will be nominated if he stays in—as delegates are pledged to support him. However, all it would take is for him to step back and release his delegates—and the convention would be free to choose someone else.

And now it should.

If Biden did that this coming week, there are a whole number of candidates who could emerge. For instance, I would imagine Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg both ran in 2020 and have national profiles. Gavin Newsom has been running a shadow campaign this year and seems eager. There are also a host of other Democrats with real political skill who could declare, including the Governor of Kentucky Andy Beshear and possibly Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

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(side note—take a look at Beshear—Kentucky is one of the most Republican states in America, and he has established powerful crossover appeal),

What I would suggest is that the party institute a weekly series of debates with all the declared candidates (there might be a poll-threshold put up for entry of 5% or a requirement that a certain number of delegates support a particular candidate) starting as soon as practicable when Biden pulled out.

These would allow the candidates to have major national exposure (and they would all contrast well to Trump). There would be no party declared front-runner heading into the convention, but the delegates would have been able to see all the possible candidates perform regularly under pressure. And the American people would have had some exposure to the candidates and start registering their opinion in polls.

At that point, the convention would be able to choose—as it has every right to do. And it would almost certainly choose a candidate that has a better chance of beating Trump.

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Reprinted from the author’s blog. See the original here.

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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