by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Democratic Party strategists increasingly fear that President Joe Biden can’t win reelection. Polls show that most Democrats believe he shouldn’t run.
One recent survey has Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg leading both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in an early New Hampshire primary test. Nevertheless, the 79-year-old Biden insists he’s running. He believes he can beat Donald Trump, and backing him up is polling showing him leading his predecessor despite his own negative ratings.
No sitting president has lost his party’s nomination since Franklin Pierce 170 years ago. Ronald Reagan gave incumbent Gerald Ford a good run in 1976 but couldn’t quite pull it off. Ted Kennedy started strong against Jimmy Carter in 1980 but ultimately missed the mark. Though incumbents rarely lose re-nomination, 10 have lost reelection. And some have abandoned bids after reading, and tasting, bitter tea leaves. An unpopular Harry Truman wanted another term in 1952 but bowed out after Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) defeated him in the New Hampshire primary. Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) opposed Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and came perilously close to beating him in the first primary. Shortly thereafter, Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY) jumped into the race, and LBJ withdrew.
If Democrats suffer big losses in the midterm elections, it could convince Biden to forgo a reelection bid. But what if he doesn’t? Will party bigwigs — Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Jim Clyburn, John Kerry — go to the White House and tell him it’s over? Will other candidates try to nudge him out in the primaries? If Biden doesn’t run, who would Democrats pick?
There is, of course, Vice President Kamala Harris. But her last performance as a presidential candidate left much to be desired. Her polls are worse than Biden’s, and plenty of Democrats are disappointed with her current job performance.