Biden Can Beat Trump—Democrats Should Worry No One Else Can

From a Washington Post column by Ramesh Ponnuru headlined “Biden can beat Trump. Democrats should worry no one else can.”:

President Biden says he is running for reelection to “finish the job.” What job, exactly?

There’s an answer to that question that makes sense. But he’s not saying it directly, and it’s one that should worry Biden’s fellow Democrats.

His announcement video presents Biden as defending freedom, democracy, Social Security, voting rights and abortion from “MAGA extremists.” It is not plausible that threats to any of these things, or what Democrats perceive as threats to them, would be vanquished in a second Biden term. Republicans and Democrats are going to continue to disagree about abortion and about how to protect voting rights long after 2028. Biden didn’t get his voting-rights bill into law when Democrats had the House and the Senate, and its prospects are not getting any better.

Biden’s real mission, the one that needs completion, is the one he set for himself in his 2020 campaign: keeping Donald Trump out of the White House. That was the theme that summoned the most passion from him throughout that year. In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination, he mentioned policy issues. But his focus was on being the kind of president children could look up to, and not the kind who would bash our foreign allies or equivocate about white supremacists.

Keeping Trump out of the White House is a job that Biden could finish. There is, of course, no guarantee that he will accomplish it. He could lose to Trump in November 2024, or beat him only for Trump to run again and win in 2028. But Biden has a good shot at shutting Trump out.

Biden may well think that he has a better shot at it than anyone else the Democrats might nominate — because he does. Yes, he is old and unpopular. But have you seen the alternatives?

If Biden were not running, Vice President Harris would be the most likely Democratic nominee. But she is just as unpopular and has become a reliable source of loopy sound bites. Democratic insiders cannot stop telling reporters how little she impresses them.

The other also-rans from the 2020 primaries have their own disadvantages. Bernie Sanders combines Biden’s advanced age with a political identity much further from the median voter. In the primaries last time, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren showed very little appeal to Black voters, without whom nobody can win the Democratic nomination.

There are political analysts who concede some of these points but still insist that the Democrats have a strong bench. It is remarkable, though, how often they mention Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, who may be rising stars but have held office only since January. Let’s check back with them in 2028.

That’s not to say that Democrats would be doomed if Biden bowed out. It is certainly possible that a Democratic governor — particularly Gavin Newsom of California, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, or Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan — would be able to defeat Harris for the nomination and then Trump for the presidency. But you can see why “Saturday Night Live” played the party’s options as a horror show last fall.

The implausibility of most of Biden’s potential replacements is a function of two facts about the Democratic coalition: It’s unwieldy, and it’s in flux. Democrats have been bleeding support from White voters without college degrees and making up for it among Whites with degrees. They have been losing ground in presidential elections in Wisconsin, where most voters are Whites without degrees, and gaining it in Georgia, where they’re only a third of the electorate.

Biden has presented himself as a “bridge” to a new generation of Democratic leaders. He is also a bridge between the Democrats’ past coalition and its future one. He won in November 2020 by holding down losses among Whites without degrees while benefiting from the pro-Democratic trend among Whites with degrees.

Trump’s unpopularity aided Biden. But that advantage would almost surely not have been enough for Sanders or Warren, who got the next-largest number of votes in the primaries, to stitch together the precarious electoral majority that Biden did.

A recent poll found that most Democrats don’t want Biden to run again. They’re lucky he’s not following their wishes. But it should make them uneasy that they need him to finish the job of stopping Trump.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, is the editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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