Contact Me By Email

Contact Me By Email

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Opinion | It’s Not as Easy as Just Getting Joe Biden to Drop Out - The New York Times

It’s Not as Easy as Just Getting Biden to Drop Out

A photo illustration of a series of photographs of President Biden from different angles.
Photo Illustration by Rachel Stern for The New York Times

You’re reading the Jamelle Bouie newsletter, for Times subscribers only.  Historical context for present-day events.

"In a recent episode of his podcast, my colleague Ezra Klein made the strongest case yet for replacing President Biden on the ticket with a new Democratic nominee. After listening to it, I disagreed with a few key points, and after discussing our differences, Ezra and I agreed that it would make sense to take this to the page, as it were.

A good part of the strength of Ezra’s case came from the fact that he anticipated the most significant objection to any push to remove Biden — namely, that there wouldn’t be enough time left to select a new nominee. To that, he said, the Democrats could choose a candidate at their convention this summer in Chicago.

Here was Ezra on how to use the convention process rather than a primary to choose the nominee:

The way we pick nominees now is still built around conventions. When someone wins a primary or a caucus, what he actually wins is delegate slots. How that works is different in different states. Then they go to the convention to choose the actual nominee.

The whole convention structure is still there. We still use it. It is still the delegates voting at the convention. What’s different now than in the past is that most delegates arrive at the convention committed to a candidate. But without getting too into the weeds of state delegate rules here, if their candidate drops out, if Biden drops out, they can be released to vote for who they want.

He went on to add that while one of the most infamous contested conventions ended in disaster — the 1968 Democratic convention, which was also held in Chicago — conventions have picked some of our greatest presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

I should say that I am a strong skeptic of the idea that there is a viable path to replacing Biden as the nominee as long as he is capable and competent. Ezra’s case was persuasive, but I think he underrated the real odds that a brokered convention would end in political disaster for the Democratic Party.

Yes, the convention process still exists. There are still delegates and voting, and it continues to be possible to have a contested convention where the party chooses a nominee. The fact that we call this modern process a convention, however, does not mean that it is the same process as the one that chose nominees from roughly 1831 to 1968.

A large reason: The American party system of the past half-century is not the same system as the half-century before that. The political parties themselves were different, and their relationship to democratic legitimacy was different as well.

There was no expectation that ordinary voters would confer legitimacy on a presidential nominee. The delegates were not selected by direct vote as representatives of individual candidates so much as they were representatives of state party organizations and political machines.

And so when we say that the Democratic Party nominated Roosevelt for president in 1932, what we mean is that a somewhat unwieldy coalition of state and regional political organizations — tied together by history, a few broadly held ideals and, more concretely, patronage — gathered to hash out their differences and settle on a candidate who could best represent them on a national field.

The critical point is that there were no binding primaries or caucuses or other forms of democratic contest. Roosevelt campaigned in the sense that his allies lobbied delegates for their support, but this was fundamentally a closed process.

With no expectation of popular legitimacy in the operation of internal party decisions, delegates representing their machines and organizations could bargain and negotiate with relative freedom. Once a nominee was chosen, voters would accept him, and the election would be held.

In the 1960s, the elitism of this system — the fact that it reliably chose insiders — clashed with the democratic and anti-establishment ethos of the youngest voters. The result is that the old convention process ended, with a bang, in 1968. When Democrats convened to choose a nominee in 1972, they did so under a new system in which the chief currency was democratic legitimacy and candidates would run highly public campaigns geared toward national audiences rather than state electorates.

We have had this new system for more than 50 years. Although the rules of the Democratic convention allow for something that looks like the old system, the modern convention process is not actually equipped to confer legitimacy on nominees the way it could in the past. A great deal of that legitimacy comes from the democratic process — from the fact that modern candidates must campaign for votes from the public.

And the public, in turn, wants to feel that it has a direct say in the selection of a nominee. There is also a practical advantage to our current system: It is much easier for a candidate to claim leadership of the party when he or she has won the most votes.

This is all to say that an attempt to hold an open, brokered convention would immediately run into the basic issue that no candidate would be able to claim any kind of democratic legitimacy, especially if the delegates were free agents unaccountable to the public. The nominee who would come out of this process would have little basis, given the norms since 1968, to say that he or she was any better or more viable than any other candidate. The odds of alienating large parts of the Democratic Party coalition would be just as large as the odds of finding an able and competent nominee.

That is especially the case when you consider the question of Vice President Kamala Harris. Ezra said that she was an underrated political talent and that there was a decent chance she would win the nomination in a brokered convention. But I think it is important to consider a scenario in which she wouldn’t.

In the modern era, a vice president who wants his or her party’s nomination for president must truly compete for it. This is a democratic competition: The voters, not the insiders, matter most. It would be one thing if Harris lost a democratic campaign to be the next nominee. The victor in that contest, after all, would have the legitimacy that came with winning the most votes. It would be something else entirely if Harris lost in a convention fight.

The view, for many Democratic voters, wouldn’t be that Harris lost a fair fight. The view would be that Harris — a loyal deputy to the president — was rejected by insiders who represented no one but themselves. Why, voters might ask, did insiders decline to elevate the vice president in this circumstance? Why was Harris, Biden’s handpicked successor, pushed to the side?

It is entirely possible that this wouldn’t fracture the Democratic coalition. It is entirely possible that Democratic voters would accept the results of a brokered convention, whatever they are. But I would not count on that outcome. It would be difficult for the Democratic Party to win the November election with an unpopular incumbent at the top of the ticket. It would be even more difficult to do so with a divisive nominee — who had neither earned the votes of Democratic voters nor weathered the vetting process of a primary campaign — and a fractured coalition.

The thing about a brokered convention, in other words, is that there would be no guarantee the party would get a better nominee than Biden. No guarantee that the nominee would not have serious baggage of his or her own. No guarantee that the process wouldn’t fracture the Democratic coalition. And no guarantee that the party would not end up weaker than where it started.

What I Wrote

Because of the holiday, I wrote only one column this week. It was about the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision extending some rights of personhood to frozen embryos and broadly about the interrelationship of freedom, equal rights and bodily autonomy.

You cannot disentangle abortion from reproductive rights. You cannot disentangle reproductive rights from bodily autonomy. And you cannot disentangle bodily autonomy from basic questions of equal rights and democratic freedom."

Opinion | It’s Not as Easy as Just Getting Joe Biden to Drop Out - The New York Times

No comments:

Post a Comment