5 Bad Arguments Why Biden Should Keep Running (And 1 Good Reason)

This article is part of HuffPost’s biweekly politics newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

Will President Joe Biden stay on the Democratic Party’s 2024 ticket or step aside?

Or, as everybody in politics seems to be putting it, is the dam holding? Breaking?

How about buckling?

The answers are unclear as this newsletter hits your inboxes. A volatile political situation is changing by the day and, sometimes, by the hour, as you can see from reading the HuffPost liveblog.

Over the weekend, it looked like Biden’s support was collapsing. His fortunes took a conspicuous turn for the better on Monday, following a defiant letter to Congress and call-in to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” — and hearty endorsements from members of the House Progressive and Democratic caucuses, including New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But at full meetings of each chamber’s delegation on Tuesday, members were divided and uncertain. Then, Wednesday morning, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pointedly declined to give a full endorsement in her own “Morning Joe” appearance, while The New York Times published an opinion column from actor (and Democratic financier) George Clooney urging Biden to step aside.

The drama really does have an Aaron Sorkin feel to it, except this is real life with real stakes — like the state of the planet and the future of democracy.

The next inflection point will probably come Thursday, at a White House press conference that will be another test of Biden’s ability to perform without a script. A debate-like showing there and/or more dismal polls could prompt more wavering Democrats to back Biden’s withdrawal publicly. And while the decision whether to run would remain Biden’s, it’d be difficult for him to ignore a strong push from party leaders, especially those with Pelosi’s stature and influence.

Why aren’t they making those calls now? Though each lawmaker presumably has their own mix of motives, it’s safe to assume many are genuinely conflicted — not just because they like and respect Biden, but also because they think there are strong reasons for him to keep running.

And there are!

High on this list (if not always prominent in media discussions) is the difficulty any other candidate would have taking over the campaign. Even many political professionals underestimate the unique challenges of running for president. The organizational dynamics would have to change, as the new candidate brought in their new advisers ― and, almost surely, a different managerial style. The campaign message would have to evolve too.

Even Vice President Kamala Harris, who could inherit Biden-Harris campaign funding and infrastructure seamlessly, would bring her own brain trust. She would also have to present herself in a different way than Biden has. Among other things, she would be running to be the nation’s first Black woman president, a prospect that would bring new opportunities and — of course — new challenges.

But not all of the arguments for Biden staying on the ticket are so persuasive. As this debate has unfolded in public, a handful of weak arguments are also getting a lot of attention ― and, frankly, more credence than they should.

Five in particular come to mind:

1. Biden beat Trump before.

This is one of Biden’s favorite arguments, in part because Biden faced plenty of skeptics when he ran in 2020. But the argument rests on two key premises that don’t hold up well to scrutiny.

The first is that the 2020 result can predict what will happen in 2024. The circumstances were dramatically different, as you may recall: Most of the primaries and the entire general election took place during the first months of COVID-19.

The pandemic and reaction to it upended everything in American life, including the dynamics of campaigning, much of which took place virtually when public gatherings were not possible. Voters had different issues on their minds and the election itself was in many ways simply a referendum on the Trump presidency, which was winning widespread derision for its (mis)handling of the public health crisis.

But even if you could recreate the political environment of 2020 ― not that anybody would want to do that ― you wouldn’t be running it with the same Democratic candidate.

And that’s the second flawed premise. Biden today simply isn’t the same candidate he was four years ago. The reason Biden’s candidacy is under scrutiny is all the evidence (the debate performance, news reports about more frequent mental lapses) that he can’t campaign as effectively as he did the last time. Scheduling alone would be a problem for a candidate who, as Biden recently told a meeting of governors, probably needs to get more sleep.

2. The polls are wrong.

Polls have shown Biden falling farther behind Trump since the debate ― by about 2 points in the average compiled by 538 and by roughly the same increment in its counterpart at RealClearPolitics.

A handful of recent results look better for Biden, including a series of swing state polls from Bloomberg. 538′s predictor model still sees the race as a tossup. Nobody would dispute that the race remains close, or that Biden could win.

But other forecasters are more skeptical. Nate Silver’s model has Biden’s chances at 29%. Cook Political Report just shifted its projection for a bunch of swing states in a Republican direction, suggesting even states like Minnesota and New Hampshire might be in play.

Biden and his supporters have suggested the polls showing him behind are wrong. “Do you think polling data is as accurate as it used to be?,” Biden asked during his ABC News interview on Friday.

But it’s hard to find evidence to show polling error systematically puts Democrats at a disadvantage. Polling error could run in either direction, which means the existing surveys could be overestimating his support just as surely as they could be underestimating it.

Another reason to take the polls seriously is that Democratic Senate candidates in key swing states are running ahead of Biden, sometimes well ahead of Biden.

This is not surprising. Incumbents like Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Jon Tester in Montana have deep wells of goodwill from longtime constituents. And they don’t get the blame for problems like inflation the way presidents do. But their performance makes it harder to believe the polls are missing large swaths of Democratic voters.

3. The potential alternatives are worse.

Lack of faith in alternatives is probably the reason that weighs most heavily on Democratic lawmakers and power-breakers. It’s not hard to see why.

Most of the likely alternatives getting attention are governors who have never faced the scrutiny of a national race. Harris is the main exception to this, but her poll numbers have looked worse than Biden’s for most of the administration’s tenure. Quite apart from whatever race- and gender-based attacks she would face, her work on immigration would likely make that issue — on which Republicans enjoy a distinct advantage — even more prominent in the campaign.

But there are signs in recent polling that Harris’ standing with the public is improving. And there are good reasons to think she or any other alternative would have more room to grow, because the public still has a lot to learn about them.

That’s most true for the governors, obviously. (How many voters even know who Gretchen Whitmer is?) But it’s even true for Harris, whose dim political reputation seems only loosely connected to anything she has said or done.

She’d be a prosecutor running against a convicted criminal, a woman running to protect reproductive rights. The past moments when she made the biggest impressions on the public ― her questioning during Senate hearings with former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr and then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ― tapped into the same skills she’d bring into a presidential debate.

There’s no empirical way to prove how she or any other candidate would perform as the nominee. They could definitely do worse. But they could also do better if they have a chance to campaign — and maybe a lot better.

It’s hard to say that about Biden, given the public has pretty much formed its opinions.

4. Elites are trying to hijack the party.

Biden has portrayed his campaign to stay on the ticket as a campaign to defy elites trying to overturn the will of the voters. “I don’t care what those big names think,” Biden said this week.

Strictly speaking, it’s true that the loudest calls to get Biden off the ticket are coming from high-profile voices, going back to the early calls — even before the debate — from prominent columnists like the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg and Ezra Klein.

But the elected officials questioning Biden’s place on the ticket have been conspicuously deferential, mostly raising questions rather than stating outright that he should not run. Even those pushing explicitly for him to withdraw have been careful to say how much they admire and respect Biden, and point to his accomplishments as president.

And if anything, it looks like Democratic elites are catching up to the voters, rather than the other way around.

While it’s hard to be sure exactly what loyal party voters think right now, they seem to have the same qualms as the columnists and financiers. In a national post-debate poll from a Democratic firm leaked to Politico, only half of Democratic voters said they were confident Biden has the mental and physical capacity to serve four more years ― or that he should run for president again.

As you might expect, confidence in Biden’s abilities ― and desire to see him keep running ― was even lower among independents. And without a strong showing from independent voters, no presidential candidate can win.

5. The stakes are too high to risk fudging this.

Biden supporters frequently cite the threats posed by another Trump presidency as reason he should stay on the ticket. They’ve made that point even more insistently following the Supreme Court decision on presidential immunity, which many legal scholars believe would give Trump much broader leeway to wreak havoc.

Biden himself emphasized these threats in his letter to members of Congress.

But the Democrats questioning Biden’s place on the ticket don’t dispute any of that. Their dispute is over what to do in response.

The essence of their argument is that Biden making way for another candidate would improve the chances a Democrat blocks Trump from another term ― and, by the way, boost the prospects for holding on to the Senate and maybe even taking the House, either of which would be crucial if Trump ends up in the White House anyway.

These Democrats might be right about that. They might be wrong. And the same goes for all of the other conclusions they are making. But nobody in this argument is operating with much certainty anymore.

Biden stepping aside would represent a calculated risk. Biden staying on the ticket would too. The question now is how to make the calculations, which means relying on the best evidence.