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As some Democrats waver on Biden’s candidacy, analysts say it’s not so easy

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(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden’s debate performance has led many Democrats to demand that he leave the race. Many scholars of the presidency, by contrast, are frantically warning them against it.

Biden’s first presidential debate of the 2024 election against Republican former President Donald Trump was heavily criticized by progressives for meandering responses, forgetfulness, and coughing excessively during the event, with many Democratic members of Congress and commentators questioning his fitness to serve in office and suggesting his removal as the party’s nominee.

Scholars of elections and the presidency, however, say the idea is likely to backfire.

“Without some prominent alternative standing by who can reliably generate high levels of enthusiasm, I don’t think a dropout could help,” John T. Woolley, the co-director of The American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Center Square. “I am not aware of any precedent for a candidate simply deciding to step aside at this point,” he noted.

A poll by YouGov for CBS News, released last week, suggested that 45% of Democrats want Biden to step aside after his performance. Calls for Biden to drop out have come from influential sources, such as Democratic strategist James Carville and the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest newspaper in the key swing state of Georgia.

“The president failed to convey a competent and coherent vision for the future of America. He failed to outline the most fundamental aspects of his platform. He failed to take credit for the significant accomplishments of his 3½ years in office,” wrote the AJC’s editorial board. It added that, “If he truly hopes to defeat Trump, he must pass the torch to the next generation of Democratic leaders and urge the party to nominate another candidate at its convention in Chicago in August.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Dogget, D-Texas, became the first member of Congress to call for Biden’s withdrawal from the race. “I represent the heart of a congressional district once represented by Lyndon Johnson. Under very different circumstances, he made the painful decision to withdraw. President Biden should do the same,” Dogget wrote.

Some political analysts, however, do not think that Biden’s performance would permanently mar his campaign, and that he can recover from it.

“It is not uncommon for incumbent presidents to have weak first debate performances (i.e., Reagan in 1984, Obama in 2012, and Trump in 2020),” Jamie Carson, a professor of public affairs at the University of Georgia, told The Center Square. “His performance [the next day] in North Carolina seemed to be far better,” Carson noted, referring to Biden’s first campaign speech after the event that was widely praised in contrast to the debate.

Democrats have been divided on Biden’s post-debate viability as a candidate. Several of the party’s U.S. senators have offered on-the-record defenses of Biden, while speculated alternatives – such as Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan – have declined overtures to replace him.

Biden’s campaign has rejected calls for him to drop out of the race.

“[T]he path forward if [Biden] were to consider such an option is less than certain,” Carson noted.

Democrats will hold their national convention in Chicago beginning on Aug. 19. The second and last debate between Biden and Trump during the campaign is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Biden’s presidential campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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