The Thursday evening debate between governors and presidential aspirants Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom on November 30 might or might not have given DeSantis something of a boost for 2028, but his strong performance will almost certainly not be enough to overtake Donald Trump in 2024. Newsom, on the other hand, was able to achieve his exact objective. By simply appearing on stage before a national audience – while giving Biden a grade of A on his presidency so no one could complain he was undermining his enfeebled colleague – he was able to draw a night-and-day contrast between his own striking golden boy persona and Biden’s sad, panic-inducing presence on the public stage.
Newsom has attempted to benefit from what in football has been called the back-up quarterback syndrome. When the starting signal-caller begins to falter, the second-string QB often becomes the fans’ most popular player – simply because he’s not the starter, has yet to make a misstep, and could just prove to be a savior, a diamond in the rough striding in from the bench. The problem is this fantasy rarely comes true – Tom Brady being the prominent exception. Once the starter leaves the game, reality bites, and the dream of that replacement entering the fray and leading his team to glorious victory generally falls victim to the realization, as his own shortcomings are revealed, that the back-up was not the starter for a reason. And so they might as well just stick with the starter.
Put another way – or in more familiar terms, for some – the grass always appears greener on the other side of the fence. But that doesn’t mean it is. Thinking things all the way through, would forcing Biden out – or begging/praying for him to end his campaign – and replacing him with Newsom or another young Democratic rising star like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ultimately put the Democrats in a better position to hold the White House?
Swapping Newsom for Biden: The Cascading Effects
The answer to whether Newsom would give the Democrats a better chance to win in 2024 than Biden may appear simple, but it isn’t. First off, if Biden were to become the first president since Lyndon Johnson to not seek a second term, after already announcing he would, it will instantly send a signal of instability to an electorate already on a knife’s edge about the balkanization of the country. After all, unless he resigns between now and Election Day 2024, Biden will still have control of the nuclear football, and the admission that he’s not up to the job – after claiming he was by announcing his intention to seek a second term – would send shock waves through the country. If Biden had already chosen months ago to limit himself to one term, which he effectively promised in his 2020 campaign, then Newsom and company could have stepped forward in plenty of time and run for the Democratic nomination promising to “finish the job,” an empty slogan Biden is using to justify four more years. Of course, they would do so at the risk of such a statement being compared to firing a final bullet into a dying soldier.
And then there is the problem of Vice President Kamala Harris, even more unelectable than Biden in almost everyone’s book. But as a woman of color, she is not someone who could simply be shown the door without further amplifying the increasingly insoluble split between the party’s establishment and radicals over the Israel-Hamas war.
Can Biden Even Make It to Election Day 2024?
It is true that the open narrative infecting Washington like a virus these days is about whether Joe Biden can possibly win a second term – or even make it all the way through the campaign. He was famously saved from having to do so in 2020 by the pandemic, which provided plausible deniability to the charge that he was hiding from the voters. But he still enjoys the enormous advantages of incumbency, controls the party apparatus, and as he has often been wont to point out, he already beat Donald Trump once. And by most accounts, he remains convinced that he alone can take down Trump one more time.
At the same time, for as clean and articulate as he is, Gov. Newsom has become a poster child for wokeness gone wild. Yes, he is ready to replace Biden on a moment’s notice, but he carries with him a record so bad – especially for California’s vanishing middle class – that for the first time in history, the population in the beautiful Golden State is declining – to the tune of 750,000 people over the last two years, a fact trumpeted by DeSantis in the debate. All the ascendant cultural issues of the Biden era – illegal immigration, crime, homelessness – are attached to California and its governor like white on rice. When a war is raging, voters are not prone to elect an outright pacifist. And when the culture is collapsing, it would seem counter-intuitive to elect a man who has preserved, protected and defended so many of the things an overwhelming majority of voters outside of California do not support.
More than anything, the fact that this debate about Biden’s capacity is raging in Democratic circles less than one year before the 2024 election reveals just how distressed the party has become at the rise of Trump, and the decline of Biden. They were convinced that January 6 by itself would be enough to take down Trump this time. Yes, in planning the 2024 presidential race, the Trump-deranged crowd was confident they would no longer need to concoct another scandal akin to Trump as a Russian spy, no need to equate him again to Hitler, no need to even address normal issues such as, say, peace and prosperity. All they would need to do is scare the bejesus out of American voters by constantly citing that one awful day, holding a scripted, one-sided show trial worthy of Hollywood complete with the most violent cherry-picked footage available sure to subsequently run on a non-stop loop during the campaign. Throw in his Supreme Court appointments who dismantled Roe v. Wade, and presto, Trump would be ripe for a landslide defeat – or better yet, gone from politics forever.
Unfortunately for leftists strutting about like peacocks following the 2020 election, they never counted on what has transpired in real time to place another default victory by Biden in undeniable jeopardy. All the polls are reflecting an increasingly tortured path to re-election for the 46th president – and an almost shockingly clear one for the 45th – with the huge stipulation that he has yet to experience the wrath of voters if his 91 criminal indictments turn into one or more convictions. However, it is also true that Trump’s popularity has risen with each indictment, begging the question of whether more apolitical Americans are joining Trump loyalists in concluding that the government of Joe Biden is persecuting its political enemies.
Truth is, thanks in good measure to the party of Biden and Newsom, Donald Trump may now be in a better position to win the presidency than at any time since he famously descended that golden escalator in June of 2015. Not only has he won 11 of the last 13 head-to-head polls against Biden, but his almost two-point average lead becomes even larger and completely outside the margin of error when factoring in the independent/third-party candidacies of Robert F Kennedy, Jr., Jill Stein, and Cornel West. How is this even possible? Well, it turns out that people still care about peace and prosperity, especially when both are at risk, unlike the pre-pandemic times of the Trump 45 era.
Nevertheless, Democrats have set their narrative: Joe Biden is sharp as a tack – “I can’t even keep up with him,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said over the summer – and has been an excellent, underrated president who pushed through historic legislation. And the economy is great, if only the damn voters would stop believing their own lying eyes. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it, come Hell or high water, both of which have very much entered the realm of possibility for the Democratic Party.