How Can Biden Be Replaced? A Guide to Democrats’ Next Steps.

President Biden Delivers Remarks On The Middle East From The White House

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Democrats who are freaking out about Joe Biden’s dismal performance in his Atlanta debate with Donald Trump have a lot of question about their options going forward. Now that talk of replacing the president as the Democrats’ 2024 nominee has gotten serious, arcane Democratic National Committee rules are suddenly very relevant. Here’s a guide to what happens if Democrats choose another candidate to face Trump in November.

Sure. At this point he is simply the “presumptive nominee.” The Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which begins on August 19, would normally name the actual nominee. But in order to meet Ohio’s general election ballot deadline of August 7, the Democratic National Committee has voted to hold a “virtual roll call” before the convention (the exact date has not yet been set). Until then, the name that will go onto the bumper stickers, theoretically at least, could be Joe Biden, me, or you.

It would be much easier — and from a political point of view, immensely better — if Biden withdrew as a candidate. For one thing, that would get rid of the obligation delegates had to support him under the laws of 14 states. And it could pave the way to a reasonably harmonious convention and far less disruption of the general election campaign.

But technically speaking, a majority of convention delegates can nominate whomever they wish. State laws aside, pledged Democratic delegates (unlike Republican delegates) have no more than a moral obligation to back their candidate, and a convention-passed rule could even override state laws.

No. Like Biden, until she is formally renominated (again, via a virtual roll-call vote at some point prior to August 7), the vice-president has no special status. Even if Biden resigned his office and Harris became president, she’d have to be nominated by delegates to appear on the November ballot.

In theory, anyone who met the constitutional qualifications to serve as president could replace Biden. In reality, there’s no sort of consensus behind any particular “replacement” candidate. (Perhaps the most discussed fallback candidate, former First Lady Michelle Obama, has repeatedly denied interest.) No one is likely to step forward as long as Biden is still running, and if Biden withdraws, his support for a replacement will be all-important and perhaps dispositive. There’s no reason to think he’d back anyone other than his vice-president.

Names of Democrats who have been kicked around in fantasy scenarios for a Biden-less ticket have included a number of governors — notably California’s Gavin Newsom, Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, and Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro — along with 2020 candidate and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and some real long shots like Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia. Some progressives might even note that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez turns 35 in October. But again, there’s no consensus, and while pundits thrill at the idea of an “open convention” where multiple candidates duke it out, that would be a nightmare for a party trying to plan a general election campaign.

The presidential balloting is scheduled to take place prior to the convention. But the process, virtual or live, would be the same: a name or names would be placed into nomination by a delegate, and state delegations would vote in alphabetical order until someone has a majority.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats have superdelegates — 744 of them in 2024 — who attend the convention in recognition of the offices they hold (or held). They include members of the DNC; members of Congress; governors; and former presidents and vice-presidents. They are free to support whomever they wish but cannot vote on the first ballot, when the nomination will very likely be determined.

Just as the old vice-presidential nominee was chosen: by a roll-call vote. This person would probably be the presidential nominee’s preferred running mate, but delegates could choose someone else. The last time there was a serious convention vote for someone other than the presidential nominee’s running mate was at the 1968 RNC, when George Romney got a significant number of votes against eventual nominee Spiro T. Agnew.

Members of the Democratic National Committee (not convention delegates) have the power to fill vacancies on the presidential ticket by a simple majority. It exercised that power in 1972 when then-Senator Thomas Eagleton stepped down as George McGovern’s running mate after revelations of drunk-driving charges and electroshock therapy. So if Biden or Harris or anyone else resigned from the ticket after the convention, the DNC could replace them. But there’s no clear power to remove a nominee who won’t go quietly.

No. Plenty of presidential nominees have begun the general election campaign in a deeper hole than Biden is in right now, but none have been replaced. The talk of replacing him is largely a function of the special horror Democrats have for the prospect of a second Trump term.

Not a lot from credible pollsters. A February 2024 Emerson survey that showed Trump leading Biden by one percent also showed the former president leading Harris by 3 percent, Newsom by 10 percent, and Whitmer by 12 percent. As a major-party nominee, any of them would get a boost in name ID that might lift their performance in general election polls.

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