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If not Kamala Harris, who can replace Joe Biden? — analysis

Some torches shouldn't be passed. Credit: Getty

February 16, 2024 - 1:00pm

One of the laziest arguments deployed by supporters of the president is “if not Joe Biden, then who?” In truth, the Democrats have several viable alternatives to the 81-year-old, any one of whom could present themselves as offering the generational change a majority of Americans now seek. 

The subtext of the “if not Biden, then who?” argument is: “not Kamala Harris”. Traditionally, when an incumbent president’s party nominates their replacement, the serving vice president is the frontrunner. Awkwardly for the Democrats, Harris’s subterranean approval ratings make her an even less credible candidate than Biden. While the President’s advancing years are his primary hurdle, for Harris her uneasy public demeanour, coupled with her embrace of unpopular campus identity politics, means she would almost inevitably lose to Trump.

The Democrats could look in different places for their future leaders. For too long, the party has turned to the Senate for its presidential candidates, with the last five Democratic nominees, from Al Gore to Biden, having served in the upper house. Instead, they must consider the growing pool of promising Democratic governors, especially those who’ve won power in so-called “purple” (swing) states.

Most impressive among them is 50-year-old Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro. In a state Biden only won by 1.2 % in 2020, Shapiro cruised to a landslide victory in the 2022 gubernatorial election by a hefty 14.8%. Where some Democrats ludicrously toyed with the Defund The Police movement, Shapiro pledged to hire 2,000 more officers. He appealed to traditional Republicans by advocating corporate tax cuts and gas tax refunds. Most strikingly, in a break with many Democrats, he opposed mask and vaccine mandates. An observant conservative Jew, Shapiro’s moderate economic policies, combined with a rejection of identity politics, is what many independent voters have been craving. 

Another alternative is Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan since 2019. In a state won by Trump in 2016, Whitmer has comfortably come out on top in both her gubernatorial contests. Like Shapiro, she has advocated for tax cuts, with Michigan now enjoying the lowest tax burden in the Midwest. What’s more, Whitmer has exploited one of the few truly bipartisan issues remaining to her electoral advantage: the need to upgrade America’s creaking infrastructure. She campaigned in 2018 on a pledge to “fix the damn roads”. During her first term alone, more than 1,200 bridges and over 16,000 miles of roads were repaired across the state. It’s not just good governance — it’s clever politics.

It would be remiss to list potential Biden replacements without mentioning Gavin Newsom. The California Governor is the central-casting presidential nominee, though doubts about his state governance remain. Pete Buttigieg surprised many with his strong showing in the Democratic primaries in 2020. Now serving in Biden’s cabinet as Secretary of Transportation, the openly gay military veteran is perhaps the most credible continuity candidate from inside the current administration. Against Trump, however, his predilection for identity politics may hurt him.

Clearly, then, the Democrats have options beyond Biden and Harris, none of them over 60. Were Biden replaced, Trump’s increasing frailties — not to mention his own memory issues — would come under greater scrutiny.

The challenge for the Democrats is whether they have the collective courage to either persuade or pressure the President into withdrawing from the race. Someone inside the White House, or the broader Democratic establishment, should now compel Biden to give up the job he spent six decades working towards. If they can, November’s election is theirs to lose.


James Hanson is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist, as heard on Times Radio.

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UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

A second Trump presidency could fundamentally change the United States and the world and the primary reason the democrats didn’t win was because it would have been too tricky to pick an alternative to Biden.
One of those little historical accidents that will make it so fascinating for students in 50 years’ time to study the history of Baron Trump’s Free Republic of the Americas.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

A second Trump presidency could fundamentally change the United States and the world — How could it do this? And how it ‘fundamentally change’ the country any more than what has happened under Biden, the same Biden who worked for the guy who told us that fundamental transformation was coming. Well, it’s here and it’s not going well. The open border is a mess. Race relations have worsened. Kids are being mal-educated and are ill-prepared for life. Oh, and we’re embroiled in another war or two.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Amazing what you can achieve in three years!

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Trump had his four years in 2016 which turned out to be one of the best in US History and you would rather have Obama (sorry Biden) with his 10million illegal aliens, inflation through the roof, bidenomics and wars and wars and future wars. No wonder you do not want to publish your name.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter F. Lee

I’d be embarrassed to put my name to a comment like yours. A stream of regurgitated Fox News memes that have no relation to what I said.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Are you based in the U.S?

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
5 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Would be great if the US could be fundamentally changed: Stop Climate Hoax, stop kids being mutilated, stop DEI and close the border.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
5 months ago

The problem isn’t that they don’t have a viable alternative to Biden, the problem is the total progressive meltdown that would be accompanied by passing over Harris who is above all things, an ethnic minority and female. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that would be heard should Gavin Newsom, white!, a man!, be selected before her, would be heard through time.
Can you imagine the scenes outsides the Democrat conference in Chicago this summer? The Pro-Palestinians, the BLM affiliates, climate change warriors and others are ready to make Chicago ’68 look like a pre-school field trip as it is, never mind pouring more fuel on the fire.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
5 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

like who?

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
5 months ago

I keep seeing Michelle Obama mentioned.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago

“if not Biden, then who?”
Uh, virtually anyone? Joe Biden: the Dispensable President.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
5 months ago

Outside of the distressingly and increasingly abundant wards-of-the-state voting block, Whitmer is rather loathed in Michigan particularly due to her behavior during the pandemic. Newsom is the most plausible alternative, though California is a pariah to much of the rest of the country.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
5 months ago
Reply to  Cho Jinn

She is full on captured by the hysterical climate change cult as well. Biden will appear moderate by that metric.

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago
Reply to  Cho Jinn

Agree. It’s very hard to see anyone from California going down well in the swing states.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
5 months ago
Reply to  Cho Jinn

Newsom is probably one of the worst Dem Governors. CA is a mess, people are leaving in droves

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
5 months ago

When the guy whose leadership ruined first San Francisco and later, California, is presented as viable, that’s a problem. And people remember Whitmer’s actions during the pandemic. Shapiro, meanwhile, suffers from being part of a group that is hated by multiple Dem constituencies.
All of this was avoidable, but Dems have to be Dems. Even after Harris was summarily rejected during the primaries – winning not one delegate – the party couldn’t help itself. The VP nominee just had to be a minority woman. Well, who else was that going to be? And if that’s not enough, Harris turned out to be even worse than anyone could have imagined, which is why there are visions of Michelle Obama dancing in some fevered minds.
Dems can’t or won’t admit to this administration’s obvious failings, so the idea of changing horses – and everyone knows Biden is not the lead horse – is more activity than action. It’s not like the thinking will change. The climate cult stuff isn’t going away, the fixation on race isn’t going away, the border is not going to be shut, and so forth. At some point you have to realize that it’s not the guy theoretically representing the party that’s the problem, it’s the party itself.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
5 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Well said. The American political parties are badly broken. An eye-popping set of numbers demonstrates the meager confidence Americans have in the two parties:
In Massachusetts in 2023 29% of registered voters identified as Democrat; 9% as Republican; and 61% as Independent. In comparison to 2018 that represents a decline of 4% for Democrats, a decline of 1% for Republicans, and an increase of 6% for Independents.
https://www.sec.state.ma.us/divisions/elections/research-and-statistics/registered-voter-enrollment.htm

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
5 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Most of Massachusettes’ population is centered in Boston, a city primarily of academics and the wealthy, with a less visible pool of very poor people, in miserable but well hidden metro areas.
The rest of the state are a dwindling population of older labor Democrats (who are decidedly not “progressive, and often cross party lines) and even poorer Hispanic/Latino immigrants.
MA, where I live, tends to vote for Democratic presidents no matter what, and elects the most far left Senators (Elizabeth Warren) it can find. MA is also one of the few eastern states that has active Antifa cells.
But MA hardly represents middle America, and is a tiny, wealthy state that also has been hit mercilessly by inflation, COVID, and illegal immigration.
I expect the very poorest and very wealthiest residents to vote for someone like Newsome, whom the swing states would dislike. Support for a “moderate” like Shapiro would be tepid, at best. No one knows who Witmer is, and it’s a bit late for her to start as a national candidate.
She’s largely known as the almost-victim of a largely fictional kidnapping plot, that the FBI concocted to entrap a group of “far right” idiots.
Support for Trump is far from non-existent, particularly in the outer suburbs & rural areas. Close to 40% of MA residents still vote Republican.
I expect that whomever the Democrat nominee is will be the one MAs electors will choose. But it will still be much closer than people think, as it will be even in New York and Illinois.
Barring some sort of major event – a truly unforgivable gaffe from Trump, or a health crisis, for example – Democrats will be very unlikely to keep the Senate, retake the House, or even retain the Presidency.
Inflation, crime, and profoundly incompetent foreign policies over the last three years nearly guarantee those outcomes.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
5 months ago

I’m quite familiar with the demographics and voter distributions of MA. I chose it in my reference, not because it is representative of the broader US, but to illustrate that, even in a state generally deemed to be the opposite of a swing state, the majority of the registered voters identify as “Independent”. My point is not to try and predict an election outcome but to emphasize that, no matter how they vote on particular candidates, the majority of Americans are quite unenthusiastic about either party. That phenomenon is true across the country. The plurality in various regions may differ between Red and Blue states, but everywhere the growth is in Independents.

Media would have us trembling that the populace of the US is split down the middle between extreme ideologies ready to foment civil war, and the recent Presidential elections seem to support that; but the reality is a three-way division comprised of a very large moderate middle and the two smaller, louder extremes. The big middle votes, not with enthusiasm, but holding its nose and wishing for better choices than the hair-balls coughed up by a broken primary system. Their votes have been evenly divided only because they are flipping a coin with a lousy candidate on either side. A half-way decent Centrist of either party would win in a landslide. The most salient example is the peculiar situation we currently have where the presidential candidate most likely to prevail by a wide margin in the general election according to polls (Haley), is not likely to win the primary election. I don’t say that as a Haley supporter but as someone convinced that our time would be better spent examining the process that produces a Biden-Trump election in the face of a majority population who want neither Biden nor Trump.
An even more cynical dysfunction in the primary system is the well-established scheme in which Democratic Party funding is channeled to the absolutely most extreme right-wing Republican candidates in primary elections for the perverse intention of preventing Centrist Republicans from winning primary elections and advancing to the general election for congressional seats.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
5 months ago

‘An observant conservative Jew, Shapiro’s….’
The Democrats are not going to choose a Jewish President to replace Biden.

David Giles
David Giles
5 months ago

Can I just suggest, quietly, that this “It’ll be the death of democracy” thing around Trump is just, well, crap.
Now I’m sure HE would like it to be so- I’ve always thought that, inasmuch as he has a political philosophy, he is a Fascist – but it won’t be so. Because every senator and every governor also has a direct, personal mandate. And none of them are interim sitting around for 4 years letting him get away with whatever he wants.
Trump MK1 wasn’t the death of democracy and the more politically savvy Trump MK2 certainly won’t be.

As for “Who if not Biden?” ANYBODY! Oh, except perhaps Kamala.

Paul Rodolf
Paul Rodolf
5 months ago

Whomever is in currently in charge of the White House now, we know it’s not Biden, will anoint the next Democratic candidate. If it is even necessary to have an election as I suspect another “Black Swan” event will take center stage and all but obviate the need for an election that will be handily won, by whoever the Democrat put on the ticket, by our terrified electorate.

Umm Spike
Umm Spike
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul Rodolf

There will be an election by mail-in only, being too dangerous to vote in person, so it will be “democratic,” don’t you know.

Ian_S
Ian_S
5 months ago

It’s weird — Democrats apparatchiks rule inside almost every government-run organization at every level in almost every state of the United States, as they do in perhaps every large corporation and of course almost every cultural institution — an almost perfect hegemony — and yet for all their millions upon millions of diligent activists they can’t find an alternative to Joe.

I guess that’s because to actually present as a potential leader, exposed in the glare of publicity, one of the faceless subterranean Democrat ideologues gnawing away at the foundations of society — might instill mass revulsion.

James Love
James Love
5 months ago

A right leaning Democrat would destroy Trump in the presidential election.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
5 months ago
Reply to  James Love

“…right leaning Democrat”? That creature is as rare as a unicorn.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
5 months ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

Fetterman, perhaps?

j watson
j watson
5 months ago

Been following Shapiro a bit as had heard about him before and that he was a ‘possible’ if Biden stepped back. Difficult not to like what one sees/hears (albeit from across the Atlantic), although any proper adult will come across as refreshing when we’re so exposed to Trump/Biden.
LBJ pulled out on 31st March in election year. Not implausible in 24. In 68 of course his withdrawal then followed by one of the dramatic political years ever in the US. History never repeats itself entirely but does tell us one thing – things change.

Toby Aldrich
Toby Aldrich
5 months ago

I confess to finding it increasingly hilarious that the so-called progressive party, the party of DEI and affirmative action, when push comes to shove cannot bring themselves to put forward anyone other than an elderly white male suffering from cognitive impairment (to put it nicely).

It’s almost as if they don’t believe in what they preach. Which I suppose is proved by the fact that they’d rather keep the elderly, white cognitively impaired man than let his DEI hire, Kamala Harris, have a run at it.

Elon Workman
Elon Workman
5 months ago

For a majority of the USA electorate the last three years have been a disaster especially now that there is no southern border between Texas and Mexico. Under normal circumstances a Republican landslide such as the ones achieved by Eisenhower in the 1950 s and Reagan in the 1980 s would be on the cards. But these are not normal times. The Republican brand is tied to Donald Trump who is disliked for good reason by a majority and particularly by independents in the seven or eight ‘swing’ purple states which will decide who is elected. Yet without its MAGA base the Republicans have no chance of getting a Republican President elected and that base will vote for no one but Donald Trump. The USA may well end up with a Democrat as President and both Houses of Congress held by the Republicans.

Umm Spike
Umm Spike
5 months ago

It is obvious that the author is not American.
Shapiro is Jewish, and the Dems are so full of Jew-hatred that they will never run anyone of his faith again; Witmer was among the worst of the Covid extremists, and she won’t play well outside Michigan; Newsome is an insincere Ken-doll who is completely wrecking the state that he’s in. None of these folks is ready for the national stage.

If not Biden, who, indeed?

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  Umm Spike

It can’t be that hard. Put all the names of Democrat State Governors, Senators and Representatives (current and recently retired) aged between 40 and 70 into a hat, draw five names out, and pick the best. That is what they should have done instead of running Hillary.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
5 months ago

No one doubts that there are alternatives to Biden. The question to answer is why are the Democrats persisting with Biden.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
5 months ago

That’s an easy question. The actual power behind the throne (many think is Obama) wants an easily controlled puppet. Who better than Uncle Joe? He signs anything put in front of him.

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

If this so called “actual power behind the throne” wants an easily controlled puppet, I’m guessing Trump isn’t his guy (and that’s who it looks like he is going to get).

Tom Condray
Tom Condray
5 months ago

Notwithstanding Josh Shapiro’s performance as governor, suggesting a practicing Jew for the Democratic party’s vice presidential candidate makes clear that the author has absolutely no understanding of the current state of the party leadership’s disaffection with Jews in general.
During the Covid crisis, which included more than a few food distribution issues, Whitmer ordered that garden centers at retailers like Walmart be cordoned off to prevent shoppers from making purchases–including seed packets for home gardens. She was the premier example of the pandemic’s egomaniacal dictatorial rule, and has no place on a wider stage.
Buttigieg spent a goodly portion of the pandemic on paternity leave. His return merely demonstrated that as Secretary of Transportation his supervision of the movements of trains and trucks should be restricted solely to those manufactured by Lionel and Tonka respectively.
And adding Gavin Newsom to the proposed candidates is simply the icing on the cake for the delusional nature of this article.
Based upon his four suggestions, I surmise he only left out Peewee Herman due to the unfortunate demise of Paul Reubens last year.

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

Who would you suggest then?

William Brand
William Brand
5 months ago

Obama will remove his beard at the Democratic convention using the 25th amendment and substitute his wife. The question is whether or not K Harris will cooperate in the involuntary removal process. The constitution seems to indicate that she must sign off on a 25th amendment coup. The problem is not using the 25th amendment it is paying off Kamala to give up the automatic incumbency that she will enjoy in favor of Michelle Obama. She only gets 3 months as president as opposed to a possible 4 years if Biden is removed in his second term. Obama owns Biden’s cabinet, and they will betray Biden if ordered. Kamala will get a full presidential pension if she serves 3 months in office.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
5 months ago

I’m terrified the Democrats might pull their heads out of their butts long enough to draft someone other than Biden. Donald Trump can beat Biden. He’s not guaranteed to do so, but it’s doable. He can almost certainly beat Harris. I suspect he can’t beat anyone else. And I say that as a (reluctant) Trump supporter.

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago

It’s kind of a reversal of 2016, where Hillary was probably the only realistic nominee that Trump could have beaten.

Martin M
Martin M
5 months ago

The problem with Newsom is that he is not from as purple State, which one would have thought was a prerequisite for getting the nomination. California is now such a “Blue State” that, to paraphrase an Australian saying, the drover’s dog would become Governor if it was the Democrat nominee.