It's Time For Biden To Leave The Stage
The president's greatest legacy would be to make way for someone else in 2024.
Halfway through a ceremony this past week, without saying anything, the president just wandered off the stage through the crowd to somewhat stunned silence. The same thing happened in an MSNBC interview on live television not so long ago. He just stood up stiffly — and meandered away.
Every time you see Biden walk, he seems, well, in his eighties: he’s slow, careful, stilted. Every time you hear him speak, he’s also just a little off, eyes now barely visible in the ancient, botoxed, fillered face, words often slurred, a ghostly white mane peeking over his collar in the back, occasionally rallying to the point, or strangely loud-whispering. My old friend Joe Klein wrote this week:
He seemed so old. His eyes were slits, he turned the pages of his very prepared remarks haltingly. He slurred his words, slightly. His physical condition overwhelmed the message. He assayed passion in a few closing sentences about the racist murders in Jacksonville, but it wasn’t passion that came across — it was the attempt to convey passion.
This is the man the Democratic Party says will be fully able to function as president for five more years through the age of 86. No one rooted in human reality believes it, or should believe it.
In the latest brutal polling, 49 percent of Democrats say Biden is too old for reelection. An additional 20 percent said their “biggest concern” is either: his “mental competence, sharpness, senility,” his “health,” his “stamina” or his “risk of dying.” So in fact, nearly 70 percent of his own party thinks his age is a serious concern. Overall, only one in four Americans believe he has the “stamina and sharpness” to serve as president, and 67 percent of his own party want someone else to run in 2024.
Making his campaign about resisting MAGA extremism — and barely campaigning in person because of Covid — worked last time. It won’t next year. The Establishment has had three years to paint Trump as a threat to democracy and a rogue, lawless maniac — and the failure to persuade the public at large of this is all around us. This is not for lack of material: the January 6 Committee did a great job; at least two of the indictments are damning to any neutral observer; and Trump’s behavior is still clearly deranged and getting crazier all the time.
And yet the two candidates are basically neck-and-neck in the polls. What Trump has done — again! — is a form of jujitsu: he’s using the actions of law enforcement to empower his paranoid narrative of the establishment set against him. He’s turned every attack on him into a kind of qualification for his base and those alienated by everything related to the establishment. I wish he hadn’t. But he has. His ability to survive and actually thrive these past three years is staggering. It’s part of a political genius his enemies continue to under-estimate.
Yes, Trump is almost as old as Biden. But he has the energy and stamina and obsessiveness of the truly mentally ill. I started to read his interview this week with Hugh Hewitt, and yes, it was a festival of delusion and lies and occasional decent points. But what struck me also was the zeal, untempered by time, the persistent, angry passion, the untiring drive to regain power. He is not what he was, and, appearances to the contrary, is mortal. But up against Biden, he seems like raw energy.
Trump’s political rebirth came with the first indictment — a trivial one about hush payments to Stormy Daniels, setting the stage for the Trump victim narrative. Alvin Bragg, take a bow. Trump now has the aura of the American outlaw, a victim of the Biden DOJ, a man on the run. Look at that mug shot. He’s trolling the Constitution. I once wrote about Trump in the context of Shakespeare’s Richard III: it’s hard not to root for the monster in some mischievous way. Even if you accept that the indictments are valid — the Georgia one, in particular — you have to acknowledge the reality that instead of delegitimizing Donald Trump, the American justice system now risks delegitimizing itself with half the American public.
Those of us looking at these numbers and checking our own gut are, of course, “bedwetters” in the words of Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager in 2012. This is the same Messina, mind you, who in early 2016 proclaimed, “I wake up every morning and drop to my knees and pray, ‘Please, God, give me Donald Trump [as the GOP nominee].’” David Frum predicts a “Biden blowout.” He reassured me of a Hillary blowout a week before the election in 2016. We’re all fallible. But I think they were wrong about Trump’s strength then and wrong about him now.
The case for Biden is that he has some big achievements in infrastructure, climate change, the CHIPS Act, lowering inflation, and boosting wages in a surprisingly resilient economy. These fundamentals will sink in eventually; and the prospect of a Trump return will rally the troops. I aired this case thoroughly with Josh Barro, and it’s not without merit.
The trouble is: not much of this has an instant effect, and terrible inflation wrought lasting harm to core Democratic constituencies, especially poorer black and Latino voters, in Biden’s first two years. Prices began surpassing wages almost as soon as he took office and only this year have things shifted. For many items, the price is permanently higher — as voters are reminded every time they go to the supermarket.
Gas prices, now mercifully declining, are still far higher — 63 percent — than when Biden took over. The precariousness of many low-level jobs makes even slightly higher real incomes less comforting. Biden’s embrace of the far left on race (equity over equality) and gender identity (transing children before puberty) has further alienated more culturally conservative blacks and Hispanics. The massive influx of immigrants, enabled by Biden, almost all fraudulently claiming asylum, is testing Democrats in the big cities, as Eric Adams’ most recent outburst demonstrates.
The post-BLM surge in murder rate — almost exclusively of young black men killing other young black men with no fear of consequences — and the pullback of policing in many cities, makes the underwhelming black support for Biden more comprehensible. They have borne the brunt of the violence unleashed on them by white upper-class leftists. Yes, violent crime and murder rates are finally declining — but, again, the unraveling of social norms is unmissable in many cities, and rates are still higher than before Covid. The toll of opioids continues to rise.
And there’s understandable nostalgia for the pre-pandemic economy, when blacks and Hispanics, in particular, thrived. It did not surprise me that the NYT poll this week found that “a modest but important 5 percent of nonwhite Biden voters now support Mr. Trump, including 8 percent of Hispanic voters who say they backed Mr. Biden in 2020.” This isn’t much, of course, but if you also consider the likelihood of low turnout in these populations, Trump must be grinning.
Biden is not the only reason for declining non-white support for the Dems, but his presidency has done nothing but accentuate it. His ad campaign this week targeting minority voters — “notably the largest for a reelection bid this early in the cycle” — is a sign that the White House knows how deep the problem is. Biden’s net approval is lower than any previous president who’s been re-elected. And incumbency is not the advantage it might have been because, in many ways, as Damon points out, Trump is also an incumbent. We’ll have two one-term presidents competing for a second.
I voted for Biden; if he’s up against Trump, I’ll do it again. Apart from his cultural extremism and immigration, I’m fine with much of his policies — and admire him for getting us out of Afghanistan. And yet when I think of the presidency right now, it feels like an empty space. The drift so many now feel as religion recedes from American life, as social media eats away at any sense of the common good, as all the worst elements of society are replayed on our phones over and over, is palpable. We need someone to chart some kind of future that feels better. Biden cannot really do that now, let alone next year in a grueling campaign. The past clings to him, partly because he is the past.
“But who else?” the Democrats say. I don’t know. But that’s what primaries are for. Harris is an obvious non-starter, which goes a long way to explaining why we’re stuck where we are. But there’s no reason she couldn’t throw her hat in the ring (and Biden should stay strictly neutral). RFK Jr is another non-starter, but look how he far he gone despite being completely bonkers. Even Marianne Williamson has polled as high as nine percent. There are plenty of popular Dem governors — Polis, Shapiro, Newsom, Whitmer, Pritzker, and Moore come to mind. Senators Warren, Klobuchar or Booker could run again, as could Buttigieg. Others will emerge. Yes, there’s a risk in Biden pulling an LBJ. But there’s a risk with him in staying in place, as all the energy propels Trump back to power.
A new candidate would immediately shift the dynamic of the race. The Democrat would represent the future; and Trump the polarized past. A younger candidate would instantly reverse the age argument in the Democrats’ favor. The news cycles would be full of Dem debates, fights, campaigns and energy — and not dictated by the defensive torpor of a frail octogenarian, or the unending narrative of Trump against the corrupt elites.
And Biden can say, persuasively: I did my part. I saved us from Trump. I’ve remade the economy. I’ve done what Trump couldn’t on infrastructure and the climate and trade. I’ve brought manufacturing back to the US. I’ve revived the NATO alliance. I’ve ensured America’s technological edge. Now it’s time for me to hand this legacy over to someone fresher who can chart the future. Biden was elected as a means to check Trump; the logic of his presidency was always that the old man would get us back to normal; and that argument makes much more sense for a one-term presidency. And what an atmosphere-changing gesture than relinquishing power voluntarily when so many are clinging to it with arthritic fingers.
There is no shame, Mr President, in acknowledging human limits. Your stamina for an 80-year-old is admirable. But it cannot prevent human decline; and the chance of a sudden change for the worse in your health is very real. There is a dignified way out — and forward. Please take it. You’ve served your country well. But we need to turn the page. And there could be no worse legacy than handing the country back to the monster you rescued us from.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my pod debate with Sohrab Ahmari over the pros and cons of capitalism; reader dissents over my views on the Trump indictments; lots of dissents and other comments on several Dishcast episodes; eight notable quotes for the week; 18 pieces on Substack we loved this week, mostly on climate change; a Cool Ad for a civil rights legend; a Mental Health Break about the best meme of the 2010s; a gorgeous 2am sunrise from a window in Iceland; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a new subscriber:
The Dish is always intellectually stimulating and challenging, even when I don’t always agree. But even when I disagree, I get a useful education that alters my perspective. This, of course, is the whole purpose of the enterprise — like being in a small college seminar!
From a Dishhead helping a student with a gift subscription:
You wrote earlier this summer, “I can’t tell you how often someone comes up to me and says they love the Dish every week, but when I ask them if they’re a paid subscriber, they blush a little, say they meant to subscribe, but never quite got around to it. And I know how you feel. It’s the kind of procrastination I’m particularly prone to.”
I was definitely one of those procrastinators. As a reader mentioned, I am over-indexed on subscriptions as well, but the Dish falls into the “best money spent” category. Also, as someone who had the pleasure to meet you on the streets of Provincetown this summer, I’m in for an additional subscription this year: my future son-in-law is a fan, but also a broke medical student.
Back On The Dishcast: Sohrab Ahmari
Sohrab is a founder and editor of Compact: A Radical American Journal, and he’s a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He spent nearly a decade at News Corp. — as the op-ed editor of the New York Post and as a columnist and editor with the WSJ opinion pages in New York and London. His first appearance on the Dishcast addressed what he sees as “the failures of liberalism.” This time, we debate his new book, Tyranny, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty — and What to Do About It.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on whether low wages are worth the low prices they create, and how hedge funds destroy companies. That link also takes you to pod commentary on the post-liberal conservatives warming up to Marx, Barro’s take on Hunter Biden, Moynihan’s views on RFK Jr’s conspiracy theories, and a dissent over my stance on Israel’s court upheaval. An educator also dissents over my view of critical theory in public schools.
Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). This listener praises several:
Your podcast is also my connection to the gay world I’m most comfortable with. I’m a gay man (72 years old and white « cis ») who is really tired of the trans/queer theory people taking over all discourse on subjects that affect me. My husband and I were at dinner the other night with three other gay men and, somewhat to my surprise, they ALL felt as you and I do on these issues. We’re all New Yorkers too, so immersed in wokism, but as cisgender old white men, we’re of little import to the LGBTQ-whatever crowd. There are so many who agree with you, but talk about it is suppressed in the mainstream media.
Coming up on the pod: Freddie deBoer on his new book How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement, Vivek Ramaswamy on his vision for America, and Leor Sapir on the evolving treatment of gender dysphoria. Please send any guest recs and dissents to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dissents Of The Week: Have Some Patience
Responding to “Liberal Democracy in the ICU,” reader insists that it’s “not that bad. Really”:
While you aren’t wrong that Biden has been leaning pretty far left on some issues, what you’re accusing him of — right now — is ordinary pre-convention politics. Since it is still pre-convention season for both parties, that’s how things work in politics. Even as the incumbent, he still needs to secure his base, as troublesome as they are. Same with the GOP candidates, many of whom probably wish their base would go away. If you wanted to get elected as a GOP candidate, what would you do right now?
Biden will come back to the center, because that’s who he is. He has to respect where his party is, and doesn’t really have the energy or political savvy of Bill Clinton to tell the extremists “No” every now and then. While he could do more on immigration, he’s managed the Title 42 tightrope well, sending “troops” to the border (mostly for administrative work, but still). And immigration is down.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about 20 of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as the failed counteroffensive by Ukraine, trans competitors in chess, and the case for domesticating more species. Below are a few examples:
Yglesias heralds something that Biden is keeping quiet: “American oil production is now at an all-time record level.”
Mike Murphy shocked his friends by driving an EV clear across the country.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The deadline for entries is Wednesday night at midnight (PST). The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for this week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. One of the all-time greatest sleuths is named Giuseppe, who lives in Rome:
I was expecting something harder for such a long contest break while you’re on vacation, maybe something in Crestone’s league (the toughest view I ever solved). The window this time is closely reminiscent of the one featured in contest #210, in Oban:
Oban was the fifth view I guessed right, nine years ago. Time flies.
Enjoy your vacations, ye busy Americans!
See you next Friday.