The many reasons prominent Democrats won't primary Biden
Sorry, Dean Phillips — squandering the incumbency advantage and dividing the party with a bruising primary is a terrible idea.
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Over the past few weeks, Dean Phillips, a congressman from a purple-ish district in the Minneapolis suburbs, has been doing the rounds on TV and with donors and urging prominent Democrats to challenge President Joe Biden in a primary.
“The majority of the country would like to see Joe Biden, a wonderful and remarkable man, pass the torch,” he declared on Meet the Press last weekend.
Phillips isn’t critical of Biden’s record. Instead, he claims he’s channeling what most Democratic leaders are thinking but are too scared to say.
“People are focused on self-preservation rather than principle,” he claimed on MTP. “There is no political reward in the United States right now for simply speaking the truth.”
If there really were a huge secret desire to replace Biden, ambitious Democrats wouldn’t need to be persuaded to jump in the race and make a run at the presidency. The truth that Phillips isn’t speaking, though, is that Democrats aren’t running against Biden for the pretty simple reason that they don’t think they can defeat him — and also because they believe rightly he has a good chance to win the general election.
Biden’s approval numbers, which are currently hovering around 41 percent, aren’t amazing. He’s also going to be 86 at the end of a potential second term, which many voters see as a potential concern. But he has other strengths and accomplishments which make his nomination such a certainty that Phillips’s press tour looks less like bold truth telling, and more like a publicity stunt.
The power of incumbency
Biden, obviously, is the incumbent president. And incumbent presidents tend to win reelection. Three out of the last four presidents who ran for a second term won, with the lone exception being Trump. Incumbency doesn’t guarantee anything, but historically it provides an advantage.
More, when there’s a serious challenge to an incumbent, it tends to be very bad news for the party in power. In part this is correlation rather than causation; a party doesn’t usually try to throw over the incumbent unless something has gone very wrong.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that when Lyndon Johnson stepped down in 1968, or when Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter in 1980, the outcomes were remarkably bad for the Democrats. No one is going to look at Carter’s measly pile of 49 electoral votes and think to themselves, “That was great! Let’s do it again.”
Of course, Phillips might argue that he is panicking because Biden’s approval ratings look disturbingly similar to Carter’s before that debacle. And it’s true that Biden’s numbers leave a lot to be desired. 40.7 percent approval is better than Carter’s 31.8 percent at the same time in his presidency, but it’s not good. However …
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