Who could replace Joe Biden? Debate performance sends Democrats into crisis talks

Who could replace Joe Biden? Debate performance sends Democrats into crisis talks

“Sleepy” Joe Biden gave the Democratic Party a wake-up call last week, and concerns about the incumbent president’s age and mental fitness aren’t going away.

The debate, held last week in Altanta, Georgia, was an effort to allay concerns about whether the president could effectively serve a second term well into his 80s.

Yet Biden, apparently battling a cold, appeared on stage with a wheezy and hoarse voice, at times forgetting words and at other points completely forgetting what he wanted to say.

Democratic sources, Independent and much of the rest of the media were in a state of panic in the immediate aftermath of the debate, some openly worried about whether their party might do the unthinkable: replace an incumbent president after he had cruised through the primaries virtually unopposed.

Five days later, the first sitting Democratic lawmaker publicly called for Biden to drop out of the race. On Wednesday, New York Times Biden reportedly told an ally that he would evaluate his future in the race based on the public appearances he makes in the coming days.

So is it possible that Joe Biden will drop out, and who will replace him at the top of the Democratic ballot?

The short answer is yes, it is possible. But it would be messy.

Joe Biden is not technically the Democratic presidential nominee. Not yet.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) will hold its nominating convention from August 19–22. Thousands of delegates, elected officials, union leaders, activists, party leaders, lobbyists and others will descend on Chicago for a four-day convention where Biden (or someone else) will be formally nominated.

The president (or his/her successor) will then accept the nomination and deliver the opening speech on the final night of the convention.

People in Los Angeles watch the first 2024 presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Getty)

Here’s the thing: The outcome of this nomination process is Biden’s, unless he rejects it. On Friday, Biden reportedly intends to stay in the race and attend the second debate with Trump in September.

The president won all 50 states and all U.S. territories in the Democratic primary this spring, securing all but a handful of the delegates needed for the nomination.

They must vote for him in the first round of the nominating process, the round in which freelance “superdelegates” who can vote as they please are barred from participating.

So unless Biden himself withdraws, the incumbent president will continue to be his party’s nominee in August.

But if he drops out of the race, it would raise the possibility of an open convention, with all the delegates expected to vote for Biden spending the weeks leading up to the convention trying to appeal to Democrats who are running to replace the president.

Voters participating in the primary process this year will have no say; the outcome will be determined by a series of votes at the convention in August, with each candidate attempting to put together the required total.

If that happens, there are several important figures from the president’s party who will join the fight:

Kamala Harris

The most likely candidate to succeed Biden is Vice President Kamala Harris, whose constitutional duties include stepping in if the president is unable to continue in office.

Vice President Kamala Harris would be the best candidate to replace Biden, given her constitutional duties, but her bid for the nomination in 2020 was notably unsuccessful (APPLICATION)

He is one of two potential suspects who ran (albeit unsuccessfully) presidential campaigns and has the highest national name recognition among Democrats who could convincingly run for president.

But the former California attorney general and U.S. senator lacks widespread public support and is something of a hate figure for the right, which has long claimed that Biden was a “Trojan horse” candidate used to win back the White House and then resigned so he could take over.

This conspiracy theory was directly referenced in one of Trump’s recent attack videos, in which Kamala was referred to as “Giggling Kamala.”

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg, Biden’s Transportation Secretary, is one of the former 2020 candidates (along with Harris) who could run for the White House if Biden drops out.

Pete Buttigieg ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020 and has served as transportation secretary since Biden took office (APPLICATION)

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is naturally charismatic and has a military background, which sets him apart from his peers, notably Donald Trump, who received five draft deferments as a youth to exempt him from serving in the Vietnam War.

But as transportation secretary, Buttigieg often became the administration’s scapegoat when there were air traffic control disasters, major train derailments or bridge collapses, undoing much of the good work he did in combating the conservative media by making semi-regular appearances on Fox News and offering strong counter-arguments.

Gretchen Whitmer

The Michigan governor is hugely popular in his state and is seen as one of the leaders of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party in the post-Biden era.

Gretchen Whitmer is seen as one of the leaders of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party (APPLICATION)

He was re-elected by a landslide in 2022 on the back of support for reproductive rights and his ability to handle the Covid pandemic, flipping a purple state blue with relative ease.

But not everyone liked his heavy-handed leadership of the quarantine, and he was best known nationally for a plan by a militia group in Michigan to kidnap him, a plan that was fortunately thwarted by undercover FBI agents.

Gavin Newsom

One of the most obvious candidates in Biden’s candidacy is the governor of California, who could make a fearsome opponent when it comes to money because of his personal wealth and prolific fundraising ability.

Gavin Newsom vows to complete second term as California governor (APPLICATION)

Newsom is in the middle of his second term as governor of his state — but there’s a catch, as he pledged during his 2022 reelection campaign to stay in office for four years if he were returned to office.

Like Buttigieg, he has been praised for championing Democratic viewpoints on Fox and memorably clashed with his Florida counterpart Ron DeSantis, whom he trolled with a series of ads, in a televised debate last year. Newsom has been an enthusiastic supporter of Biden, including after Thursday night’s debate.

Wes Moore

Maryland’s first-term governor seems like a long shot compared to other, more nationally known candidates, but what he makes up for in relative political obscurity is his undeniable talent for being in front of cameras and his positive performance in his short time in office.

Wes Moore gained national fame for his response to the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in his home state of Maryland (APPLICATION)

He has already secured the future of the state’s Baltimore Orioles team and also became the public face of Maryland’s rebuilding efforts following the disaster that destroyed the Francis Scott Key Bridge, a key piece of the city’s port infrastructure and an iconic Baltimore landmark.

Moore graduated from Johns Hopkins University and, like Buttigieg, is both a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and a former soldier.

He is also the author of five books, including one young adult novel.

J.B. Pritzker

The Illinois governor has been in office since 2019. The lawyer and businessman, a member of the wealthy Pritzker family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain, has been a longtime Democratic financial supporter.

He won the 2018 primary to become the Democratic Party nominee and was re-elected in 2022.

JB Pritzker won a crowded 2018 primary to become the Democratic nominee for governor in Illinois (Getty Images for Wisconsin Democratic Party)

In the early years of his political career in the 1980s, he served on congressional legislative staff and founded an organization aimed at attracting younger voters to the party.

He chaired the Illinois Civil Rights Commission from 2003 to 2006, served as national co-chair for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and was a delegate to the 2008 and 2016 Democratic Party conventions.

In 1998, he finished third out of five candidates in the Democratic primary for Illinois’ 9th congressional district.