Home / General / This isn’t ‘Nam, Alex. It’s democracy — there are rules

This isn’t ‘Nam, Alex. It’s democracy — there are rules


Quite a few Democrats had a freakout about yesterday’s NYT/Siena poll, showing Biden trailing in almost all the swing states. The poll also showed the Democratic Senate candidates in those states doing much better than Biden, so naturally this led the most panic-prone to convince themselves that the whole problem with the 2024 presidential election is that Democrats are on the way to choosing the wrong candidate, and should choose another one.

As a preliminary matter I want to say a couple of things. First, some idiot commenter suggested I be prohibited from writing about polls, because I only highlight bad polls for Biden. That’s not true: I wrote about the NYT poll because it’s (a) a particularly prominent poll for obvious reasons; and (b) pretty much in line with the polls in general at this point. Per 538’s elaborate curation, which adjusts for methodology and house lean, i.e., bias, Trump is ahead of Biden by a point nationally (nepo baby moron anti-vax grifter no not Trump the other one is getting 10% of the vote nationally, although I fully expect that to collapse to maybe a third of that in the actual election — note that people have given Candidate Brainworm $75 million !!! — while Biden’s negative approval rating of -17.5% is markedly worse than Trump’s (-12.3%. What a country).

So things aren’t looking good in the polls at this point, which is just a fact. The meaning of that fact is open to multiple interpretations. Mine remains an optimistic take: people still aren’t paying any real attention; Trump is de-compensating rapidly, and he’s likely to be convicted in his present criminal trial, which all surveys indicate would be quite negative for him; Trump’s support is relative to Biden’s found among people who voted for him last time, along with the most fickle of what are referred to politely as “low information swing voters,” and also (extreme John McEnroe voice) America you cannot be serious.

In short I think the polls are a legitimate reflection, roughly speaking of course, of current public sentiment, which makes them sufficiently horrifying all by themselves, but are still only loosely related to how people will vote in November. I expect most 2020 Biden voters to come home, and for a majority of swing voters to eventually break for him as well, because once the Ariana Grande vote actually focuses for ten seconds on something other than the latest viral TikTok videos, the sheer horror and frank absurdity of Trump’s candidacy will manage to penetrate even the media fog that continues to obscure it, to a sufficient degree to give Biden a decisive victory.

Other people have much more negative interpretations, which basically add up to “Biden is unpopular with potential voters because [insert interpreter’s favorite explanations for this undeniable fact] and that isn’t going to change between now and November.” And Biden is unpopular; no massaging of cross-tabs and conspiratorial paranoia about how the polls need to be un-skewed because they have been designed to show Trump winning (seriously people get a grip; we aren’t Republicans) can hide that extremely unfair and unfortunate fact about politics in America in the spring of 2024.

However, some reactions are less defensible than others, which brings us to Alex Shepard in the New Republic:

It’s hard to see how Biden can turn around this perception of him, however. He will not be any younger on Election Day, and there’s not a lot he can do to combat concerns about his age. He won’t get credit for not, say, mixing up words or stuttering. Inflation may cool, but with the election only six months away, voter perception of the economy is unlikely to change markedly. Biden has belatedly recognized that he has little ability to influence Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s destructive war in Gaza—and has begun to take steps to distance himself from it. But even if that war were to end in the next two weeks, it’s not clear yet how Biden will win back young people and people of color who are disturbed by his support for a bombing campaign that has killed tens of thousands of civilians. Many of Biden’s electoral weaknesses, in other words, seem to be baked in. 

But the Times poll suggests they may be open to another Democrat who holds similar positions: Gretchen Whitmer perhaps, or Gavin Newsom. A movement to replace Biden with one of them would be undeniably risky. It would, at this late stage, necessitate a costly floor fight at what would be a volcanic convention in August. It could lead to Vice President Kamala Harris—who is much younger but similarly unpopularbecoming the nominee. And yet, not seriously considering this option would be a huge mistake for Democratic officials. The polling has been telling the same story about Biden for months now. Voters do not like him. They do not trust him. They think he is not fit to be president. These concerns have quieted in recent months, particularly as Trump’s trial in Manhattan began in April. But they have not gone away—and they won’t. So it’s time the party did something about it. 

This garbage is, I submit, an example of how a kind of Trumpist mentality has infected much of the body politic, in the form of a willingness in the pundit class to make explicitly anti-democratic arguments in a completely unapologetic way. There isn’t a word in Shepard’s essay about the fact that there’s a democratic process for selecting the Democratic nominee for president, and that Joe Biden won essentially all of the delegates selected by that process, who in turn are now required by the relevant bylaws of the party to select him as the party’s nominee. There’s no mechanism in those bylaws for selecting anybody else, so unless Biden won’t or can’t accept the nomination, he’s going to be the nominee. I hate to get all procedural and lawyerly and bureaucratic, but those are the rules. You can’t just say well I didn’t like that electoral result so let’s just ignore it. Except you can, because in Trumpist America this has become the automatic reaction to losing elections.

Now to be fair this isn’t wholly Trump’s doing: plenty of leftists were burbling equally pernicious nonsense in 2016 about how the DNC magically “cleared the field” for Hillary etc. But I do think Trump’s flat-out rejection of the whole idea of democracy at the most fundamental level is having a bad effect on the political culture generally, and it’s reflected in things like this.

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