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Punting on fourth down and replacing Joe Biden

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Eric Levitz makes a strong point here:

There are risks to replacing Biden, but also, potentially large upsides. The same cannot be said of running a candidate whom a large and growing majority of voters consider unfit to serve.

Perhaps, this reality is best conveyed through a hypothetical: Imagine that Donald Trump was trailing Biden in virtually every swing state and had just appeared senile at the first presidential debate. In that world, how would Democrats feel if they woke up to learn that Trump was voluntarily stepping down and that the Republican National Convention would be nominating a new candidate (who could be certain of Trump’s unequivocal support)? Would they consider themselves fortunate to no longer be running against a historically unpopular candidate who was oratorically incompetent and on track to lose, since now the GOP was going to look chaotic? Or might they be more afraid of an unknown, more generic Republican than they were of the much-disliked, elderly guy they were already beating?

It seems clear to me that Democrats would not be happy to see Trump step down in that scenario. In any case, according to reports, Republicans are privately fretting about the possibility that Biden will hang it up.

To combine a couple of my obsessions, this reminds me of the situation late in the fourth quarter in the 2003 Michigan-Ohio State game. As all of you no doubt remember, Michigan was leading by a score of 35-21, when Ohio State was faced with a fourth and ten at its own 20 with 4:43 remaining in the game. OSU head coach Jim Tressel then chose to punt the ball, despite having an explosive offense, a defense that was getting shredded, and most crucially trailing by two touchdowns with very little time remaining in the game.

As a Michigan fan, I was of course thrilled by this decision — one which was completely routine given the conventional wisdom of the time, and also completely irrational from a risk/reward perspective. Levitz’s point is that the best guide for Tressel should have been, “what do Michigan fans want me to do here?” and then do the exact opposite.

There’s definitely a generalizable lesson in that.

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