Biden has stifled talk of a primary challenge – for now

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Earlier this summer, when everything seemed to be going badly for President Biden – his economic program seemed almost dead, gas prices were rising and some Democrats felt he had failed to come together the moment after the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion rights — many Democrats privately talked about wanting a new party leader in 2024.

Biden may not have faced explicit primary threats, but a handful of young Democrats whose profile was rising seemed to be presenting themselves as more passionate and energetic leaders for the party, while governors like Gavin Newsom of California and JB Pritzker of Illinois have spoken out in ways Biden wouldn’t.

Still, many voices urging — or pushing — Biden to step down appear to have died down, at least for now. After a string of legislative and policy victories applauded especially by liberals, along with falling gas prices and rising poll numbers, more and more Democrats accept that Biden will likely be the flag bearer of the left for another presidential election.

The most powerful factor in calming talk of an intraparty challenge has been the re-emergence of former President Donald Trump and Biden’s growing willingness to attack him directly, serving to remind Democrats of what they see as their greatest threat and Biden’s previous success in defeating him.

President Biden said MAGA Republicans “don’t believe in the rule of law” in his September 1 primetime speech. (Video: The Washington Post)

Biden almost certain to run if Trump does

“When I was there saying that I supported the president’s re-election six months ago, I was criticized, and now a lot of other people are saying it. They recognize that we have to stop the peloton of internal execution and start bragging about what we’ve done,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California). .”

Khanna, a leader of the party’s Liberal faction, added: “Now is not the time for political expediency to try to make smart ploys and float your name. This is the time for us to mobilize around the re-election of the president.”

That doesn’t mean Democrats are keen or excited about Biden as the 2024 candidate. Biden’s age — he’d be 82 at the start of a second term — and his ability to mount a rigorous campaign still raise concerns. . And while Biden’s approval ratings have started to climb after hitting a low point earlier this summer, many Democrats are still saying they want someone else to run.

But there are several indicators of a change in mood. Some potential rivals, for example, have started praising Biden in emphatic terms.

Newsom called Biden’s recent list of legislative victories a “master class” in governance. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) praised Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, even though it fell short of the $50,000 she had requested. Warren said Biden “should run” for re-election, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he would support the president if he chooses to run again.

As improved prospects for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections ease fears that Biden is leading the party off a cliff, more grassroots Democrats say the president should run. A Quinnipiac poll released this week found that 47% of Democrats said they wanted to see Biden run in 2024, while 43% did not. In July, Democrats didn’t want to see him led by a 54% to 40% margin.

How a string of recent big legislative victories changed Biden’s presidency. But, is it too late to affect the mid-terms? (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post)

There are other signs of the party rallying around Biden. When the president traveled to Cleveland in early July, U.S. Senate nominee Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was notably absent. But when Biden visits Ohio again this month to celebrate the grand opening of a new Intel plant, Ryan said he will appear alongside him. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate candidate from Pennsylvania, looks set to appear with Biden on Labor Day in Pittsburgh.

Biden’s revival began with a string of legislative victories that silenced some complaints from the left. In recent weeks, Democrats have passed a $700 billion health, climate and tax bill. Lawmakers also passed bipartisan legislation to help veterans exposed to toxic burning stoves and a multi-billion dollar investment in domestic chip manufacturing to help curb China’s influence.

And Biden announced last month that he would forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for certain borrowers, a policy that has divided Democrats but was a priority for Liberals.

White House officials say their goal is to contrast Republicans, not the 2024 presidential race. that ultra MAGA Republicans in Congress instead side with extremism and wealthy special interests,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said. “That’s where his focus is.”

Republicans continue to argue that Biden will be a weak candidate if he chooses to run. He can often look his age and stumble over his words, they say, and they blame him for letting the country descend into chaos, presiding over runaway inflation, rising crime and unchecked immigration.

Some Democrats also continue to say Biden should not run. Asked if his stance on whether the president should run for a second term has changed, a spokesperson for Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) referenced a July 28 statement.

“I believe it is time for a new generation of dynamic Democratic leaders in Congress and in the White House,” the statement said. “There is no way we can afford another four years of Donald Trump, and while Joe Biden was clearly the right candidate at the right time two years ago, I hope both major parties will field new principled candidates, of civility and integrity in 2024.”

Other Democrats privately say Biden could be the safest, if not the most exciting, choice, an echo of a refrain from many party members in 2020 as Trump once again figures prominently in American politics. The Justice Department is investigating whether the former president improperly brought hundreds of classified documents to his Florida home and he faces legal risks on multiple fronts, while signaling he is strongly considering another candidacy to the White House.

Biden tells allies he’s running again

Polls show Biden beating Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head contest. A Wall Street Journal poll this week found Biden ahead of Trump by six percentage points, 50% to 44%. In a March poll, the two men were tied at 45% each.

Much could change between now and early next year, when the presidential campaign begins in earnest, and the voices that have died down may still reappear. Biden and Democrats have been helped by a number of recent factors moving in their favor, including slowing inflation, while Republicans have been frustrated that Trump’s legal troubles threaten to drown out their criticisms of the regard to Biden. But all these factors could be reversed.

For now, Democrats who have long complained about Biden’s soft tones are encouraged by the fact that he is increasingly willing to call out Republicans, including Trump and others attacking the FBI as he investigating Trump’s removal of classified documents from his Florida home.

“There was a lot of chatter about people wanting more histrionics, boob shots and choreography. In my opinion, and I said it at the time, Joe Biden cannot pretend to be someone he is not. That’s when the politicians get restless,” said Eric Schultz, a former deputy press secretary under President Barack Obama. “What we’ve seen last night, and over the past few months, is Joe Biden rising to the occasion.”

It has only been two months since alternative voices emerged within the party. Some Democrats said Biden responded with insufficient force to a series of mass shootings, while others expressed concern about an increasingly conservative Supreme Court and continued threats to democracy.

Newsom excited some Democrats when he ran a political ad in Florida over July 4 weekend attacking the state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is reviled by many Democrats. Newsom’s passionate defense of abortion rights after Supreme Court ruling overturning leaked Roe vs. Wade also attracted attention.

And Pritzker’s fiery response to a shooting at an Independence Day parade sparked outrage some Democrats felt Biden missed. “If you’re angry today, I’m here to tell you to be angry,” Pritzker said. “I’m furious. I’m furious that even more innocent lives have been taken by gun violence. Pritzker also said earlier this summer that it’s ‘certainly possible’ that Biden could face a primary challenge.

Such gestures haven’t entirely faded away, in part because some Democrats might want to position themselves in case Biden faces a health issue or some other unexpected issue. The next few months will be critical in shaping the 2024 presidential race, as the November 8 midterm elections set the stage and major figures from both parties decide to begin organizing campaign operations.

Newsom, for example, recently donated $100,000 to DeSantis opponent Charlie Crist. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, also seen as a potential presidential hopeful, is barred from taking overtly political action, but he continues to travel across the country on his work, including a recent trip to tout a snow removal project in the New Hampshire.

Joel Benenson, a former Obama pollster, said talks about 2024 were premature, but Democrats have a clear advantage right now as Trump’s troubles mount. “How that plays out and how the Republican Party tries to get out of this cesspool is going to be a bigger question than whether Joe Biden is running or not,” Benenson said.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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