Strong performance by Biden won't fully silence drumbeat of doubt over ability to beat Trump

By John Mercury July 10, 2024

It was Joe Biden on the line – long time viewer, first-time caller.

The president’s surprise phone-call to a morning TV news show was campaigning off the cuff, to stay on the ticket.

He’s a regular viewer of the show in question, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and he was cogent and punchy in a way that recent TV appearances haven’t been.

His party might ask where Morning Joe Biden has been hiding – Joe, after dark, is what has brought it to the brink.

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The number of Democrats publicly lined up against their nominee had grown over the weekend, with a likelihood that would increase further as elected representatives returned to Capitol Hill after the 4 July holiday.

It was an expectation shared by Biden – hence the TV phone call and, simultaneously, a letter to Congressional Democrats.

The president, ever the political operator, invoked the democratic principle in his defence. Voters had backed him as the nominee, so how could they ignore democracy in their own party?

It is a powerful argument in a movement that’s fighting an election on democracy and its endangerment – as they would have it – by Trump.

It also writes Donald Trump’s script – the punchline being that Democrats attacking Trump as the anti-democratic bogeyman are against democracy themselves – just ask their leader.

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‘I’m not going anywhere’

It is Biden playing hardball – a survival strategy that further complicates the calculations of a Democratic movement contemplating change.

As things stand, ditching a defiant Biden would be a hostile process that would hurt the party.

Sticking with him would constitute an uneasy peace that wouldn’t be easy at all.

Consider the thoughts of one leading Democrat with whom I spoke following Biden’s TV phone call.

They said their reaction was one of “frustration and worry”.

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The Democrats had a message to tell, they said, but Biden wasn’t the man to tell it and, for all he claimed he was the man who beat Trump in 2020, it was an efficient Democratic machine that propelled Biden to victory rather than the other way around.

On Biden’s argument about voting and democracy, they pointed out the process that elevated Biden as nominee also backed Kamala Harris, the vice-president being touted as a ready replacement.

The Biden conversation has already extended far into ‘what comes next?’.

How he performs his duties at a NATO summit and a solo news conference will be a gauge for critics and supporters alike.

Pass marks will shore up support amongst his backers and quieten the immediate call to quit, but it won’t fully silence the drumbeat of doubt that it’s merely a decision delayed.

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