These are worrisome times for those of us who have nightmares about a revengeful, reckless Donald Trump returning to the White House in 2025. Yes, it could happen despite a growing stack of indictments (two down, two or more to go, including the big one for sedition in Washington) and Trump’s increasingly bizarre behavior.
Incredibly, Trump’s following in his party has increased since April. Logic still suggests that age or his legal troubles will eventually overwhelm him, forcing him to quit the race, but that has not happened yet. And it might never happen.
That is why Democrats need to rethink their 2024 strategy. They need to take some risks. They need to accept that a majority of voters do not think an 80-year-old, regardless of his accomplishments, should run for president. They need to calculate the risks of Biden becoming seriously ill or incapacitated between now and election day and being forced to quit in the middle of the election, a scenario that would create chaos. That risk is material. There has to be a Democratic actuary out there. Her help is needed—now.
In an ideal world, it would be the “Big guy” himself who gathers a small group of the party’s top leaders and lets them know he has changed his mind about running in 2024. By doing so, much of the risk of Biden not running can be avoided. Those risks include the party being hijacked by a candidate too-far-left to get elected or a candidate susceptible to Trump’s gift of destruction by ridicule, lies, racism, and misogyny. Put another way, resurrecting Hillary Clinton or choosing Elizabeth Warren will not work.
The party needs to create a checklist to select a candidate who can withstand Trump, exude ethics and honesty, and credibly continue the policies that have made Biden’s presidency one of accomplishment. The list would be aspirational. It likely will be all but impossible to find a candidate able to check every box. The list would not be “non-negotiables,” but ideals.
What should the Democrats be looking for? The candidate must be young, but also must be experienced and savvy enough to address the challenges of today. This means a candidate with extensive military or foreign policy experience. Similarly, a grasp of artificial intelligence would be a plus since regulating AI will be a top agenda item for the next five years. And the party needs a candidate who is personally committed to racial and economic justice, ideally as evidenced in the candidate’s own background and experiences.
In summary, the list would include being right on issues important to voters, having the experience and temperament to handle the issues likely to be encountered as president, having expertise in the emerging challenge of AI, and having a dedication and background to relate to—and be relatable to—most Americans.
That may seem like a simple list, but it would exclude many alternatives to Joe Biden that come to mind. Thinking about Michelle Obama as the candidate? Does not meet the criteria. How about Gavin Newsom? I am not sure. Maybe. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.? Do you have to ask?
Who should top Democrats be thinking about? Until they develop their criteria, nobody. To avoid a mistake, the party needs to know what it needs before starting to consider names. Once the list is completed, party leadership should be open to considering lesser known candidates. Two examples would be Maryland Governor Wes Moore and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro.
Ideally, if the Democrats, under the leadership of President Biden, decide to rejuvenate the party by finding a candidate who checks as many of the boxes as possible, the defeat of Diet Coke swigging Trump, who will be 78 years old on election day, could be easy.
Imagine the Democratic party rallying behind a ticket that embraced its commitment to diversity, democracy, progress, and national unity. It is likely that such a strong ticket would dissuade the “No Labels” movement from running a candidate and unintentionally helping Trump. Pre-empting No Labels by itself is a reason for the party to consider taking the risk of moving on from Biden.
Joe Biden deserves America’s thanks for defeating Trump in 2024, leading us out of the pandemic, and making progress on social justice. He has repaired out alliances in Europe and elsewhere, established America as the leader of efforts to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, helped to prevent a recession, and stood up for basic civil rights, including the rights to abortion and to vote.
A decision to pass the proverbial baton to a new generation would cap Biden’s career and make him a national hero. Let’s hope that happens.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.