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Biden's last line of defense: mutually assured destruction

A presidential candidate rallying supporters to prevent party “elites” from trying to oust him is a familiar scene, if you've followed Donald Trump's career.

We weren't the only ones warning the parallels. “He reminded me a lot of Trump,” one Democratic strategist said after Biden's call to Morning Joe (once Trump's favorite place, on purpose). “Tactically, Biden's phone was stealing a page from Trump's playbook,” said one Republican strategist.

Over the past decade, Trump has repeatedly used threats against party leaders as leverage should they ever try to turn on him. He threatened it run with a third party in 2016 if you felt you were not treated fairly, and report it made a similar threat during his impeachment trial after January 6. When he announced his final race of this cycle, prominent Republicans openly worried that deliberately destroy the party candidate if it was anyone else but him. And of course, anyone standing against him could expect a nasty primary challenge.

Biden's threat is similar in effect, but functionally different. He doesn't command a rabid army of supporters to arm themselves against opponents like Trump (although Democrats are looking for signs of a pro-Biden backlash), and he's the definition of an institutionalist and privileged, not an anti-establishment rebel who he could leave his party behind if he wanted.

Which Biden tin to do is to be stubborn in a way that sets the stage for mutually assured destruction for Democrats. As long as opponents of his nomination believe it is impossible to force him to stand aside, any escalation of his criticism risks further damaging him in November. And the worse his position gets, the more likely his party will suffer up and down the polls.

Democrats don't seem quite ready to believe him, just yet. After all, the reason his critics think their softer appeals to him might work is that he's the kind of politician who normally cares about the health of his party and his legacy within it. Many of the “elites” he denounced are the kinds of elected leaders, liberal commentators and advocacy groups with whom he has cultivated relationships over five decades. Some Senate Democrats still seemed reluctant to admit he will be the nominee as of Monday night.

But Biden's big advantage here is that it's really almost impossible to force him to step up; he already won the support of the overwhelming majority of convention delegates, who must support him. Some Democrats have politely hinted to Biden that he has a big decision to make, or suggested he talk to his family, hoping to give him some space to go it alone. But if that doesn't work, the next move would be to organize members to demand that he pass the torch, perhaps privately to begin with, but then loudly if he refuses.

Not a very appetizing prospect. If Biden is truly willing to fight a Democratic civil war, it would mean entering the convention season with key parts of the party on the record with doubts about their nominees and pro-Biden factions accusing them of sabotage, all while Republicans sit quietly and eat popcorn. Biden has been working hard to line up support Black Democrats and Labor – Steven Horsford, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Biden Monday: A potentially awkward race and class dynamic is also set up for the fight.

New York Rep. Ritchie Torres summed up the situation Monday with one unusual statement asking Democrats not to run against Biden on the basis of Cold War-style game theory.

“Regardless of where you stand on the question of President Biden's political future, the intra-party mixed message strikes me as profoundly self-defeating,” he said. “Those who are publicly calling for President Biden to step down should ask themselves a simple question: What if the president becomes the Democratic nominee? The drip, drip, drip of public statements of censure only serve to weaken a president who has been weakened not only by the debate but also by the debate about the debate”.


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