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When is the optimal time for Biden to drop out of the race?

Like a magician creating a trick with one hand while distracting the audience with the other, the Biden White House and its allies are desperately trying to distract the American people of President Biden’s age, their obvious fragility and his growing verbal and mental capacity. gaffes

Now it’s gotten to the point where I’ve had a number of Democrats — including staunch supporters of the president — tell me it makes them “nervous,” “uncomfortable,” “sad,” or gives them a sense of “foreboding” at any given moment. Watch President Biden speak in public, interact with guests, or walk up or down the stairs of Air Force One.

Many I talk to honestly care about the president and want the best for Joe Biden, the human being. They all understand that every person on earth, rich or poor, famous or not, ages. It is a reality and purpose of life that unites us all.

How stated in this space in the pastI don’t think Biden will be the Democratic nominee in 2024. Now, while the president, his White House, and his allies may predictably denounce this speculation as ridiculous or wishful thinking, what if I and others turn out to be correct?

This possibility raises a very important question: When would be the optimal time for President Biden to announce that he is dropping out of the race to give the Democratic Party its best chance to retain the White House?

It can be argued very strongly: immediately. If the Democratic National Committee is going to open the primaries to other candidates, the sooner the better.

Of course, a Democratic president dropping out of the race for re-election is not without precedent, or irony in this case.

On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson went on national television to make two shocking announcements. The first was that it stopped the American bombing of Vietnam. The second was that he would not seek his party’s nomination for president.

The ironic part about these announcements made 55 years ago is that both may have been forced in part by the words and deeds of then-New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the father of the man now challenging President Biden for the nomination.

When Johnson made these announcements, Republicans already viewed him with deep suspicion as the architect of “big government,” while many on the left, especially college students, saw him as a warmonger aligned with the military industrial complex. .

Prior to his March 31 remarks, Johnson had dismissed such criticism. None of this cut deep.

But then the shadow of Robert F. Kennedy fell in his path. First, through his blistering attacks on Johnson in Vietnam. One such rhetorical attack came on February 8, when Kennedy declared: “Our enemy, striking fiercely at will throughout South Vietnam, has finally shattered the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our actual circumstances, even ourselves, unable. to defeat our enemy or break his will, at least not without enormous, long, and increasingly costly effort.”

Kennedy, who truly despised Johnson for several reasons, called on the United States to enter into immediate negotiations with North Vietnam to end the war. Then on March 16, Kennedy announced that he was running to challenge Johnson for the Democratic nomination for president. That announcement came just four days after Johnson narrowly defeated Sen. Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire Primary.

Fifteen days after Kennedy declared for the presidency, Johnson withdrew. I had enough.

Johnson aged quickly without working. Among riots in American cities; the quagmire of the Vietnam War; its failed poverty programs; his stumble in the New Hampshire primary; and his layer of inevitable shredding, Johnson was a ball of conflicting insecurities. In addition, his public approval was around 36 percent. Simply brutal.

Now, more than half a century later, we have President Biden with his low approval rating challenged by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

There is a striking difference between Johnson then and Biden now. When he decided in 1968 that he couldn’t handle the stress of the rest of the election cycle—or the uncertainty of what was to come—the physically imposing 6’4″ Lyndon Johnson was only 59 years old; 21 years younger than our current president.

One question some Democrats had in 1968 was whether Johnson waited too long to drop out of the race. One of the reasons for this question was the lack of confidence in then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey to retain the White House if he became the Democratic nominee. This concern was realized, of course, when Humphrey became the nominee and was crushed in the general election by Republican Richard Nixon.

Some now reasonably worry if history is repeating itself.

If Biden drops out of the race, will he wait too long to do so? And if that were the case, will Vice President Kamala Harris, whom few Democrats really trust, get crushed in the general election by the Republican nominee?

Timing is often as important as strategy. Johnson waited until the last day of March 1968 to quit. If Biden were to drop out now, it would give potential candidates like California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg or even Michelle Obama an extra nine months to prepare for November 2024.

“It’s now or never” may turn out to be a cliché that defines the next election.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a White House staff writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, and a former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

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