• Freedom
  • Innovation
  • Growth

No, Democrats Cannot Stop Biden from Running for Reelection

The Hill

One comment I frequently hear these days goes something like this: “President Biden is so unpopular, his policies are really dragging down the economy and the country, and it’s very clear that his mental acuity isn’t what it used to be. Surely Democrats won’t let Biden run for reelection in 2024.”

My response is that if he decides to run for a second term (and according to some reports, he’s made that decision), there’s not really anything the Democratic Party can do to stop him.

My reply is usually followed by an expression of disbelief from the questioner, who can’t imagine that the Democratic Party has no way to stop Biden from running, even if he’s almost sure to lose.

But for better or worse, political parties don’t have much power these days. As one university professor and former Democratic official told me: “In today’s world of media, no party has the ability to tell any candidate, let alone the sitting president of the U.S., that they can’t run for reelection. The only way to affect that decision is through popular opinion, as when President Johnson decided not to run again in 1968 after seeing the lack of support he had in the New Hampshire primary (although he did finish first).” 

It wasn’t always that way.

For decades, political parties were largely run by party leaders, political “bosses” and power brokers, often from inside those infamous “smoke-filled rooms.” That was especially true for state and local offices, but it applied to presidential elections also.

But things began to change in the Progressive Era of the early 1900s. Increasingly, the rank-and-file party members wanted a say in who would be the party’s presidential nominee. And so the primary system was born.

Governing magazine’s Clay Jenkinson explains, “The Primary was … designed to give the people greater control over the selection of candidates in their party. It is a uniquely American innovation … which first rose to modern prominence in Wisconsin in 1905, then the most progressive state in America.”

States increasingly embraced the primary, or in some states the caucus, model, but party leaders retained a lot of power to guide the candidate-selection process. Jenkinson adds, “Primaries did not become the preeminent method of choosing political candidates until 1972, after the disastrous and riotous Democratic National Convention of 1968, the most disruptive year in twentieth century America.”

Democrats nominated then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as the party’s 1968 presidential candidate, even though he had not run in any of the 14 states that then had presidential primaries. Leading Democrats soon called for a more open primary process, and most states eventually did just that. The result is a largely decentralized, state-run and state-controlled process for choosing presidential candidates.

Candidates wanting to run for president must register in each state and follow that state’s requirements, which can differ significantly fro

If Biden decides to seek reelection, his campaign team will ensure that he has registered for the Democratic primary in each state. If a Democrat chooses to challenge Biden for the nomination (as then-Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts did President Carter in 1980), he or she will have to go through the same process, which can be daunting for all but the best known and financed candidates.

If Democratic leaders conclude that Biden has little chance of winning reelection, they can try to persuade him not to run. But, as the Democratic Party’s highest elected official, Biden is the head of the party. And he can choose to reject their pleas.

Some Democratic donors could also threaten to withhold campaign contributions. But there are a lot of wealthy Democrats, many of whom might be willing to support Biden’s reelection bid even if it looks like a lost cause.

And it’s not just Democrats. The same situation applies to Republicans.

Many Republicans leaders opposed Donald Trump running for president in 2016. He’d been a Democrat for most of his life, several of his policies varied from generally accepted Republican policies and he carried a lot of personal baggage from past actions and relationships. And yet, GOP leaders were helpless in stopping him, so most eventually got behind him when it was clear he would be the GOP primary voters’ choice.

Now we’re faced with a bizarre situation in which a majority of Democrats say they don’t want Biden running again, and half or more of Republicans don’t want Trump running again. Yet it’s entirely plausible that Biden and Trump could be the two major parties’ presidential nominees in 2024.

If that occurs, political parties may ignite a movement to regain some of the strength and control over the candidate-selection process they used to have.