Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Biden Heads to Austin, and Doggett Still Thinks He Should Drop Out: Plus What the ’68 Race Tells Us About a Possible Candidate Hunt – News

By meerna Jul11,2024
Biden Heads to Austin, and Doggett Still Thinks He Should Drop Out: Plus What the ’68 Race Tells Us About a Possible Candidate Hunt – News

Joe Biden (left) and Lloyd Doggett (Illustration by Zeke Barbaro / Getty Images (Biden: Public Domain / Doggett: Jana Birchum))

ANDAfter President Joe Biden’s disturbing performance in a debate with a candidate proposing an imperial presidency, Austin has become the stage for an ongoing political drama.

Last week, longtime Austin U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett became the first sitting Democrat to call on Biden to drop out of the presidential race. In his statement, he pointed to local history: President Lyndon B. Johnson withdrew in 1968. “The stakes are too high to risk a Trump victory,” Doggett wrote. “Under very different circumstances, (LBJ) made the painful decision to withdraw. President Biden should do the same.”

Biden is now scheduled to deliver his inaugural address at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin on July 15, when the Republican National Convention begins in Milwaukee. The speech will focus on civil rights and democracy, according to a press release. That same day in Austin, Biden will meet with Lester Holt for an interview that will air Monday night.

Despite dire polls, Biden has repeatedly vowed to stay in the race, with only a handful of Democratic incumbents publicly calling for him to drop out by Wednesday. Doggett said Chronicle that official statements do not give the full picture.

“I’m not starting a career,” Doggett said. “I’m not looking for a higher position. I’m not in a position of compromise. A lot of my colleagues are, and a lot of them have come up to me and said, ‘Thanks for saying what I can’t say.’”

Doggett’s decision to speak

Doggett said he is not turning his back on Biden. He will campaign for him if he stays in the race. But in the days since he asked Biden to step down, he has not changed his mind about the strength of Biden’s candidacy or the stakes of a second term for Donald Trump. “We are talking about a criminal and his gang who want to take over our government.”

Doggett has not proposed a replacement candidate, but he has ideas for a replacement process. “I think we have a lot of qualified people, and I support a fair, open democratic process,” Doggett said. “I think a process that could involve town meetings across the country, that could involve an open convention — it would be chaotic, disorganized and productive.”

“I haven’t focused on the president’s health. Although I’m more concerned as the week has gone by and the interviews he’s done are also concerning to me. There seems to be a lack of honesty about his health,” said Doggett, who is 77. He added that if Democrats don’t acknowledge Biden’s health, the party faces a “credibility problem.”

“I don’t sit in a vulnerable seat. A lot of my colleagues do, and a lot of them have come up to me and said, ‘Thanks for expressing what I can’t say.'” – US Congressman Lloyd Doggett

While few Democrats have joined Doggett’s call, he’s not proposing this approach in a vacuum. A leaked memo circulated by major Democratic donors envisions a “first-round snap election” with forums led by A-list celebrities, and on Wednesday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Biden should reconsider, saying, “It’s up to the president to decide whether he’s going to run. We all encourage him to make that decision.”

Doggett says the decision to speak out was his own, but before going public, he spoke to as many members of Congress as he could — and as many members of the party leadership as he could find — to express his need for another candidate. “I got a lot of responses, and responses from people all over Austin, saying he had to be replaced. The Supreme Court issued a terrible decision on immunity on Monday. It was one of those situations where someone had to speak up. None of the people I spoke to spoke up, except for a few who were sent to defend the president. So I decided that was me.”

Precedents of presidents

If Doggett’s vision of a democratic process to replace Biden were to come to fruition, it would be unprecedented. But there is also no precedent for a president running in the face of widespread concern about cognitive decline, said H. W. Brands, a history professor at UT-Austin and the author of several books on U.S. presidents.

“This does feel like a turning point in presidential history,” Brands said. “But people thought that when Richard Nixon resigned over Watergate, and people thought that when Franklin Roosevelt was elected for the fourth time, and people thought that when Abraham Lincoln held the Union together during the Civil War. So there’s a feeling that, boy, this time is different. And, well, this time is different. … Everything is special in its own way.”

Nevertheless, certain lessons can be drawn from the experiences of previous presidencies.

“I think Democrats can learn a lot from ’68,” said Shannon Bow O’Brien of UT-Austin, an expert on presidential speeches. “There were a lot of mistakes made in ’68.”

LBJ was contemplating a war of division, panic over the global economy, and multiple heart attacks when he announced, “I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan matters or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the Presidency of your country. Accordingly, I will not seek and will not accept the nomination.”

After some wrangling, the Democratic Party nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who ultimately lost to Richard Nixon by a narrow popular vote. “The public saw him as another Johnson. And people were worried about that,” O’Brien said. She thinks today’s Democrats should heed that defeat: “I think they’re in a no-win situation because one of the few people who sometimes polls worse than Biden is his vice president.”

One study of hypothetical matchups found that of the six major candidates, only Michelle Obama would beat Trump at this point. (An Obama biographer said Monday that Obama’s potential nominee “is as unlikely as it gets.”)

UT-Austin’s Daron Shaw, who also conducts the Fox News poll, said hypothetical polls are “really difficult” because several of the options presented are likely unfamiliar to respondents. And if pollsters ask voters how much they know about the candidates before asking for their preferences, that can bias respondents against the lesser-known candidate.

“Biden’s argument was the electability argument. He said, ‘I won every primary and I’m not going to deny the will of the people,’ which I thought was kind of funny, considering they’ve outpaced all the competition,” Shaw said. “But if your argument is electability, he’s in a pretty good spot. Because now all the Democrats know who Joe Biden is, and he’s losing a little bit of support, but not a lot. … The problem with these other hypothetical candidates is that a lot of people don’t know who they are. This person, if they’re nominated, will become known. And probably in a way that would delight almost all the Democrats, right? Because this isn’t Trump. And whatever problems Biden has, unless it’s Kamala, they don’t have that problem.”

The 1968 election is just one data point. So how much should Vice President Humphrey’s defeat scare Democrats about Harris’ candidacy?

“This (election) is an obvious parallel,” Brands said. “But the difference is that LBJ had become politically very unpopular in a very unpopular foreign war (in Vietnam). So that was the issue, not personal health. … It’s not politics that drives any decision here and it’s driving people like Lloyd Doggett who say he’s got to go.”

There are some good examples of presidents with serious health problems, but they are not particularly instructive here: Franklin D. Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down, but his health problems “had nothing fundamentally to do with his mental capacity, with his ability to focus,” Brands said. Woodrow Wilson was disabled for 18 months after a stroke in 1919, but hiding his cognitive decline was easier then. “Nobody really knew how disabled he was because his wife wouldn’t let anybody in.” Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years after leaving office, and in his second term, the White House saw the president becoming forgetful. “But he almost always managed to pull himself together in moments when he needed to be alert, when he needed to be focused,” Brands said.

In Biden’s case, some Republican lawmakers — including House Speaker Mike Johnson — have called on his Cabinet to remove him under the 25th Amendment, citing cognitive deficiencies. Such removal never happened.

“This feels like a turning point in presidential history.” – H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin

O’Brien, a speech expert, said the circuitous nature of Trump’s public appearances doesn’t bode well for his cognitive health. But she said the president’s vocal strength and appearance matter. She points to the first televised debate in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. They were well-matched on the merits, but Nixon was recovering from the flu and looked exhausted on screen. As a result, most radio listeners either called the first debate a tie or thought Nixon had won, while JFK had won by a large margin with the television audience. JFK also won the election. “The Trump campaign and administration don’t really care about the facts,” O’Brien said. “They care about appearances.”

Options, options, options

So far, Biden has doubled down on promises to stay in the race.

The brands raised a possibility that hasn’t been widely discussed: Biden could drop out, which would make Kamala Harris the president and the DNC’s all-but-unchallengeable nominee.

“If he wanted her to get the nomination, I think he should have done it,” Brands said. “Are you (the DNC) going to deny the nomination to the president of the United States?”

Or, instead of letting Harris lead the pack, she could be removed entirely: O’Brien notes that Biden could bring in a younger vice presidential candidate with less experience to win over worried voters.

The DNC could accept Biden but refuse to accept Harris if it feels the ticket is in jeopardy. Brands said there is precedent for vice presidential swaps — FDR had three vice presidents in four terms, and Abraham Lincoln threw out his vice president when he ran for reelection in the middle of the Civil War.

“Think of it as an opportunity,” O’Brien said. “Joe Biden and the Democrats have a huge problem with disconnecting with younger voters. They feel like nobody is listening to them. They don’t like Donald Trump, but they don’t feel like they can vote for Democrats because of these policies (on Israel). If Democrats see this as an opportunity to have a new voice, to bring someone on the presidential or vice presidential side that excites people under 30, I think that will help turnout.”

Doggett didn’t talk specifically about Kamala Harris’ role, but he emphasized the power of breaking the mold. “What some people see as chaos,” Doggett said, “is really a great opportunity to refocus what the Democratic Party and the presidency are.”

By meerna

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