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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The dramatic dangers of a second Biden administration



President Joe Biden holds a campaign event in Raleigh, N.C., a day after the first presidential debate, on Friday, June 28, 2024. Replacing Biden with another Democratic candidate, however difficult it seems, would spare America from the significant dangers of a Biden victory, not just from the risks of his defeat, Ross Douthat writes. (Damon WInter/The New York Times)

By Ross Douthat


Now that the first general-election debate of 2024 has removed any doubt about the necessity of removing President Joe Biden from the Democratic ticket, you will hear a lot of serious liberals make the case for Biden’s removal primarily as a means to defeat Donald Trump. Biden must step aside, the argument will go, because he’s going to lose the election, and only a different Democrat can save the country from Trumpian misrule.


This is a necessary argument for its intended audiences: Americans who fear Trump above all else and a Democratic Party motivated by partisan self-interest. It is emphatically the case that sticking with Biden now gives Trump his best chance at an easy victory — a better chance even than nominating Kamala Harris, who might be a terrible candidate but would still be better than her boss at this point. It is definitely true that if you believe America needs to be saved from Trumpism 2.0, continuing with Biden is a grave dereliction.


But it’s also important, especially for those of us who are not Democratic partisans, to emphasize that declining to nominate Biden is essential not just if you hope to avert a second Trump term. It’s essential if you want to protect the country from a second Biden term — from the ways that his obvious deterioration endangers the country that he nominally leads.


That is to say, if a genie or fairy godmother appeared to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Jill Biden and granted them the foreknowledge that Joe Biden would somehow eke out a victory over Trump, the prospect of Biden being president for four more years should be enough to compel some kind of serious action now.


Here, the frequent analogy to a figure like Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t go quite far enough. Ginsburg’s staying too long in office was a sin against her own liberal principles, which suffered a great setback when a Republican president appointed her replacement. But the decline of a Supreme Court justice is more manageable and less perilous, for the court and for the country, than the decline of a U.S. president.


Yes, presidential aides and Cabinet members can manage some aspects of the job for a fading chief executive. But they aren’t law clerks drafting opinions on a leisurely timeline. Their boss sits at the heart of a global network of alliances; commands the world’s most powerful military, which includes a vast nuclear deterrent; and is charged with maintaining a Pax Americana that’s currently under threat from an alliance of revisionist powers. The entire global order will be endangered if there is an empty vessel in the Oval Office, a headless superpower in a destabilizing world.


Back in the days when presidential unfitness was a bit more of a novelty, I made this argument about Trump. Before his election in 2016, I warned that our rivals would be eager to test a president with no experience or self-discipline and that “he need only be himself in order to bring an extended period of risk upon the world.” Early in his term, I worried that having “a man who has no idea what he’s doing in almost any aspect of the presidency” made a Middle Eastern conflagration much more likely.


My warnings about the peril of a presidential vacuum found some vindication when Trump flailed and foundered through the early months of the pandemic. But in geopolitics, the tests were thankfully not all that severe, and Trump groped his way to a more effective foreign policy than I had expected. A Biden apologist today could even argue that Trump’s first term shows that the American empire can survive an unfit president ...


... except that under Biden, the severity of the geopolitical testing has increased. Many of the choices his administration has made in response have been reasonable or at least defensible, and his team has done a decent job of working around the president’s tighter limits. But for the same reason that Trump’s incapacities seemed likely to yield dangers, it seems plausible that Biden’s decline has itself encouraged our enemies and been partially responsible for the gravity of the challenges we face.


That’s basically the argument Trump made at the debate: that he was taken more seriously by our rivals, and therefore, the world was more stable on his watch. Whether or not that’s been true in the last few years, on the basis of what Biden showed the world Thursday, I think it would become true if he remained on the job through 2028. On this important metric, the capacity to lead a superpower without the 25th Amendment hanging in the background, he appeared to be not as unfit as Trump but more so.


This reality does not erase Trump’s unfitness on other counts, the stain of Jan. 6 especially. It just means that a second Biden administration would be unusually dangerous for the country in a very specific, very significant way. And replacing him with another Democratic candidate, however difficult it seems, would spare America from the significant dangers of a Biden victory, not just from the risks of his defeat.

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