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Nolan Finley is editorial page editor at The Detroit News.
Democrats with presidential ambitions should be calculating how much longer they can defer to President Joe Biden.
The primaries are just one year away and already several Republicans are at various stages of organizing a 2024 campaign. Former President Donald Trump is formally in, of course, as is his United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Vice President Mike Pence, Michigan’s former congressman Mike Rogers and a dozen or so current or past GOP governors are teasing bids.
It’s clear Trump will have opposition from his own party in his quest to return to the White House.
But no Democrat has expressed a willingness to challenge Biden for the party’s nomination. This despite Biden being in the weakest position of any president since Jimmy Carter heading into a reelection bid.
Just 22 percent of all voters want Biden to run again, according to a recent AP/NORC poll. The really bad news for the president is only 37 percent of Democrats want him to seek a second term. His approval rating in the survey is a dismal 41 percent, with just 23 percent of respondents expressing confidence in his ability to manage the White House.
That reads like a giant opening for a Democrat willing to buck protocol and challenge a sitting president from his or her own party.
Last week’s State of the Union address was quietly cast as the kickoff of Biden’s reelection campaign. It was a miserable performance, void of inspiration and vision. He tested what is likely to be his 2024 theme — “Let’s finish the job” — but rather than project momentum toward a goal, it sounded more like an epithet for a presidency that couldn’t get the job done.
Standing on that stage, he neither looked nor sounded like a president capable of leading the country into the future.
At this point in the cycle, nothing suggests the 80-year-old Biden, who fell into the presidency thanks to the abhorrence of Trump, can win next year. Even Trump is ahead of him by 3 percentage points nationally in an ABC/Washington Post poll of registered voters.
There must be some Democrat who smells Biden’s weakness and will dare take him on, as Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy did to a faltering Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Their vigorous opposition pushed LBJ out of the campaign.
Kennedy’s brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, tried to do the same thing to Carter in 1980, but fell short.
This cycle is ripe for a similar scenario. It may be still too early for a Democrat to step out of the party line and announce a challenge to Biden. But not by much. Organizing and funding a presidential campaign is a massive undertaking. By summer, anyone — from either party — who intends to run should be running.
Presumably, potential hopefuls are waiting for Biden to come to terms with the reality that he’s not capable of winning a second term, or for a scandal to take him out of consideration.
If neither happens, Democrats will have to decide whether they’re willing to give away the White House out of deference to a very weak president.