biden jill
US President Joe Biden (C) and US First Lady Jill Biden make a purchase as they visit a Waffle House in Marietta, Georgia, after Biden participated in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections, on June 27, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

President Joe Biden’s debate performance is raising new questions about whether Democrats have any other options in November if the 81-year-old president is no longer willing or able to campaign.

With Biden having already secured a presumptive nomination, Democrats’ prospects for a course change are diminishing.

Speaking hoarsely and suffering from what aides said was a cold, Biden spoke Thursday in a halting and sometimes disjointed manner, a performance that is only renewing questions about his ability to serve four more years. Biden told reporters afterward he will stay in the race.

“He did get stronger as the debate went on but by that time, I think the panic had set in,” David Axelrod, a former campaign strategist to President Barack Obama, said on CNN. “And I think you’re going to hear discussions - that I don’t know will lead to anything - but there are going to be discussions about whether he should continue.”

Here’s how those discussions could play out.

Is there a precedent?

Yes. Most recently, President Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek re-nomination for a second full term in 1968, as Vietnam War protests mounted. In an Oval Office speech, Johnson made the surprise announcement that “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

But that was at the end of March - extremely late even before the modern nomination calendar became as front-loaded as it is today. Unlike Johnson, Biden has already secured enough delegates for the nomination.

Can Biden be removed from the ticket?

It would be difficult. Biden faced minimal opposition in his party’s primaries and has secured 99% of the pledged delegates to the convention. Those delegates will be chosen in large part for their loyalty to the president. Absent extraordinary circumstances - and a backup plan - it’s unlikely they would remove him from the ticket.

Any challenger to Biden would have to announce his or her candidacy before the formal vote, publicly challenging the incumbent in a high-stakes attempted party coup.

How soon must a decision be made?


The Democratic National Committee had already planned to move up Biden’s nomination via a phoned-in roll call ahead of the convention to satisfy an Aug. 7 ballot deadline in Ohio. The Republican-led Ohio legislature has extended that deadline, but the Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison has said the party will go forward with the early roll call anyway, making the convention - which begins August 19 - a mere formality.

What if Biden steps down after the convention?

The decision to replace him would be made by the members of the DNC. But then the party would face another hurdle: Printed ballots with Biden’s name already on them.

Laws vary by state about how a vote for Biden would be counted if he’s no longer the nominee, but his votes would likely go to his replacement when the Electoral College meets.

Who are the possible successors?

Vice-President Kamala Harris is the most logical heir apparent, but it wouldn’t be automatic.

Other candidates waiting in the wings - who deferred to Biden and continue to publicly support him - include California Governor Gavin Newsom, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

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None of those candidates have polled any better against Trump than Biden does, according to a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll of seven battleground states.

What about the money?

Modern presidential campaigns are hugely expensive undertakings, and financial considerations would play no small role.

Biden’s campaign and party had $212 million cash on hand at the end of May, and that money would be available to Harris should she take over the top of the ticket. Any other candidate would likely have to start from scratch.

Biden’s campaign and the Democratic Party have already spent about $346 million trying to re-elect Biden. Picking another candidate could require spending even more money to introduce a new name to voters.