For many months, conventional media wisdom has told us that Joe Biden would be the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump in 2024 because he did it before. The claim was always on shaky ground — after all, Trump was the ultimate symbol of the status quo when he lost in 2020, as Biden would be in next year’s election. That’s hardly auspicious when polling shows that the current electorate believes the country is “off on the wrong track” rather than “headed in the right direction” by a margin of more than a 3-to-1.
But now, the bottom has dropped out of that timeworn spin for Biden in the wake of the discovery of unsecured classified documents under his control, the appointment of a special counsel to investigate and the botched handling of the scandal by the White House.
Yes, Trump’s handling of classified documents was far more egregious in comparison to what we know of Biden’s. But looking ahead, a Biden campaign would be incapable of making any effective criticism of Trump on the issue.
We can already see how having Biden at the top of the ticket would be a serious liability up and down Democratic ballots nationwide. “Awkward” just begins to describe the position that recent developments have put leading Democrats in. An early preview came days ago when Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, appeared on CNN and did the best she — or just about any fellow Democrat — could do under the circumstances.
“Certainly there’s a political problem for all of us as Democrats,” Jayapal acknowledged after being confronted with her tweet from four months ago condemning Trump’s conduct with classified documents, “but I do think that there are significant differences, and I do think it’s important to look at the fact that this president is cooperating completely with the investigation.” Later in the interview, Jayapal said: “So there are significant differences. It doesn’t take away my concern about the overall situation, and I do think we have to continue to look at the facts.”
As more facts emerged over the weekend, the situation worsened for the party currently hitched to Biden’s star. Under the telling headline “Biden Missteps on Secret Papers Create Self-Inflicted Crisis,” Bloomberg reported that “the decision to wait more than two months, until after midterm elections, to disclose the initial discovery of classified documents has fanned criticism of the president’s commitment to transparency that has only grown as Biden and his team stumbled through the subsequent week.”
Expanding on its big-type subhead “Drip of incomplete information suggests attempt at cover-up,” the article added: “Statements by the president, his lawyers, and his spokespeople that omitted key details — including information later revealed in news reports or subsequent statements — intensified the impression that the White House has something to hide. And the steady stream of revelations knocked Republican dysfunction on Capitol Hill out of the headlines while also offering a lifeline to former President Donald Trump, who is under criminal investigation for his own handling of classified documents.”
Even one of the most loyally partisan House Democrats, Adam Schiff of California, felt compelled to say during an ABC News interview on Sunday that “I don’t think we can exclude the possibility” that Biden’s handling of classified documents jeopardized national security. On Monday, after several minutes of defending Biden on NBC, consummate corporate asset Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina said: “It’s no question the reporting of all this undercuts all of our credibility as Democrats when it comes to this kind of an issue.”
Another seasoned Democrat, only willing to be identified as a “former Clinton aide,” presented this analysis of Biden’s political peril in comments to The Hill: “Everyone can say what they want but this weakens him, full stop. This is just one of those things that will stick around and won’t go away.”
What does all this mean for progressives and anyone else who doesn’t want a Republican to win the White House in 2024?
Biden’s electoral future should be taken off the national table, so we can proceed with focused discussions of crucial issues on their merits rather than everything being constantly subjected to a political calculus as to the president’s prospects for re-election. This country is facing an ongoing cascade of crises, the Republican Party leaders are a clear and present danger to democracy, and Democrats will need the strongest possible ticket to defeat them. Joe Biden definitely should not be on it.
Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy. His next book, War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine, will be published in Spring 2023 by The New Press.