Columnist Gene Lyons

Democrats must take action to nominate a new candidate

By Gene Lyons


Posted 7/9/24

Toward the end of the recent Biden vs. Trump debate on CNN, I got up from the TV and posted this message on Facebook: “It’s a catastrophe. The Democratic Party has to do something. Biden …

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Columnist Gene Lyons

Democrats must take action to nominate a new candidate


Toward the end of the recent Biden vs. Trump debate on CNN, I got up from the TV and posted this message on Facebook: “It’s a catastrophe. The Democratic Party has to do something. Biden is coming across as weak, indecisive and even older than he is. Trump’s a madman and a world-class liar. But it’s a TV show, and he’s in charge of the screen. God help us all.”

I haven’t changed my mind. If anything, my conviction has grown stronger after reading the transcript, as much of it as I could stand. True, Trump emitted a veritable avalanche of lies. And granted, it’s hard to debate somebody so compulsively dishonest. Correcting lies takes far more time than telling them.

Trump lied when he said undocumented immigrants are collecting Social Security. Totally illegal and simply not happening. He lied when he said Nancy Pelosi admitted turning down his offer of 10,000 soldiers to guard the Capitol on Jan. 6. He made no such offer. In reality, he never spoke with her at all. Also, he was president. Why didn’t he send troops if he thought they were needed? Instead, he did nothing.

It’s absolutely false that “everybody” wanted Roe vs. Wade overturned. Pretty much everybody knows better. It’s also not true that his planned tariffs would be paid by China. Tariffs are paid by importers, not exporters; U.S. consumers would foot the entire bill. The economy would crater.

But why go on? A couple of my Facebook friends made half-hearted excuses for Biden, but none dissented from my bleak assessment. A couple wondered what drug Trump was on. Adderall was suspected. In spite of his own manic delivery, the Republican nominee had accused Biden of taking “uppers” — projection often being a reliable guide to a psychopath’s intentions.

But so what? The president was terrible. Let me put it this way: The Democratic Party is put in the position of a baseball manager whose ace pitcher has walked the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a scoreless playoff game. Regardless of how shaky his bullpen has been, he has no choice but to trudge to the mound and put his hand out for the ball. Conversation is unnecessary. Somebody else has to take over.

Saying so doesn’t make me a “bed-wetter,” nor have I succumbed to panic. I’m simply trying to deal with the real-world situation. As a personal matter, I’ve long been a fan of Joe Biden. He’s always reminded me of my late father. There’s some physical resemblance, and his accent and demeanor were similar, although a prep school punk like Trump would never have challenged him. So, I hate seeing Biden like this.

But like the great majority of voters who think he’s too old for the presidency, I can’t deny the evidence of my senses. Maybe he struck out the side in the sixth, but he hasn’t thrown a strike in the seventh.

OK, enough baseball.

Here’s the thing: It’s likely to happen again. Whatever laid Biden low on debate night, whether it was a cold or simple fatigue (his recent travel schedule would have exhausted a man half his age), the only way through the political crisis his awful performance has created is for Biden to appear unscripted in public with no teleprompter as often as possible in the coming days.

He needs to do live TV interviews with challenging interlocutors, take questions from the astonishingly rude White House press corps, exhibit vigor and strong-mindedness, and show everybody who’s in charge. And if he can’t do that — if White House staffers need to hide him away — then he should do himself and everybody else a favor and withdraw his candidacy.

He doesn’t need to resign the presidency and hand it over to Vice President Kamala Harris, but continue to serve and ask the Democratic Party to nominate a successor at its upcoming convention in Chicago. Let Harris contest the nomination — assuming she’d want it — of such prominent Democrats as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey or some other ambitious dark horse candidate.

I agree with my former colleague and friend Jonathan Alter that “rather than a chaotic mess, an open convention would create enormous excitement that would propel the nominee into the fall campaign. And without Biden to trash, Trump would try to slam a new nominee. But after chasing a moving target of possible rivals over the summer, he would have only a short time to make anything stick.”

To me, Joe Biden has been the best and most consequential president of my adult life — I’m just a year younger than he is — and deserves immense gratitude for bringing the country home safe from COVID and Trump.

So, I take no pleasure in saying that it’s time for him to go.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at