It’s time for Biden to pass the torch

AJC Editorial Board: To defeat Trump and for the good of the nation, the president must bow out of the presidential race.
President Joe Biden looks down as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former President Donald Trump in Atlanta on Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

President Joe Biden looks down as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former President Donald Trump in Atlanta on Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

In an impassioned campaign rally on Friday, President Joe Biden tried to convince American voters that his alarming performance on a debate stage here in Atlanta the night before was an aberration.

“I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know. I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong.” The 81-year-old president has shown a greater capacity to tell the truth than his opponent, former President Donald Trump.

But the unfortunate truth is that Biden should withdraw from the race, for the good of the nation he has served so admirably for half a century.

There is precedent for a president, duly elected by the American people, to step aside gracefully in the national interest. Weary from constant attacks from his opponents, and eager to avoid the perception of American dictatorship, George Washington, with assistance from Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, drafted what stands as one of the most important documents in our nation’s history. Washington, who decided not to seek a third term, never actually delivered what has come to be known as his farewell address; it was drafted in September 1796 and first published in newspapers around the country two months later.

Never one to tell a lie, our first president, then 64 years old, acknowledged the time had come to step aside. “Every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome,” Washington wrote.

The shade of retirement is now necessary for President Biden.

Throughout the excruciating 90-minute forum Thursday night, the president failed to convey a competent and coherent vision for the future of America. He failed to outline the most fundamental aspects of his platform. He failed to take credit for the significant accomplishments of his 3½ years in office. And he failed to counter the prevarications of an opponent, who, according to CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale, lied 30 times during the course of the debate, approximately once every 90 seconds of his allotted time.

President Biden’s surrogates attempted to brush off the debate performance. Aides claimed he had a cold. Vice President Kamala Harris argued the leader of the free world should be evaluated on the totality of his presidency, not one night. Former President Barack Obama took to social media and said, “Bad debate nights happen.”

These responses are insulting to the American people.

This wasn’t a bad night; it was confirmation of the worst fears of some of Biden’s most ardent supporters — that after 36 years in the U.S. Senate, eight more as vice president and a term in the White House, age has finally caught up to him.

This moment was contemplated by Democrats and by Biden advisers when he was seeking the party’s nomination for president in 2020. There was serious and public discussion of Biden, then 77, pledging to serve only one term. That discussion acknowledged the obvious. If reelected, Biden would be 86 years old at the end of his presidency in January 2029. There is no historical precedent for this. And now there are signs of decline, which were clear Thursday.

President Biden’s ability to withstand the mental and physical rigors of another four-year term would be of concern regardless of his opponent. The fact that he is all that stands in the way of Trump returning to the Oval Office significantly raises the stakes.

Trump has already hinted at what his second term might look like. He has spoken of a desire to seek “revenge” against his political opponents, and he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in a town hall last year that he would be a dictator on day one of his presidency (but only on day one).

Trump’s campaign staff has tried to dismiss those comments as hyperbole. That might be easier to accept had Trump not attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 elections here in Georgia and had he not repeatedly and falsely claimed that the election was stolen from him.

That stance alone should have disqualified Trump in the eyes of voters. The former president’s personal and professional conduct has been egregious enough that his former vice president, chief of staff and numerous Cabinet members have repudiated him. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, himself a potential presidential candidate in 2028, says he cast a blank ballot in the state’s Republican primary, refusing to vote for the man who attempted to subvert the electoral process in our state.

That Trump remains at the top of the Republican ticket is a testament to the deep divisions and tribalism that has come to define American politics in the 21st century.

When George Washington informed the nation of his decision not to seek a third term, he offered a warning about the insidious nature of political parties, then in their infancy. “They are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”

Trump’s performance Thursday night should have prompted leaders in his party to repudiate his falsehoods.

But it didn’t.

Biden has pledged to do all he can to prevent Trump from returning to the White House. The election is still four months away. If he truly hopes to defeat Trump, he must pass the torch to the next generation of Democratic leaders and urge the party to nominate another candidate at its convention in Chicago in August.

Doing this will require a massive and unprecedented string of legal and regulatory actions to get a Biden successor named and placed on each state’s ballot. This is difficult and necessary work that must start immediately.

The Democrats have a number of talented and principled leaders who might take the president’s agenda forward and provide the nation with a viable alternative to Trump. The right candidate would make it a priority to appeal to Republican and Democratic voters.

Biden’s candidacy was grounded in his incumbency and the belief of Democratic leaders and pollsters that he stood the best chance of defeating Trump in November. That is no longer the case.

That reality may be difficult to accept for a man whose personal and political lives have been defined by resiliency, but it is the truth.

Biden deserves a better exit from public life than the one he endured when he shuffled off the stage Thursday night.

If he displays the courage and dignity that have defined his political career, he might follow in the footsteps of the nation’s first president and welcome his retirement, secure in the knowledge that he again served his country with honor.

— The Editorial Board

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