The Insider

Can the Democrats stop Trump?

Donald Trump’s odds of winning in November are looking better and better. It’s time for Biden to consider standing down 

February 14, 2024
Trump’s reelection campaign is well underway. Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo
Trump’s reelection campaign is well underway. Image: Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

The resurrection of Donald Trump is even more extraordinary than his triumph first time around. And it could be even more dangerous. 

I recall a conversation with a leading US pollster in the spring of 2016. What, I asked, were Trump’s chances of winning against Hillary Clinton? “Precisely zero,” he answered. Now, the prospect of a second Trump term is looking better than evens. 

He has three things going for him, besides his own adamantine will to power. First, the Supreme Court, whose Trumpite majority will doubtless seek, by hook or crook, to keep his 91 felony charges at bay until after the election in November. The stronger Trump is in the polls, the bolder the court will be in setting the law and judicial processes aside to allow Trump to proceed.

Second, the southern border crisis, which gives Trump an issue to “trump” Joe Biden’s economic successes. Stoking fears about illegal immigration plays to every sinew of Trump’s populist being, and he can rerun many of his lines from Trump One about the southern wall and stopping the “invasion”. Hence his determination last week to stop legislation which might alleviate the border crisis and give Biden an advantage.

Third, Biden’s age and dodderiness, which is looming ever larger. Partly this is because it genuinely is an issue, as any observer of his excruciating public performances can attest. Partly also it obscures his achievements, and induces doubt as to whether he can keep them up. Trump, of course, is only marginally younger—81 plays 77—but he doesn’t look it and his litany of gaffes at least don’t appear to be a product of senility.

There may be a fourth dynamic too—namely, Biden’s essentially unconditional support for Benjamin Netanyahu in Gaza, which is alarming and appalling parts of Biden’s base, especially younger Democrats. If the war in Gaza continues at the current intensity for much longer, the alienation may start reducing turnout for Biden even where the alienated don’t actually vote for Trump. 

Of course, there are nine months to go and a multitude of potential game changers to come. But as of now, what might the Democrats do to affect the outcome?

The one big, obvious move would be to replace Biden as the candidate. There is still plenty of time for the party to select a replacement, and the omertà on the subject looks baffling to anyone more distant from the fray. Biden’s age can only get more serious as an issue, and if there were to be a public collapse of some sort his candidacy could be over. 

The obvious parallel is Lyndon Johnson standing down from re-election at the end of March 1968, seven months before the election date. It wasn’t enough to save the Democrats. But Hubert Humphrey, his vice-president, ran within 1 per cent of Richard Nixon, and who knows what might have happened if Robert Kennedy wasn’t assassinated. 

As for Trump, this time he would be even less restrained and even more irresponsible than last time. Imagine a third term Nixon who had escaped impeachment and changed the constitution in order to run again. But far, far worse.