Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about student debt relief at Central New Mexico Community College Student Resource Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on November 3, 2022.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Magical Thinking About Biden May Not Save Us From Another Trump Presidency

What if it's not enough to "merely be the alternative to Donald Trump?"

An avalanche of polling shows Joe Biden with abysmal approval ratings and grim re-election prospects, but Democratic leaders keep spinning away in dreamland. Even before the Israeli war on Gaza began three months ago, party loyalists were in denial about Biden’s unpopularity with key Democratic-leaning constituencies. Now the situation has worsened, with Biden’s standing in free-fall among young people as well as Arab and Muslim Americans, while support among people of color has seriously eroded.

In a passionate letter posted last week, an anonymous group of Biden 2024 campaign staffers urged Biden to reverse himself and work for “an immediate, permanent ceasefire” in Gaza. The letter from 17 current staff members said: “Biden for President staff have seen volunteers quit in droves, and people who have voted blue for decades feel uncertain about doing so for the first time ever.”

That letter echoed an appeal to Biden two months earlier – not anonymous – signed by 500 “former 2020 Biden for President and Democratic Party staff.” The two unprecedented letters – and other upheaval among seasoned Democrats – have failed to snap the Democratic leadership out of their wishful, magical thinking about Biden.

Defenders of sticking with Biden glibly dismiss negative poll numbers while noting that polls in January can’t tell us where persuadable voters will end up in November. But there’s a serious problem beyond just polls. It’s the disaffection of activists – pivotal because thousands of talented, hard-working activists are needed to help persuade voters on the fence, and to get-out-the-vote of traditional Democrats who are only “occasional voters.”

During the Covid-haunted election of 2020, thousands of grassroots activists and groups – including many who were Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren supporters – devoted months of their lives to defeat Donald Trump after Biden became the Democratic nominee. Overall, many progressive groups went all in for Biden when it came down to him or Trump in the fall of 2020.

But in 2024, many of these experienced activists are disaffected from Biden if not outraged at him, over issues from Gaza to voting rights to climate to student debt.

In 2020, Arab and Muslim American communities mobilized against the detested, Islamophobic Trump. Today, leading activists in key swing states have been sending a clear message to Biden in public forums: “No Ceasefire, No Votes.”

In 2020, climate activists mobilized to eject the climate-denying “drill baby drill” incumbent. Today, as a result of Biden’s reversals on climate policy – like his broken promise on drilling in Alaska – there is much disgust among activists.

Five hundred people who were campaign or party staff members in 2020 – recalling that they “fought tirelessly to organize millions of Americans to cast their votes” for Biden – have now signed a well-informed letter urging Biden not only to work for a Gaza ceasefire, but also to “end unconditional military aid to Israel” and “take concrete steps to end the conditions of apartheid, occupation, and ethnic cleansing that are the root causes of this devastation.”

Will there be enough diligent volunteers to get-out-the-vote for Biden in 2024? Not according to current Biden for President staffers who say volunteers have “quit in droves” over Biden’s handling of the Gaza war – adding: “It is not enough to merely be the alternative to Donald Trump.”

For more than a year, we’ve been part of the RootsAction team that launched the Don’t Run Joe (now Step Aside Joe) campaign immediately after the 2022 midterm elections – urging progressives to insist on clearing the path for an open primary process that could lead to a dynamic progressive candidate capable of soundly defeating Trump. Now, the awful specter of a Biden vs. Trump contest is causing enormous distress and eagerness to develop an appropriate response. That’s why hundreds of people have already chosen to sign up for a livestream panel discussion on Jan. 16, “What Should Progressives Do About Biden?”

While establishment Democrats are intent on whistling past the Biden graveyard, there’s a different kind of magical thinking among some who consider themselves to be on the left – a fantastical pretense that it doesn’t really matter whether Trump becomes president again. People who think that Trump and his leadership team are not fascistic, or that a Trumpite return to the presidency wouldn’t be much worse than abhorrent Bidenism, are out of touch with political reality.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.