1968 Democratic Convention - AP Photo
by Steve Timmer
Jul 3, 2024, 10:30 AM

Don’t repeat 1968

Many people are calling for Joe Biden to withdraw, including in a comment here, but I disagree entirely about the desirability of a Biden withdrawal from the presidential race. The question arises: What would happen the day after he withdrew? I think the answer is Democratic Party chaos.

There’d be Kamala Harris partisans, Gavin Newsom partisans, Gretchen Whitmer partisans, Andy Beshear partisans, and probably others. It would invite factionalism in a close race where the Democrats cannot afford it. There is already serious bickering about who would replace Biden on the ticket. It would be another 1968 when Johnson – another very successful domestic president – withdrew; Gene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy (the father), and others duked it out with Hubert Humphrey, and we got Richard Nixon. Swell. To further draw out the analogy, Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president, got the nomination but lost the general election. Harris is Biden’s Humphrey.

I truly believe that Biden’s withdrawal from the race would deliver the victory to Donald Trump. And given the decision this week on immunity in Trump v. United States, that could be a democracy-ending disaster.

Obviously, I don’t know that would happen, but I was an adult – barely – in 1968 and I remember the summer and fall vividly. A split Democratic party handed the presidency to Nixon. I don’t wish for the free-for-all cornucopia of an open convention.

All the people who might be contenders have back stories, too. There hasn’t been much chance or effort to really vet them.

If I was willing to abandon all good faith, convention, any respect for the truth, and just issue a stream of consciousness of preposterous lies, I could “win” a lot of debates, too. Except they wouldn’t really be wins. Donald Trump didn’t win the debate last week either.

He merely revealed himself as a brigand, a robber of the truth from the American public. There is some early evidence that many citizens understand that. The pearl-clutching, click-bait media does, too, but they find it, perhaps, more profitable not to say so.

In the Kennedy-Nixon debate, if you watched TV, you thought Kennedy won. If you listened to the radio, you thought Nixon won. I’ve read comments that Biden stands up better if you read the transcript.

There are a couple of parts of a trial: the evidence and the argument. The judge always admonishes the jury that argument is not evidence, and that they are to decide the case on the evidence. Biden did not make a great argument, but he has put up a lot of evidence that he has done and can do the job.

Update: Utter folly:

Brian Stelter tweet

Comment from Dan Burns: Insufficient data. Without knowing whether President Biden just had a bad night, or whether his mental health really is deteriorating, I don’t have an opinion on this at this time. We’ll find out soon enough.

Update from Steve (7/6/24): From Heather Cox Richardson. The whole substack article is good:

Immediately after the debate, there were calls for Biden to drop out of the race, but aside from the fact that the only time a presidential candidate has ever done that—in 1968—it threw the race into utter confusion and the president’s party lost . . .


Thanks for your feedback. If we like what you have to say, it may appear in a future post of reader reactions.