Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
It was August 1999. Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan hosted the National Governors Association annual meeting in St. Louis. I was there. I ran into PBS NewsHour political commentator Mark Shields on an elevator. He asked if I knew why the Republican attendees had scheduled a private meeting. At the time, I did not.
The Republican Party had lost the last two presidential elections. Elections they believed they could have easily won, especially the 1996 contest, against an unpopular incumbent Bill Clinton. Before the party anointed Kansas Senator Bob Dole as their standard bearer, the roster of wannabe nominees included:
- Former Nixon and Reagan advisor Pat Buchanan
- Former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander
- U.S. Congressman Bob Dornan (CA)
- U.S. Senator Phil Gramm (TX)
- Forbes Magazine editor Steve Forbes
- Former assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes
- U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (IN)
- U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (PA)
- California Governor Pete Wilson
Only Dole and Buchanan remained in the race in August when Dole secured the nomination at the national convention in San Diego. It could hardly be called a love fest. Religious conservatives were disappointed the party platform did not include more powerful pro-life language. And, to avoid a repeat of Buchanan’s divisive oratory at the 1992 convention, he was denied a speaker’s slot during the four-day gathering.
The 30 Republican governors who attended the 1999 NGA meeting in St. Louis decided they would not let this happen again. They agreed to pre-select one of their own to represent them. And with the endorsement of the governors in 29 other states, their choice would be guaranteed the nomination. Texas Governor George W. Bush emerged as the consensus candidate and won enough delegates by March 2020 to wrap up the nomination.
On the other hand, Democrats never seemed to learn that lesson. In 1968, a bitter fight between incumbent Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and the anti-war branch of the party, led by Senators Eugene McCarthy (OR) and George McGovern (SD), doomed Humphrey’s chances of succeeding Lyndon Johnson. More notably, in 2016, even the last-minute truce between Senators Hillary Clinton (NY) and Bernie Sanders (VT) was not enough to bring the party together. I need not tell you what that led to.
Which brings me to 2023 and “old” Joe Biden. Yes, he’s going to be 82 years old in January 2025. Yes, age and the still present effects of being a “recovering stutterer” deprive him of the kind of relationship with the English language that defines great orators. But he has one thing no other Democrat can claim. He has the endorsement of the breadth of the Democratic continuum from Bernie Sanders to Montana Senator Jon Tester. From moderate Representative Steve Cohen (TN) to member of “the squad” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY).
Now, just imagine if Biden withdrew from the race, as so many have suggested. Does anyone who believes a second Trump term is not a clear and present danger to democracy and the rule of law really want to see an open contest similar to the dumpster fire that was on display at the first Republican debate? Democrats, independents and former Republicans who have left the reservation need to remember it took every one of those 82 million Biden votes to drive Trump from the Oval Office. And it may require the same effort next year. Democrats cannot afford to take the chance some of those voters will stay home or turn to a third party candidate. A contested nomination would likely do just that.
Yes, I know he’s old, but there is one more reason I do not share the same concerns of those who question his ability to serve another four years. I challenge his detractors to give one specific example where his age prevented him from fulfilling his presidential responsibilities over the past three years. He was there every time he was needed. Garnering support for Ukraine including a clandestine, multi-day trip to Kiev to boost morale. (How easily we forget Donald Trump could not attend a D-Day memorial for American soldiers because it was raining.) Strengthening NATO with the addition of Sweden and Finland to the alliance. Negotiating with Republican members of Congress and a few recalcitrant Democrats to pass major bi-partisan legislation and avoid a default.
“What about Afghanistan?” Republicans are sure to ask. Would a younger president have allowed such a debacle? Most likely. The immediate collapse of the Kabul government and Afghan military was contrary to the intelligence information that would have guided any commander-in-chief. Biden’s decision to use the withdrawal agreement negotiated by (you guessed it) the Trump administration as the opportunity to end a military engagement he believed had already gone on way to long was the rational and strategic choice.
The case against Joe Biden is not unlike Rudy Giuliani’s explanation of his crusade to overturn the 2020 election to Speaker of the Arizona House Rusty Bowers. “We have a lot of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.” Yes, there are a lot of theories. Nikki Haley believes a second Biden term is a death sentence. Chair of the House Oversight Committee James Comer thinks Biden will be impeached and convicted of some unidentified corruption scheme. We should not choose a president based on unfounded theories. Until there is real evidence, when it comes to protecting democracy, I see only one choice. JOE BIDEN.
For what it’s worth.