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Biden isn't going anywhere for now

Biden isn't going anywhere for now
| Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week. The topic everyone is discussing, of course, is what is the state of play in the US election for President Biden's reelection campaign in particular? What's going to happen? What are the outcomes?

Well, what's going to happen at least for the near term, is that Biden isn't going anywhere. He would have to decide, to stand down. He certainly is not prepared to do that. His team would have to tell him strongly that they feel like he's making a mistake. They're not prepared to do that, either. And this is something we've seen on a few occasions. Remember, Biden has been serving at high levels in Foreign Office for decades as vice president for eight years, in addition to president for almost four and senator including running the Foreign Relations Committee for decades and decades. And so the people around him, they are very loyal. They have a lot of experience. And they've been on and committed to Team Biden for a very long time. They absolutely are willing to give him advice. And they execute as well as they can, on his directives. But they are very unwilling to challenge him, particularly when he feels strongly about an outcome.

And we've seen this play out on Russia-Ukraine, Biden was unwilling to talk about moving towards a negotiated settlement as the Ukrainians were doing better and better. They were kicking it down the road. They weren't having the difficult decision because no one was willing to really challenge it. And then the situation for the Ukrainians started getting worse, and it was “they'll manage reasonably well,” the tactical on the day to day. And you have a strong coalition that the Americans are leading. But at no point are you making the big sudden change. It's very cautious. It's very conservative. and it tends to kick the can on big, controversial potential decisions.

I've seen the same thing in the war in the Middle East. A lot of people feeling like Biden should have been tougher and stronger against Prime Minister Netanyahu much earlier, especially as he was taking his own whacks against Biden. Biden unwilling to do that. They kept kicking the can. And so you got incremental decision making, very cautious, very risk averse, very conservative. Every one of the tactical decisions were pretty well executed.

But willingness to take big bets and risks, much much less so. And now we see the same thing playing out on the election. For the last year, it's been very clear to anyone that has met with Biden. And I've said this, certainly publicly, and I've heard it from all sorts of leaders, whether it's CEOs or leaders of the G7 or the G20 or the big multilateral organizations, that Biden is not someone that is capable of strongly leading the country for another four years through 86. The age of 86, too frail, too slow, losing a number of steps, since he was running back in 2020. But at no point was someone around Biden willing to have the tough conversation. And Biden himself, wasn't willing to hear it. And so you kick the can, you kick the can, you continue to manage it until it becomes a bigger problem. And that's where we are, right now. And it is certainly true that the leadership of the Democratic Party, and the top leaders of the House and Senate and the top governors, none of them are straying from the party line.

They are rallying around the president and saying, “yeah, he had a bad debate, but he can still do this.” But there are a lot of people, that certainly matter, for the president, in terms of the mainstream media, as well as in terms of senior leaders in the former Obama camp that are saying that this guy needs to step down. And I do think it matters when the paper of record for the center left, The New York Times, has not just their individual columnist, but the editorial board writing that he needs to stand down. And I think it matters when respected advisers to Obama, like Axelrod, Favreau and a number of others are saying you need to step down. Now, Biden doesn't trust those people. In terms of the Obama folks, he thinks that they're the ones that gave it to Clinton as an opportunity, when it should have been his, passed him over. If Obama said that to him personally and strongly directly, it would be taken differently. But certainly, Biden and his senior team won't accept a recommendation for them, and they won't accept a recommendation from the mainstream media.

I mean, if you look at the seven stages of grief, they are through shock. They're through denial. They're roughly in the anger phase. But they're not yet in depression. And they certainly aren't engaging in bargaining. So, I think we're very far from Biden actually stepping down. Now, having said that, there's still five months before the election, and that's a long time for an 81-year-old that has bad days. And, you know, the fact that you now do have, for the first time, some damaging information from inside the administration, for example, the Axios piece that said that he's pretty strong, and being able to engage from 10 am to 4 pm. That's an indictment for someone at 81 that would need to govern until he's 86. And that's the kind of thing that would not have been shared with the media six months ago. And now it is. And when you see members of the family and senior friends and formal advisers to Biden blaming the senior team of staffers for not prepping him well during the debate, that again, we haven't seen that kind of internal animosity.

And if you start to see senior members of the team turning out against either anonymously or not, Biden sticking around because they think he can't win, that becomes much more dangerous. So I think this gets harder to manage. It's easy to manage right after the debate when everyone recognizes that he's not prepared to step down. But as this story continues to play, and yes, they can try to manage him and limit the time that he spends with the public. But this is going to be the focus for all of the media going forward over the coming months, and of course, is a very easy thing for the Trump team to run on running against Biden, as opposed to running on Trump's deficiencies, is a much better place for them to be. We are in a horrible place in terms of the state of this US election.

I'm sure many of you have seen the CBS YouGov poll over the weekend that shows that over 70% of registered voters believe that Biden is not cognitively capable to stand, and run the country for four years. They think he should stand down. 50% of registered voters believe the same about Trump. That number is way too high. It's too high for Biden. It's too high for Trump. We have never been in an environment where the American people feel so badly about both candidates. And yes, of course, there is an enthusiasm gap and Trump supporters are much more willing to forgive Trump's unfitness or even to paint Trump's unfitness as a positive, than team, than the people around Biden.

And that is a problem. You're more likely to see a bumper sticker, or a cap for Trump among his supporters than for Biden among his supporters. And in an election where turnout matters, the fact that large numbers of Democrats are now questioning the fitness for office of their own candidate, I think does make it more likely that Trump is going to win. I had very, very low confidence going into the debate about what the outcome of the election would be. I still have low confidence, but it is higher than it was before the debate. This is a major inflection point in my view. And it makes it more likely that Trump is going to win. And it would put more pressure on the Biden team to consider alternatives.

I do believe that if they wanted to go the alternative route, alternatives exist. First of all, at this stage, given Biden's age and given the way he is likely to appear over the coming five months, I don't think that Kamala Harris is a worse choice, is less likely to win than Biden. So simply stepping back, continuing to campaign. But Kamala becomes the candidate, I would say at this point, and I wouldn't have said that six months ago, she is likely to take the election as Biden would be, both in my view, on balance, likely to lose. But I also think that the potential of bringing in somebody else in the convention, and there are a lot of strong candidates out there.

Gina Raimondo would be certainly towards the top, especially because she is actively a very trusted part of the Biden cabinet. So it's less of a transition. Pete Buttigieg, outside, Gretchen Whitmer, Gavin Newsom, Jared Polis, there are a number, that are strong that is also, of course, a big risk because here, not only are you pushing aside Kamala Harris, which will antagonize a lot of her supporters, and there are many, but also would be putting up someone who does not have a significant track record in national politics. And that reminds me of Ron DeSantis. So many anti-Trump Republicans were all in for DeSantis. This guy was going to be the golden child for the Republican Party, take out Trump. And he was an absolute nothing lightweight on the national stage and got pasted by Trump. And that, of course, is a danger. So I understand that tactically, when you have a team that is oriented towards consensus around Biden, that on any given day, putting your head up and saying, “I think it's time for you to go, sir,” is not a great strategy.

And of course, that leads to many, many, many, many days of kicking the can until the point when it is a lot harder and the dangers are a lot greater than they were if you had had that conversation, say, a year ago. Also keep in mind that when Biden first won the election in 2020, became president 2021, literally no one around him thought he was going to run again. So, I mean, they did think this is a one term president. He trounced Trump. there'll be somebody else on the Republican side, probably because he's too old too, Trump is unfit. And Biden will have one term and then it'll go on to somebody else. But of course, if you're unwilling to make those plans on any given day, you end up in a non-optimal place.

And that is where the Democrats are right now. The Republicans are in a non-optimal place for very different reasons. They're also facing someone who they certainly would much rather be running with someone else because they'd have a much higher chance of winning if this were Biden at this age versus Nikki Haley, the likelihood Haley would win would be, I think, a layup or a slam dunk. It's not where we are, even now with Trump, because so many people think that Trump is problematic and for very good reason, to run. But the likelihood that Trump, of course, will be removed, zero. Despite all of that, and he does control the Republican Party to a much greater degree than Biden controls the Democratic Party. And you can say, well, that's unfair. And they aren't the same standards, but, you know, what you would like to happen is not where we are. Where we are, is that Biden is the one that has to make this decision. And it's going to get harder for him over the course of the coming months.

That's it for me. And I'll talk to you all real soon.


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