Biden 'dug in' as Dem calls to drop out rise

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When President Biden sat down on Friday with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos for the high-stakes interview on the heels of his disastrous debate performance, he was adamant about one thing in particular: He’s not going anywhere.

“If the Lord Almighty came down and said, ‘Joe, get out of the race,’ I’d get out of the race,” Biden said. “The Lord Almighty’s not coming down.” 

Behind the scenes, Biden has remained steadfast despite the growing number of Democrats calling for him to stand down, telling key allies that he’s the best candidate to not only beat former President Trump but to save democracy. The proof, he says, is in the last three and a half years. And his 2020 campaign. Not to mention Trump’s surprise defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden has told allies for years that he could have won that race. 

And while his critics have said he’s leaving a lot to chance, Biden has maintained the opposite position: Handing the baton to another Democrat is a risky proposition. 

“He believes in his core that he understands the electorate and where Americans are and that he’s the one to do this, to win,” said one key Biden ally who has spoken to advisers in the president’s small inner circle. “He’s dug in.” 

People in Biden’s circle “understand the severity of the moment they’re in but they also believe it will pass, just as other moments have come and gone,” said one former administration official.  

Biden allies concede the situation could become untenable, especially as Congress returns to Washington this week. On Sunday, at least four senior House Democrats said privately on a call that Biden should drop out of the race.

Sources said Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee; Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee; Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee; and Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the Administration Committee, all said Biden should step aside. 

The Democratic lawmakers joined five other House members who had called on Biden to withdraw, along with several editorial boards and a string of prominent columnists. On Sunday, David Axelrod, who served as a senior adviser to former President Obama and has frequently shared doubts about Biden’s viability, said the president “is not winning this race.” 

“If you just look at the date and talk to people around the country, political people around the country, it’s more likely that he’ll lose by a landslide than win narrowly this race,” Axelrod said on CNN. “And if the stakes are as large as he says, and I believe they are, then he really needs to consider what the right thing to do here is.”  

Those close to Biden’s inner circle say the president is completely vested in staying the course and is taking the same approach as he did during the 2020 primary race, when everyone was counting him out as he lost early primary contests.

“He remembers what happened and how it all played out. He remembers better than anyone,” said one longtime Biden aide. “How many of them counted us out.”

Democratic strategist Steve Schale, a longtime ally of the president who also helped run Obama’s Florida operation, called Biden “one of the most consequential, if not the most consequential, presidents of my lifetime.”

“If you were to take his age out of the equation, no one would be arguing that he should drop out of this election,” he said.  

Besides the breadth of his experience, Schale said, there’s also a practical consideration to keep in mind: “We’re 120 days out, and trying to stand up another campaign in that time is really hard.” 

“This isn’t managing your fantasy politics team, and this isn’t a ‘West Wing’ episode,” Schale said. 

Over the weekend, the Biden campaign and its allies pointed to a Bloomberg poll showing the president leading Trump in the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin. The survey also shows Biden within the margin of error in states including Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina. 

After criticism from Democrats that Biden was largely absent from the campaign trail last week, Biden has sought to show supporters that he’s fighting back, stumping in Wisconsin on Friday and Pennsylvania on Sunday. 

While speaking to supporters at a campaign office in Philadelphia, one woman said “We need Dark Brandon back,” referring to the meme aimed at projecting strength. 

“Dark Brandon is coming back,” the president said. 

In an ironic way, one Democratic strategist said, Biden’s situation is similar to the one Trump faced in 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape came out, revealing that Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. At the time it caused turmoil within the Republican Party, as one-time allies sought to distance themselves from the GOP nominee. There was talk then about Trump dropping out of the race.

“It’s the same dilemma, with a different party,” the strategist said. “Really it comes down to ‘flawed candidates.’ And as Democrats we care about purity and being right and the moral high ground. And I get it, there’s definitely a lot of reasons for dropping out, but there isn’t a forcing mechanism to get him out.” 

The same strategist also said Biden could still be the best candidate for Democrats in the fall.

“There’s a lot of shorthand here and all of this is a lot messier than people want to admit,” the strategist said. “But I don’t know if any of these other potential candidates are a slam dunk. I’ve been more confident about other things. But we do know who we’re getting with Biden and there’s something to be said for that.” 

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