Following a poorly received performance in the first 2024 presidential debate against Donald Trump concerns over President Joe Biden’s mental fitness have intensified among Democrats. The panic has reached a new level, with a Texas congressman becoming the first sitting elected party member to call for Biden to step aside.

As the November election looms, the question arises: Could Biden back out now, and who could replace him? The answer is complicated and depends heavily on Biden’s decision.

If Biden chooses to retire, finding a new candidate would be relatively straightforward. The Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago, scheduled from August 19-22, will officially select the party’s nominee. The Democrats plan to nominate Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris virtually before the convention to meet Ohio’s ballot certification deadline.

Delegates, who are party officials, formally choose the nominee. They are assigned proportionally based on each state’s primary election results. This year, Biden secured almost 99% of the nearly 4,000 delegates. According to DNC rules, these delegates are “pledged” to support the incumbent president.

If Biden voluntarily steps down, it could result in an open convention, where potential nominees are suggested, and voting continues until one candidate receives the majority of delegate votes. This could lead to a frantic contest among Democrats vying for the nomination. Biden, however, has shown no indication of stepping aside.

Political historian Leah Wright Rigueur told BBC News, “If he were to get replaced, part of the negotiation for him stepping down would be that he would get the final say in who replaces him.” If Biden decides to stay in the race, the process could become very complicated. In modern politics, a major national party has never attempted a hostile takeover of the nomination. However, DNC regulations contain loopholes that could theoretically allow delegates to support another candidate.

“It could be an incredibly ugly scenario,” Rigueur added. Experts doubt a revolt among party delegates, but the DNC can alter party rules at any time. Rigueur cited the 1968 shift when President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run for re-election, changing the process from an open convention to a bound process.

Even if Biden were to exit suddenly, conservative groups have vowed to file lawsuits challenging any replacement Democrat’s eligibility for the ballot. Vice-President Kamala Harris would automatically replace Biden if he stepped down during his term, but the same rules do not apply if Biden withdraws as a candidate for the upcoming election.

At an open convention, Harris would need to win the majority of delegates like any other candidate. Despite being on the Democratic ticket, her relatively low popularity might weaken her advantage. According to FiveThirtyEight, her net disapproval is lower than both Biden’s and Trump’s.

The 25th Amendment allows the vice-president and the majority of the cabinet to declare the president unable to perform office duties, transferring power to the vice-president. This clause has never been invoked, but following the debate, senior congressional Republicans called on Biden’s cabinet to consider it. After the Capitol riot in 2021, the Democratic-controlled House urged then-Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to oust Trump, but the move was unsuccessful.

As the political landscape remains uncertain, all eyes are on Biden’s next move and its implications for the Democratic Party and the upcoming election.



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