Calls for the president to step aside are growing by the day.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

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President Biden is facing pressure to drop out of the 2024 race. What should he do?

Project 2025.

In the last few weeks, one of the most popular requests we’ve gotten in Tangle is to report on Project 2025. We have been working on a story, but waiting to finish it until we could interview one of the people involved with the project. That interview finally happened. So, on Friday, we’ll be releasing our story on Project 2025 for Tangle members.


Quick hits.

  1. The Kansas Supreme Court rejected a pair of restrictive state abortion laws on Friday. One law placed restrictions on abortion providers and another banned a common second trimester abortion procedure. (The decisions)
  2. Ceasefire talks are set to resume after Hamas dropped a demand that Israel commit to ending its war. (The negotiations) Separately, Israel reportedly approved the largest land expansion in the West Bank in three decades. (The approval)
  3. France's leftist New Popular Front is projected to win the most seats in the country's legislative elections, shocking pollsters who expected Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Rally to win. (The results) Separately, Iran elected a reformist candidate for president who has called for increased engagement with the West. (The election)
  4. Hurricane Beryl made landfall in Texas, leaving more than one million people without power. (The storm)
  5. Boeing agreed to plead guilty to fraud charges for violating a deferred-prosecution agreement following two deadly 737 crashes in 2018 and 2019. (The plea)

Today's topic.

Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. In the eleven days since President Joe Biden’s widely criticized performance in the first presidential debate, a growing number of donors, allies, and Democratic lawmakers have called on the president to drop out of the race. Several polls released in the last week show former President Donald Trump’s lead over Biden increasing, adding to Democrats’ fears that the president’s reelection effort is failing with Election Day less than four months away (though a Bloomberg poll released on Saturday showed Biden leading Trump in Michigan and Wisconsin for the first time). Biden has reportedly acknowledged that the coming days will be critical to salvaging his candidacy.

We covered the first Biden-Trump debate of the 2024 campaign in a special Friday Edition

Publicly, Biden has been steadfast about staying in the race. “I am going to run and I'm going to win again,” Biden told supporters at a rally in Wisconsin on Friday. The president also said his candidacy reflects the will of Democratic voters, saying, “You voted for me to be your nominee, no one else. You, the voters, did that.” Later that day, he reiterated this message in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, calling his debate performance a “bad episode” but asserting that he was fit to serve another four years and planned to remain in the race.

Five House Democrats have called on Biden to quit the race, while Congressional Democrats are expected to discuss the option at their regularly scheduled meetings on Tuesday. On Sunday, Punchbowl News reported that at least four House Democratic committee leaders said Biden should end his campaign on a call with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (NY). 

If Biden were to drop out of the presidential race before the Democratic National Convention in August, the party could replace him through an open convention, in which delegates from each state would vote for a candidate until one receives the roughly 1,968 required to become the nominee. The Democratic Party hasn't had an open convention since 1968, when incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he wouldn’t seek reelection amid protests and unpopularity. Biden loyalists have pointed to Hubert Humphrey’s loss to Richard Nixon in 1968, as well as the party’s loss in 1952 after President Harry Truman dropped his reelection bid, to argue that the president dropping out would worsen the party’s electoral prospects.

Vice President Kamala Harris is the leading candidate to succeed Biden should he end his campaign. Recent polling shows Harris outperforming Biden in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, and she has a more straightforward path to securing the nomination than any other candidate. If Biden were to drop out and endorse Harris, the party would likely follow suit and Biden’s delegates would be transferred to Harris without needing an open convention. 

No president in U.S. history has dropped their reelection campaign due to explicit concerns over their mental fitness. If Biden were to exit the race, he would do so closer to Election Day than previous presidents who ended their reelection campaigns early: Lyndon B. Johnson and Harry S. Truman dropped out in April, and Calvin Coolidge dropped out the prior summer. 

Today, we’ll explore arguments from the right and left about whether Biden should drop out of the race. Then, my take.


What the right is saying.

  • The right mostly thinks Biden should drop out, with some calling for him to also be removed as president. 
  • Some say the race is still close enough that Biden could weather the storm. 
  • Others say Democrats should push Biden out to salvage the party’s credibility.

In The Federalist, Margot Cleveland argued “invoking the 25th Amendment is constitutional — and Democrats’ best hope.”

“The Democrats’ public struggle session over what to do with the problem of Joe Biden must end. They know, we know, and, most terrifyingly, America’s enemies know that our commander-in-chief is mentally incompetent. As such, the answer is clear, and the Constitution provides it: Joe Biden must be removed from office and the vice president sworn in as president,” Cleveland said. “There is no wiggle room. No ‘wait and see’ if the president can convince the public he is fit for office, whether by choreographed appearances or edited prime-time interviews. Neither spin nor conspiracy theories can alter what the world saw during the debate: Biden’s mental incapacity.”

“With only four months until the general election, Democrats have no good option — but they do have one constitutional one. Ironically, the constitutional option is likely also the best choice, politically speaking,” Cleveland wrote. “By promptly removing Biden from office, Democrats can enter their convention with a sitting president, Kamala Harris, to replace Biden on the ballot. They can then spend the next month and a half focused on a new candidate instead of debating whether to replace Biden at the convention — while attempting to avoid another public display of incapacity.”

In National Review, Philip Klein explored “the case for Biden staying in.”

“Democrats face a huge dilemma going public with their concerns. If they say something and Biden doesn’t end up dropping out, they end up weakening the Democratic nominee and earning the ire of the president. If they do not say anything, they have to spend the next four months answering questions about Biden’s fitness for office, which they cannot vouch for without making themselves look ridiculous,” Klein wrote. “While the argument for Biden to drop out is compelling, if you consider things from the perspective of Biden, his family, and his most loyal supporters, you can start to see why he feels he can stick this out.”

“Biden is losing, but he’s still running against Trump — who is also deeply unpopular. There’s a chance that if Biden rides out the storm and is confirmed as the nominee, the ‘drop out’ talk will subside and the focus will turn to Trump’s liabilities,” Klein said. “It isn’t clear that Democratic voters actually want Biden to drop out… According to at least one poll, Democrats by 66 percent to 32 percent (or a more than two-to-one margin) want him to stay in the race. So when Biden said it’s only the media that wants him out, and not actual voters, there’s data he can point to that bolsters his case.”

The Dispatch editors wrote “it’s Democrats’ turn to make the hard decision.”

“Elected Democrats and their allies in the media have made a habit over the past decade of spotlighting their Republican counterparts’ cowardice, and they’ve been right to do so. Presented with ample opportunities over the years to stand up to the demagogue who hijacked their party and their movement, the vast majority of GOP lawmakers and right-wing pundits opted time and again for political expediency, self-preservation, and the path of least resistance,” the editors said. “But now faced with a collective-action problem of their own, most leading Democrats’ moral clarity has vanished.”

“Democrats have been raising the alarm for eight years about the distinct threat Trump poses to the country and the constitutional order. They were right in 2016. They were right in 2020. And they’re right today. But party leaders are not behaving in a manner consistent with those dire warnings,” the editors wrote. “Admitting that the current situation is untenable—and trying to do something about it—would represent a small act of political courage in an era that is desperately crying out for some… Acknowledging that an 81-year-old man in clear cognitive decline should not be in charge of the most powerful military in world history would be a start.”


What the left is saying.

  • The left is split on whether Biden should remain in the race, but many say he is heading for defeat if he continues.
  • Some suggest Democrats would be in a worse position if they replace Biden.
  • Others say the party should push for a new leader and policy platform. 

In The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote “it’s hard to acknowledge that those who worried about Biden’s age may have been right all along.”

“Until now, Team Biden has been able to dig in because most of those in the world of commentary who have been calling on him to withdraw were those who had already done so so long ago,” Dionne said. “His challenge, however, is not with critics who always underestimated him but with those who have long respected him, liked him — and continue to appreciate the large achievements of his presidency… All this was premised on our confidence that Biden would be able to prosecute the case against Trump effectively enough and give voters the assurances they needed that he could serve successfully if he were reelected.”

“Of course Biden remains hugely preferable to Trump. But reporters aren’t making up the alarm they are hearing from Democratic politicians. Many who worry that his candidacy is unsustainable have been holding back out of esteem for Biden. They can’t do so any longer,” Dionne wrote. “Many Democrats are rightly upset that the news is dominated by Biden’s debate travails, not the profound danger to the republic posed by Trump. For those who admire Biden, the great sadness of the moment is that his withdrawal may now be the only way to move the focus back to where it belongs.”

In CNN, Julian Zelizer said “before Democrats think about replacing Biden, they should remember 1968.”

“Biden’s struggle during the debate worsened preexisting perceptions in the electorate that the president is too old for a second term… But Democrats clamoring for change should also remember that switching the person at the top of ticket might not have the kind of impact they are hoping for,” Zelizer wrote. In 1968, “the party divisions that put Democrats at a disadvantage — then between anti-war protesters and the establishment — did not disappear, instead quickly resurfacing with the new candidate. With Humphrey running as the nominee, the divisions within the party exploded at the 1968 Democratic Convention.”

“Almost 60 years later, the question now is whether a Democrat replacing Biden, whether it would be Harris or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or someone else, would eventually face the same polling problems once the honeymoon period ends,” Zelizer said. “Even with the negative lessons of what happened after Johnson stepped out, Democrats might still be very determined to make this historic decision. But as Democrats move through this crossroads, they would do well to consider the potential limitations of this risky decision.”

In Jacobin, Branko Marcetic suggested “Biden stepping down would be a chance for a Democratic reset.”

“Fears of what might happen if the party replaces its standard-bearer at this late hour — or, more specifically, if it hands the keys to Vice President Kamala Harris — are swirling. They shouldn’t. The reality is that replacing Biden as the Democratic nominee, if not the acting president, would be a significant upside for Democrats, providing a chance for a genuine reset that few parties get in the middle of a failing election campaign and letting them pivot away from the disastrous direction Biden has taken them over the past year and a half.”

“They could do as Biden had done in 2020 and release a bold platform, whose individual policy ideas could be reiterated in speeches, interviews, and press releases, the same way Trump in last week’s debate continually brought every question back to his pet issue of immigration,” Marcetic said. “The Biden administration and his campaign were going in the wrong direction long before his horrendous debate performance, and it would be a mistake for Democrats to think all they have to do now to win is swap out the person at the top. The good news for the party is it has a proven model for victory against Trump, and now has an ideal opportunity to put it into practice and enough time to do it.”


My take.

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  • Like most people who watched the last debate, I think Biden should drop out.
  • There are plenty of reasons for Democrats to want to support Kamala Harris for president over Joe Biden.
  • This week will be crucial, and I hope the president’s team can convince him to step aside.

I'll cut to the chase: I think Biden should drop out.

I was in Portugal during the debate, so I got some time away from the daily buzz to reflect on what happened. A little distance can offer a lot of clarity, and discussing the debate with friends and family on the ground (rather than diving into 72 hours straight of hot takes and news) left me feeling like any other outcome would be untenable — it’s very clear what state the president is in.

In case it’s not, let’s state the obvious part first: Biden does not look well. I don't mean that he appears old or frail, which he does, but his physicality doesn’t matter to me. The physical ailments of aging also come with wisdom and experience, and I cherish the elderly loved ones I’m blessed to still have in my life. I don't even reject the idea of an elderly president; Biden is proof that an 80-year-old can serve as president, travel around the globe, work nonstop, and run a pretty normal White House. But Biden is not merely old anymore. He is forgetful, he loses his train of thought, he is at times literally incomprehensible, and he does not appear capable of doing the most basic political things — like touting his own record on live TV.

I first wrote about Biden’s physical and mental appearance back in June of 2021, when the topic was still taboo enough on the left that a flood of readers canceled their Tangle subscriptions over the piece. Perhaps most jarring about watching the videos I and others used to show Biden’s aging is that those 2021 clips actually make him look good compared to what we are seeing now. I simply don't feel comfortable with the idea of this man running the most powerful nation on earth for another four years — and I don’t know how anyone could. 

We don't endorse candidates in Tangle, and I'm not writing this position from the perspective of someone with a desired outcome in the race. But let me put my "Democratic strategist" hat on for a moment: The Democratic National Convention is over a month away. There is an obvious successor (Vice President Kamala Harris) who could inherit all the cash Biden has on hand, then pick a new running mate. As I said in February when endorsing Ezra Klein's call for Biden to step down, I think this would be a strategically smart thing to do. It would earn untold free media, it would satisfy voters' desire for "anyone but Trump or Biden," and it would introduce some new faces into a contest many voters find all too familiar.

Is it risky? Of course. But Democrats' opponent is Donald Trump, a historically weak candidate with low approval ratings and several toxic positions that alienate more than half the country. Trump lost in 2020. Since then, we had January 6, election denials, his felony conviction, his sexual assault trial and defamation conviction, his fraud trial, his formal indictments from the Justice Department, and the fall of Roe v. Wade, a galvanizing moment for the left. His party has lost nearly every close, competitive election since 2016, while Trump-aligned candidates dragged the party down in the 2022 midterms. Trump should not be a hard candidate to beat, but Democrats are losing the race because they're running a deeply flawed candidate who much of the country thinks is physically and mentally incapable of being president.

So... why not reset the race? A lot of voters haven’t even tuned in yet, and the ones who have will understand why Democrats are pivoting. It may even draw in a lot of voters who are planning to sit out.

Indeed, some of Trump's own advisers seem to know that despite her reputation as an inauthentic, failing-up politician, Kamala Harris would pose a bigger threat than Joe Biden. They know this because it's obvious. Senate Democrats all across the country are polling ahead of Biden, as is the current vice president. Harris, for all her flaws, is a good debater who could go toe to toe with Trump on the national stage in September and prosecute the case against him well. She would immediately recenter the race on abortion and women's rights, winning issues for Democrats. And her tough-on-crime background, which was toxic for her in the 2020 primaries, actually makes “Kamala the cop” well suited for this moment when fears about crime are on the rise and the progressive anti-police movement has lost favor. She could turn the age and fitness question currently thrown at Biden back at Trump, and she could run on her part in Biden's successes while also saying Democrats responded to their voters wanting someone new.

Would Democrats still lose? Maybe! Inflation is still dampening voters’ mood, two major conflicts abroad are making people feel like the world is in chaos, and the southern border — an issue Harris was given the responsibility to handle — is still in crisis. Our country is very divided, voters support Republicans’ positions on lots of issues, Donald Trump had a lot of success pre-Covid, and there might just be more Americans in critical swing states who abstractly prefer a Republican president to a Democratic one. Of course, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is still lurking, adding one more variable that we haven't had in decades to an already unique presidential election. 

Regardless of what Biden does or who Democrats run in November, I have no idea who will win; but I am very confident Harris (or any big name Democrat, honestly) gives Democrats a better chance. After the debates, I thought Biden was still more likely than not to stay in the race. After seeing the sustained alarm, I started to change my mind. Now, with intra-party challenges mounting, I’m increasingly confident Biden will exit the race. Donors are beginning to revolt, and leaders in the House who typically stay in line are turning on him. Reports indicate the pressure campaign is pushing for a decision by the end of the week.

And if they don’t want a month of disarray and an open challenge at the convention, then those close to Biden need to appeal to his better angels: Tell him he served the country for 40 years. He made it all the way to the top and, despite the ups and downs of his time in office, he achieved a few big accomplishments to hang his hat on. He promised to be a bridge to the next generation, and now he should stick to that promise. His legacy can be defined as the guy who beat Trump and took over post-Covid, overseeing a major economic recovery — or as the guy who became the oldest president ever, refused to step aside, and then lost to the man his entire candidacy was built around defeating. 

It's up to Biden now, but this should be the end.

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Under the radar.

A secretive local media network with ties to high-profile national Democratic operatives is attempting to convince regulators in Arizona that, despite the political bias of its stories, it is not a political entity and should be exempt from campaign finance disclosures. The network, Star Spangled Media, operates a series of left-leaning websites like the Morning Mirror and boosts stories from its outlets on platforms like Facebook, but its content is often without bylines and little information about the outlets exist. The network has the backing of the law firm led by Marc Elias, the Democratic Party's high-profile elections litigator. Semafor has the story


Numbers.

  • 6%. Former President Donald Trump’s polling lead over President Joe Biden among likely voters, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.
  • 9.5%. Biden’s polling lead over Trump on July 8, 2020, according to FiveThirtyEight. 
  • +3%. The increase in Trump’s polling lead over Biden among likely voters one week after the first presidential debate. 
  • -4%. The decrease in percentage of Democrats who said Biden should remain the party’s nominee one week after the debate.
  • +1%. The increase in percentage of independents who said Biden should remain the party’s nominee one week after the debate.
  • 74%. The percentage of voters who say Biden is too old to be an effective president, a five point increase since the debate.
  • 2 of 7. The number of swing states (Michigan and Wisconsin) where Biden leads Trump, according to a July poll from Bloomberg News/Morning Consult.
  • +2%. Trump’s overall polling lead in all swing states.
  • 39%. The percentage of swing-state voters who say Biden should definitely or probably continue his campaign, compared to 50% for Trump.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we had just covered the Supreme Court’s ruling on a same-sex wedding website.
  • The most clicked link in Wednesday’s newsletter was the ad in the free version for the Status noise-canceling headphones.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Why did medieval manuscripts show so many knights fighting snails?
  • Wednesday’s survey: 786 readers answered our survey about the Supreme Court ruling on the Grants Pass homelessness law with 60% supporting the decision and outcome. “First one I feel the court got right so far this year... And it's not surprising because they kept their scope and focus narrow,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

Earlier this year, New York City’s public libraries lost $58.3 million in funding, limiting the library’s operational hours as well as a variety of programs and initiatives. In response, New Yorkers sent over 174,000 letters to City Hall, posted on social media using #NoCutsToLibraries, and wrote virtual sticky notes expressing support for library funding. The efforts were successful — funding has been restored to the city’s libraries, allowing them to remain open at least six days a week and continue a host of other programs. The New York Public Library blog has the story


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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.