John Stoehr: Betting On Biden

Sometimes it seems as though Democrats are more determined to “fall in love” than to win elections. Lately I’ve been hearing, from both pundits and friends, that Joe Biden is simply too old to run for reelection. This week on Sea Change Radio, we hear from John Stoehr, the Editor and Founder of The Editorial Board, to get his insights into the 2024 presidential election. We look at some of the calls from media members like Ezra Klein and Nate Silver for Biden to step aside, discuss how Republicans are taking a much bigger leap of faith by re-nominating Donald Trump, and counter some of the critics with practical arguments for why the Democrats might want to stick with Joe Biden as their nominee in August.

Narrator | 00:02 – This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

John Stoehr (JS) | 00:17 – We already have a consensus candidate. Joe Biden was the consensus candidate of 2020. He is the consensus candidate Now as the incumbent. You don’t need to ditch the consensus candidate to come up with another consensus candidate. It doesn’t make any sense.

Narrator | 00:35 – Sometimes it seems as though Democrats are more determined to “fall in love” than to win elections. Lately I’ve been hearing, from both pundits and friends, that Joe Biden is simply too old to run for reelection. This week on Sea Change Radio, we hear from John Stoehr, the Editor and Founder of The Editorial Board, to get his insights into the 2024 presidential election. We look at some of the calls from media members like Ezra Klein and Nate Silver for Biden to step aside, discuss how Republicans are taking a much bigger leap of faith by re-nominating Donald Trump, and counter some of the critics with practical arguments for why the Democrats might want to stick with Joe Biden as their nominee in August.

Alex Wise (AW) | 01:28 – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by John Storr. He is the editor and founder of The Editorial Board. John, welcome back to Sea Change Radio.

John Stoehr (JS) | 01:42 – Thanks for having me back. Alex.

Alex Wise (AW) | 01:44 – Always a pleasure to talk to you, my friend. You wrote a piece that was a perfect response to the many people who’ve spoken to me over the last few months, clutching their pearls. Very concerned that Joe Biden is not going to be the nominee, or needs to not be the nominee. Many variations on this, and this all came to a head recently when Ezra Klein wrote an op-Ed for the New York Times, as well as putting it on his podcast, a special monologue where he laid out his plan for Joe Biden to step aside, be a hero, do the right thing, and, and let somebody else run against Donald Trump. You wrote a piece in The Editorial Board entitled Critics Calling on Biden to Drop Out are not thinking it through. So let’s go down this path together and make a collective case for these people who want to discuss the possibility of Joe Biden Stepping Aside.

JS | 02:44 – Right. So we’re to begin with this, um, I think it’s one. Okay. So we begin with why are people worried? Right? And people are worried because, uh, there are many polls, poll after poll that suggest that Biden is quote unquote losing or trailing to Donald Trump.

AW | 03:07 – And similar polls, I don’t know how they phrase them, phrase the questions, but often say, is Joe Biden too old for president? And 86% will say “Yes,” et cetera.

JS | 03:19 – Yes. Right. And so let’s take, let’s take those two questions. Here’s what we do know is that these two questions seem to be related. Uh, so people seem to say that Biden’s too old, and so therefore he shouldn’t run for president, or he’s too old and that’s why he’s trailing Donald Trump. However, those two questions are not empirically linked because they can’t be. It’s a leap of logic.

AW | 03:40 – Yes. Explain that a little bit more. You break that down in your piece quite well. 

JS | 03:44 – Yeah. I mean, it’s just a matter, it is a difference between causation and correlation. You know, you know, if X leads to Y well that’s causation. But if X implies y, that’s correlation. That means that what we do know is that these two things seem to be related and common sense says that they are right. And, and all that, put all that together. And people are very worried, especially people who care about democracy, who have good intentions, who want freedom and opportunity for as many people as possible, so on and so forth, right? So this worry, I would take it to be well intended. However, these things are not empirically linked. And in fact, what I have written in previous pieces for The Editorial Board, is that we will probably see a flip of some kind coming up shortly as more and more people that as people who don’t pay attention to politics, start paying attention to politics. And is specifically the fact that, uh, Donald Trump will be the Republican party’s nominee. I think there’s a kind of disbelief right now among a whole bunch of people, people who do not pay attention to politics, and in fact have stopped paying attention to politics because Donald Trump is no longer the President. <laugh> 

AW | 04:56 – And Joe Biden has been a reassuring presence in the Oval Office. 

JS | 05:02 – Exactly. He’s been, at the very least a competent administrator <laugh>. Right? At the very least, he’s been a competent no chaos. You mean there’s the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and you could put an asterisk there, but otherwise, domestically, no chaos, no anarchy, none of what we saw during the Trump administration, right? So lots of people are just like, no way, the Republicans are not going to nominate this guy. No way in hell they’re going to do it except they are going to do it. And there’s, and eventually we’re going to start seeing polls reflecting this, this bubble bursting, disbelief bursting. This is going to be the choice. Yes, we’re going to have a rematch. Yes, it’s going to be a bad choice for, for a lot of people. They don’t really want it, but that will nevertheless be the choice. And so people will start to, I think, apply common sense and history and caring and so on. All, all the things that people bring to choices that have to be made. And they will, you know, eventually people are going to start thinking, well, okay, Biden might be old, but hell, he doesn’t want to end the end the constitution <laugh>, you know, he, he is not inciting political violence. You know, he’s clearly, you know, he may be the boring old guy, but he’s a safer bet, right? So the polls will probably shift in some degree in, in that regard. 

AW | 06:17 – And, and he’s not facing 91 felony counts. 

JS | 06:21 – Yeah. We haven’t even brought up all that stuff. Right. You know, that said, what I’m just saying is an assumption, right? It’s an assumption that will, the evidence will bear itself out. However, everybody else who’s making the argument that Joe Biden should drop out is basing their arguments on assumptions too, <laugh>. So you have like, you can just pick your assumptions and, and, and, uh, you know, until, until, uh, enough, until there’s enough polling and enough results from, from primary elections, we won’t know empirically what’s what until after all that. So, you know, people like Ezra Klein are saying, the polls are showing that Biden is losing. Well, let’s see, let’s see what happens after more and more people realize that Donald Trump will be, will be the nominee for the Republican party, and then we’re going to see what, you know, if it’s true that Biden is losing. Um, and the other thing too about the, the, the, the connection between his age and, um, his losing is like, those things are may or may not be related either.  

AW | 07:23 – They’re three years apart in age, they could have been in high school at the same time together.

JS | 07:27 – I mean, they’re not that, right? They’re not much different. And, and, you know, here’s what, here’s really, let me just cut to the chase here and just say that here’s what most people, so let’s just say that Biden’s age is a problem, let’s say, okay, let’s assume that it is, assume it’s always going to be a problem. And maybe that’s true, even if it is a problem. Is that a reason enough for Biden to drop out? My argument is hell no, that’s not a good enough reason. And there’s a very simple reason for saying that, and that is that everyone assumes that if Biden drops out, the Democratic party will peacefully come together without disorder, without chaos, have an argument, a debate, and pick a, a suitable nominee who’s going to be strong enough and have enough party union, unity and so on to beat Donald Trump. That my friend, is a staggering assumption that, that the party could produce a strong enough candidate. <laugh>. 

AW | 08:35 – I couldn’t agree more. And, and just to be clear for our listeners, when Joe Biden was running in 2020, he was not my primary candidate of choice. I thought he was not up to the task. But he’s proven me wrong, and I think he’s been an excellent president, and I think he has the wind at his back. In all the typical numbers that we look for in terms of a strong economy, jobs, inflation is down, the inflation reduction act is popular, consumer confidence is up. And also he’s, he has the, the strength of the incumbency behind him as well. But all the discussions that I’ve had with people, one person in particular, a friend of mine from Japan, we’ve been having this discussion for six months now, and every time I go to it, I say, “well, who do you got? Who, who’s your candidate then?” And he’ll just evade that part of the question. And that seemed to be part of the equation that Ezra Klein glossed over too, that like, we’ll get to the convention and Democrats will figure it out and democracy will work itself out. I’m like, are you talking about having a two-month campaign with a new, showing a new face? Maybe it’s Kamala Harris, maybe it’s JB Pritzker. Maybe it’s Gavin Newsom. But those people haven’t gone through the rigorous process of vetting and also don’t have the name recognition as the president of the United States <laugh>, who was vice president for eight years. It seems like the critical question that they just gloss over. 

JS | 10:07 – So for the, because this is radio and nobody can see me nodding my head, I’m going to say, as Alex was going through all of that, I just kept nodding my head over and over and over again, because what Alex is saying is so commonsensical, it is so blindingly obvious, all those, that all those things are true. All those things are assets. All those things are reasons for sticking by this horse, <laugh>, right? Putting your money on this particular horse. It’s, and it’s now, now the problem with this being so blindingly obvious Alex, as you know, is that a Press Corps does not like to talk about things that are blindingly obvious. 

AW | 10:48 – Or boring. 

JS | 10:49 – Yeah. I mean, I don’t mean to sound cynical when I say this, but the most important factor for those of us who are involved in journalism is attention. How do we get attention in All of this can be done in a well-meaning honest, caring ways, right? Like, but we do need to get attention because we do need to make money and have humble, modest livelihoods. So the last thing we want to do is talk about the president today, the way we talked about him yesterday and the day and the week before, and the week before, and the week before. 

AW | 11:20 – You need fresh, hot takes. 

JS | 11:23 – Yes, we need fresh, hot takes, right? And so even if he had a 99% chance of victory, we will be looking for that 1% <laugh> thing to talk about, because that will be the thing that we talk about today that we didn’t talk about yesterday. But what I’m also saying is also blinding obvious that this is just the way the media world works. And so somebody like Biden, who is an incredibly strong incumbent, it is obvious that he should be the nominee.

(Music Break) | 12:04

AW | 12:56 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to John Stoehr. He’s the editor and founder of The Editorial Board. So John, we’re talking about the case against Joe Biden running again in 2024. Ezra Klein had said he should be a hero and, and drop out. I, I kept thinking when I heard that, that turn of phrase that, you know, who’s thought of as being a hero in our pantheon of presidents in terms of older or ailing presidents, Franklin Deano Roosevelt, who ran for a fourth term when he was really incapacitated, won. And then when he died in office, Harry Truman took over and Harry Truman got reelected. And Franklin Deano Roosevelt is not looked at as some selfish, egotistical guy because he ran for the fourth term he’s looked at as one of the great American heroes. 

JS | 13:50 – I mean, you ran for a fourth term because we were in the middle of a war. 

AW | 13:53 – Right? But the case could have been made by Ezra Klein in 1944. Yes. That he should be a hero and step aside for the good of the country. I’m sure there were articles being written back then like that, but he didn’t, and he still thought of as a hero is my point. 

JS | 14:08 – Somebody somewhere made exactly that argument. I have no doubt about that. But going, so you mentioned earlier Klein’s argument about, and how he touches on the convention, and I think this, this is an crucial part that people are not understanding about his argument or about anybody who says Biden should drop out.AW | 14:29 – Before you critique it, why don’t you recap what his argument is about the convention?

JS | 14:33 – Oh, in, in a nutshell, he says that, well, if, if Biden drops out, and then he gives a whole bunch of arguments about how, how and why that should happen, what do you do then? Well, how do you and how you got to pick a new nominee, how do you do that? You do it at the convention. 

AW | 14:46 – In August after all the primaries have occurred, and Joe Biden has won 99.9% of all the delegates because  the voting’s already started too. That’s the other thing where there’s dissonance as well. 

JS | 15:01 – Yeah. And the Democratic voters are making their preferences very, very clear. They want Biden <laugh>. Right. And, and then they, and you know what will happen? So even if you dropped out today, you would know it would happen for the, for, for the forthcoming primaries, a huge section of them would be, you would see people voting for Biden, even though he dropped out. They would just keep voting for Biden. And that particular habit would happen all the way up to the convention where you would have an enormous pro Biden faction going to war with whoever is trying to be the nominee, because they are, they have been and will be continue to be loyal to Joe Biden. Right. And, and such, they’ll go so hard in fact that they’ll, they’ll try to do a draft movement, which is basically something that happened that used to happen at conventions where they would create such an uproar that Biden would say, okay, yeah, even though I dropped out, I’ll put myself back on the slot. 

AW | 15:56 – You know it would be chaos. Right? I remember when my brother sent me the Klein article, I read it and I was like, Klein talks about this convention being a good solution. I was like, last time that happened was 1968. I remember Richard Nixon winning pretty resoundingly then. So that didn’t really work out so well. So that’s what we’re looking at as our template for success. 

JS | 16:16 – Yeah. Again, for this is radio. People can’t see me right now just throwing out my hands. Like this is so obvious. But Alex just said <laugh>, I mean, Klein himself refers to the last convention to decide a nominee in 1968. And yet the disaster of 1968 is not enough for him to say that maybe this is not a good idea. <laugh>, and this is, this is back to my point here that we just assume there’s something about pundits like Klein. They have such faith in the reasonableness, the intellectual foundations behind all the democratic policy positions and so on, as if we’re going to all be nice and calm and rational and come to come to a decision about a nominee for the sake of democracy and defeating Donald Trump. And it’s like, no, actually human nature is still human nature. Whether you’re called a Democrat or a Republican <laugh>, you know, you are going to have people going to war with other people. And because they have an opportunity to secure power, to secure advantage, it’s, it’s, you know, how could we possibly assume that a convention could produce a consensus candidate? Why would we do that when we already, and you mentioned this about 2020, we already have a consensus candidate, Joe Biden was the consensus candidate of 2020. He is the consensus candidate. Now as the incumbent, you don’t need to ditch the consensus candidate to come up with another consensus candidate. It doesn’t make any sense. 

AW | 17:43 – So we’re nodding in agreement and we’re finding it blindingly obvious, but I also think we agree that this is very dangerous and this meme is being exploited by, well-meaning people, one of the reasons that Joe Biden was elected was because he was a calm in the Trump storm. And I think he remains that. But now that they keep injecting his age into that debate, sadly, it’s puncturing that armor of calm in the storm. Sorry for mixing metaphors. 

JS | 18:15 – Well, <laugh>, I mean, his age is going to be a problem whether we like it or not, somebody’s going to make enough people are going to make us stink about it and so on and so forth. But I think it’s, I think it’s just a matter of, um, well, I mean it’s really about odds. I mean, the odds are that I’ve made, I’ve, I’ve said it like this, those who say he should drop out, say he should drop out for the sake of democracy, that we can’t take a chance on somebody so old. Just flip that around and you can make the same argument. We can’t, we, democracy is at stake. Trump is a threat to the constitution and, and individual liberty, and we can’t take a chance on anybody. But Joe Biden, because he has the three things that are needed. He has name recognition, he has the record of achievement, and he has party unity behind him. If you don’t have those three things, you’re not going to win. Um, and, and we’re not even really talking, we’re really, we’re talking about polls and polls are honestly problematic right now, I believe because we’re going through a period of systemic transition where most people, most of the time in the past 40 years took the side of the Republicans. They tended to think the Republicans were more believable in sided with them. I think we’re moving into a period now where most people, most of the time are going to start agreeing with Democrats, inciting them with them on most things. So this transition period, I think results in polls that seem very weird. However, what we do know for a fact is election results. We do know that. And the primary elections we’ve had so far have, have gone to Biden. Hands down, nobody comes even close. Nobody’s looking for an alternative. Dean Phillips, all due respect to him, but he’s not a serious candidate. And nobody, and very few people are taking him seriously. And he’s the most serious of the unserious candidates. Right? So Democrats will continue to vote for Biden because he’s the incumbent, but that’s not, that’s just primary. Look at all, everything that’s come since 2018, right? Since, since the midterm elections in the first and hopefully only Trump administration since 2018, Democrats have been kicking ass. Right? And they just have, and they’ve been kicking ass more since, since Roe went down. 

AW | 20:32 – That’s not nothing. 

JS | 20:34 – No, it’s not nothing. And it’s empirical data that we can, we can, you can be like, yes, this is, this is real. Right? This is not polling, polling is really, you know, hypothetical. So just to be, just be clear, neither of us is a poll guy. I mean, I don’t claim to be a poll person, but the people who do pay attention to polls are noting there’s a di there’s a, a dissonance between actual election results and polling. I mean, just take the, the special election in New York, uh, last week, uh, the one to replace George Santos after he was expelled from Congress. I mean, the polls were, polls were showing that, you know, the Republican candidate was ahead, so on and so forth. And then the Democrat pulls out an eight point, uh, victory. So, I mean, there it is. I mean, and he, and he, and by the way, he was, he was definitely like, Roe is important. We need to get back to protecting women’s bodily autonomy and, and reproductive rights, et cetera. And then he was also, by the way, he was, he was a, a hawk on the border in ways that the Republican was not credible anymore than the Republican wasn’t credible because, because of what’s happening in the us uh, house, I don’t want to get into the weeds there, but it, it’s becoming clearer, uh, that the Democrats are, are getting more credibility with respect to the border than, than Republicans are because the Democrats are saying, we have, there’s a problem and we have a solution. Whereas the Republicans are like, yeah, there’s a problem, but we don’t want to solve it.

(Music Break) | 22:13

AW | 23:07 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to John Stoehr, the founder of The, Editorial Board. So John, I can’t help but think that Democrats are trying to fall in love rather than trying to win that they are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Far too often. And this is a perfect example with wanting to have Joe Biden step aside for some candidate X. 

JS | 23:32 – Yeah. And, and that will be the case until, as I was saying earlier, until it becomes clearer to most people, most of the time that Donald Trump will be the nominee for the Republican party. And once he that’s clear, then that then there will be a choice. Right now, there’s just judging Biden based on whether he is too old or not. Well then once it’s a choice, then people are like, oh, well maybe he is too old, but so what? 

AW | 23:56 – If we’re going to talk about the other side of things. All the polling that I’ve seen, and I know we’ve dismissed polling that we don’t like, but I think that it’s, it’s relevant when you look at the polling of Republicans and Independences asking, would you think of Donald Trump in less favorable terms? If he were to be convicted of a crime, he’s going to be convicted of a crime and he’s going to be on trial for the next God knows how long. So this guy might be too old, but this guy should be going to prison. 

JS | 24:26 – <laugh>. Yeah. I mean, okay, so the whole conversation right now is about the risk that the Democratic party is taking with, with an old guy as the incumbent, right? What we really should be talking about is the enormous, enormous risk the Republicans are taking with an <laugh>, with a candidate who is a fraud, who is an insurrectionist, who is going to be on trial for months now. And by the way… 

AW | 24:52 – A rapist.

JS | 24:53 – Who is proven to be a rapist. Exactly. Right. And he owes hundreds of millions of dollars in a context in which he’s playing footsy with the Russian government. 

AW | 25:05 – We have to consider the risk that Republicans are taking. 

JS | 25:09 – Right? I mean, and very you, very few. That’s, I think that’s starting, that conversation is starting to take place among the Ezra Klines of the world. Is that like, oh, well, we’ve been talking about risk with the Democrats full, well, <laugh>, we, we haven’t really talked about risk with, with Republicans. And you know, the, the thing about the crazy making and the chaos and the anarchy coming out of the Republican party is that continues to alienate people who are just swing voters. And these, these are people who are like, think of themselves as above politics. When you start crazy making and chaos making, it makes people who think of, who think of themselves as being above politics, start to really care more about politics, and they start to make choices that are not in your favor. You know, and this is going to be a problem, I think for the Republicans. 

AW | 25:59 – I agree. And to be clear, John and I are not saying that Joe Biden is about to win 400 electoral votes. We’re in a very tight, bifurcated political country right now. So even when we think back to the 2012 election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I remember thinking Romney did not have a great chance, but the odds maker still had him at like 35, 40% chance of, of winning. And that scared the bejesus outta me. And if somebody said, you know, there’s 40% chance of rain tomorrow, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to bring an umbrella. So we’re not thinking that this is a slam dunk by any means. It’s going to be close and people should get out there and volunteer, knock on doors, register voters, talk to people. There’s no perfect candidate out there. And Joe Biden is the best candidate, though, is I think what we conclude. 

JS | 26:55 – Okay, so one last point about that, and, and that is that there is a whole bunch, there are a bunch of Democrats, who would say it shouldn’t be close, Biden should be winning by a mile. This should and should and should and shouldn’t, should. All this should and shouldn’t. I don’t know why anybody’s saying that. We, we live in this reality. A lot of people like Donald Trump, a lot of people in this democracy don’t like democracy. I mean, that’s just a fact. And this has been a fact since the founding of the Republic. Okay? That’s just the way it is. And, and, and we need to like alter shift our expectations about what we think America should be toward what America really is. And what America really is, is a contest right now between two very different candidates who have an equal chance of, let’s just say an equal chance of winning. And the, and the, and the what’s going to determine things is like you said, normal, everyday partisan politics, get out the vote, raising hell, raising your voice, et cetera, et cetera. That’s what’s going to make the difference. I don’t know why people have these expectations. 

AW | 27:57 – John Stoehr, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio. 

JS | 28:01 – You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me back. 

Narrator | 28:17 – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis, and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by O’Donnel Levy, Gil Scott-Heron and Pete Townsend. To read a transcript of this show, go to stream, or download the show or subscribe to our podcast on our site, or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand, and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.