There is no grand plan to replace Biden

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A week before the CNN presidential debate, I laid out four options for how the rematch between President Biden and former President Donald Trump might go. One was that it would be a terrible night for Biden, to the point of bringing calls for the incumbent to step down as the nominee.

Obviously that was ultimately what happened last week, It was an unmitigated disaster, beyond anyone’s wildest predictions, bringing a perilous and uncertain future for the Democratic Party and America itself.

I noted how the choice made by the Democratic establishment to move the first debate from September to June was, in some ways, strategic. It forced the issue of competency — it would silence critics if Biden performed well, and it would give the party time to figure out a viable solution if he failed.

But I was probably giving the Democrats too much credit. As we’ve seen this week, Biden’s cognitive decline is alarming, and replacing him is a logical necessity. But there is no coordination. There is no strategy. It is glaringly obvious, and a bit shocking, that there is no plan.

This goes for the press, too. The establishment media spent the entirety of the Trump administration telling us what the president was really like behind the scenes — reveling in each dramatic flourish and detail. But during the Biden administration, the media (with the exception of a much-criticized Wall Street Journal report that now seems prescient in retrospect) haven’t seemed remotely interested in what the president is like behind closed doors.

Now that the debate has exposed the reality, the floodgates have opened. The New York Times highlights alarming details about the debate prep, which included Biden starting at 11 a.m. and pausing each day for an afternoon nap. Axios notes that Biden is less engaged and competent before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Politico has the knives out for the “inner circle,” noting that aides were terrified about briefing an irritable and unpredictable Biden.

The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins pushed back this week at the idea the press “knew Biden was this bad and deliberately hid it from the public to get him elected.” That implies that there was some master plan to deceive the public — a conspiracy. In a way, it would be simpler and more understandable if there was some systematic effort by elite forces within government and the press to push a lie on the public about Biden’s cognitive decline, only to expose it all at once in order to force a change in the race.

Instead, it all appears much less coordinated and far more boring. There was no grand plan. Members of the Acela media willfully ignored the obvious, lied to their audience and assumed they could continue that tactic in post-debate coverage. Unfortunately, the debate proved to be a disaster beyond any conceivable spin. And the June runway allowed them the opening to put their weight behind a replacement for Biden as the nominee — and, potentially, the president.

It’s messy and haphazard, and no one is coming across looking like some six-dimensional chess champion.

We are seeing this strange introspection now among some in the press, however. They are pretending that they saw some shocking display last Thursday. These are well-sourced journalists based largely in D.C., who populate the same circles as the Biden crowd. Either all their sources lied to them — in which case they should burn them immediately — or the journalists lied to the public. Whichever path, it’s a dereliction of duty by media that should be serving the public.

That said, there is no master scheme at the center of it all, and the resulting chaos should make that clear. The last week has been clunky and awkward. How could Biden get replaced? Would it be with Vice President Kamala Harris? Would she become president first, and run as the incumbent? Would it be a contested convention instead?

There is no consensus. There is no strategy. It’s flailing and panic — among the media and the political establishment alike.

Perhaps what these forces wanted was to simply cross their fingers and hope no one asked any questions about what Biden was really like behind the scenes, or make too much of a commotion. For a while, this worked. Biden barely did any interviews beyond the occasional sycophantic sit-down with someone like Howard Stern. His team and the media happily dismissed jarring senior moments as “cheapfakes.”

The secret weapon was the threat that any negative coverage of Biden’s age was somehow contributing to Trump’s potential victory, and thus the demise of democracy itself. But intellectual and social blackmail isn’t an effective plan — at least not in the long run.

For Biden’s advisors, who surely knew the truth and lied to themselves and to us, there was never a plan at all. There was no “What if the debate exposes the truth?” plan. There was no “What if we can’t lie anymore?” plan. There was no “What if our buddies in the establishment press won’t carry our water anymore just because Trump is so bad?” plan.

It was all a facade. It was just “grit your teeth and pray.” It was entirely thoughtless. 

So what happens now? Will Biden be replaced as the nominee — or, perhaps, as the president? Who knows. We’re all going to find out together. It’s scary, in a way. But whatever happens in the election, we’ll be okay. It’s actually a bit refreshing to know that the elites are perhaps even more panicked than you and I. 

Steve Krakauer, a NewsNation contributor, is the author of “Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People” and editor and host of the Fourth Watch newsletter and podcast.

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