Biden Could Save The Midterms By Echoing LBJ’s Promise Not To Run


The president most often compared to Joe Biden in our press and punditry is Jimmy Carter. High inflation, foreign policy disasters, and a general sense of hopelessness all fit the bill. But a decade before Carter there was a president who also resembled Joe Biden in many respects, including polling, and whose choice not to run for reelection in 1968 could be an example to Biden on how to save the Democrats in the midterms, and to save his legacy. That president was of course Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Biden and Johnson were both vice presidents for young and historic  presidents, the latter for the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and the former for the first black president, Barack Obama. Both Johnson and Biden were viewed as old guys out of touch with the zeitgeist of the Democrat Party by the time they took over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and both presided over a period of cultural struggle, if not all out cultural war.

Then there are the polls. Leaving out the final year of JFK’s term which LBJ served, if we begin in 1965 after he had been elected in his own name, he started with very high numbers, even for the time. But by the fall of 1967 his approval percentage had dropped from the high 60s down to 38 percent. It was a steady decline that Biden’s fall mirrors, sinking from the high 50s to the low 30s from 2021 through 2022.

Things got so bad that by March of 1968 Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. Less than a month after that Johnson was back at 50 percent from a low of 36 percent. There would be fits and starts in the numbers but he would never hit his nadir again and left office at 49 percent. A line from LBJ’s speech that winter’s night half a century ago helps explain the bounce, “I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the residency of your country.”

Johnson’s announcement did two things. It allowed him to appear selfless in the face of crises all around him like Vietnam, crime, and violent protests, and it also removed him from the political fray. These are both things that would do Biden and the Democrats a world of good as we rush headlong to the November midterms. Biden could even credibly claim that his decision not to run is one that will unify the country, recalling his campaign promise. And though Republican Richard Nixon won the presidential race in 1968, there were no strong coattails and there was no red wave. The net change in the House of Representatives was a mere 5 seats.

Over the past few weeks it appears that Biden’s prospects for running in 2024 are growing dimmer quite quickly. Last week several Democrats in Congress were openly criticizing him, former Obama Senior Adviser David Axelrod said, “there is a sense that things are out of control,” Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has all but declared he’s running, and polling shows that 64 percent of Democrats want another candidate. It really does look as though the writing is on the wall.

The conventional wisdom is that Biden could announce he isn’t running after what most expect to be a red wave election this fall. But if the decision is already made, then it would be an incredible waste of political capital to hold off. There is absolutely no question that the vast majority of the news media would portray a choice not to run as Biden taking the high ground, putting the country above his own personal ambitions.

Meanwhile it would free Democrat candidates from having to constantly defend what might be one of the least popular administrations in history. The president could be off the campaign trail and avoid awkward “scheduling conflicts” with candidates like Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Tim Ryan in Ohio, who don’t want to be in the same zip code as Biden.

Then there is Biden’s own legacy. How differently would we feel today about LBJ had he gone down in an inglorious defeat to Richard Nixon? Even if a solemn announcement that he will not seek a second term doesn’t save the Democrats in Congress from a GOP tsunami, it could help Biden be remembered for something other than his current approval ratings, and Democrats could buy time to decide who will go into the next presidential election.

Saving Congress for the Democrats and saving Biden’s legacy by ripping this page from Johnson’s playbook is no doubt a long shot, but frankly, at this point the second Catholic president may need a Hail Mary pass. It would be a bit shocking if having Biden forgo 2024 before the midterm is not being discussed in Democrat circles. The Democrats have an incredibly weak hand going into November, this may be the best and only card they have left to play.

David Marcus is a Brooklyn based columnist and author of “Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation”

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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