Who’s Waiting in the Wings if Joe Biden or Donald Trump Drop Out?

THE QUESTION WE GET ASKED THE MOST is what would happen if either Joe Biden or Donald Trump dropped out of the presidential race. Let’s take a look at that issue this morning.

FIRST OF ALL, there’s no sign that either would drop out. We’re hearing that Biden has reacted angrily to reports that Democrats are eager to replace him. The president strongly resists criticism that he’s been ineffective and is too frail to serve another term. The economy is solid, he believes, and he easily handled dozens of details in his summit with Xi Jinping yesterday.

BARRING AN UNEXPECTED HEALTH ISSUE, Biden is committed to running. Despite weak polls and sniping from some Democrats, we think 70% of party leaders support his candidacy, even if the rank and file is lukewarm. The exact opposite dynamic applies to Republicans — party leaders are apprehensive about Trump, while voters love him.

IN ANY EVENT, Trump also isn’t going to drop out; his legal issues have no impact on the party’s base — in fact, Trump’s popularity rises when prosecutors target him.

SO BOTH CANDIDATES SEEM COMMITTED TO RUNNING, as long as they don’t have health issues — and it’s difficult to carefully look at their health and medications, because neither are particularly forthcoming.

THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IS THAT BIDEN may have health and cognitive issues, but an intriguing report in the New York Times last week listed several Trump gaffes, showing his confusion on a wide range of issues. Trump is 77 and Biden turns 81 next Monday. So it’s not irresponsible to ask what would happen if either candidate faced a serious health issue next year.

FOR DEMOCRATS, if Biden bows out, the focus would shift immediately to VP Kamala Harris, who has not impressed political insiders. But she’s been given some no-win assigmnents like immigration reform and — we hear — she has only tepid support within Biden’s inner circle. The very nature of the vice presidency can diminish those holding the job (see: Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, both of whom went on to become powerful presidents).

HARRIS HAS DECENT SUPPORT within two constituencies that are enormous in the party: women and African Americans, but if she can’t overcome the knock on her — that she lacks gravitas — the focus would shift immediately to a half dozen governors, including Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gavin Newsom of California and Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who has plenty of money for a campaign. The party’s rising star, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, probably will wait until 2028 to run.

NOT RUNNING: We get plenty of questions about three other Democrats who might run. Michelle Obama doesn’t like politics and has told friends that she has no interest in running. Hillary Clinton has very little support within the party, and the same applies to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who is itching to run but has virtually no support within the party’s progressive wing.

IF TRUMP SUDDENLY DROPS OUT, there would be an immediate focus on three possible replacements: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and current Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose halo slipped after the elections in Virginia earlier this month.

NONE OF THESE THREE POSSIBLE CANDIDATES would inspire the MAGA right wing, so there would be all sorts of long-shots to succeed Trump, including Kristi Noem, the conservative governor of South Dakota, and the fiercely ambitious Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance. Another long shot would be Donald Trump Jr., who has built a strong following within the GOP base. Ironically, Trump has crushed all opposition, leaving the GOP with a weak bench.

BOTTOM LINE: There’s no precedent for a president who’s over 80, and both Biden and Trump are showing signs of age — still another wild card that makes the next election utterly unpredictable.

Related: The Next Bullish Theme: A Modest U.S.-China Thaw

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