Trump and Biden won’t step aside — the parties must make them do it. 

A chronicle of Donald Trump's Crimes or Allegations

Trump and Biden won’t step aside — the parties must make them do it. 

We all know that the Trump-Biden debate exposed the limitations of President Biden, and that Donald Trump has problems with the truth. Since then, several Democratic lawmakers have called for Biden to step aside in favor of someone who can better articulate the party platform and provide a more robust figure for voters to rally around and support in the general election against Trump.  

Not surprisingly, over the past two weeks, Trump has remained uncharacteristically quiet and subdued. From his point of view, there is no need to disturb the internal bickering and conflicts among Democrats, when he can just let them self-destruct in a manner that weakens Biden (and anyone who takes his place for the nomination).

A poor performance in one debate should not disqualify Biden from continuing his campaign, no matter how weak he appeared. What should be most disturbing for the incumbent president, though, is the public debate that is consuming the attention between his supporters and detractors. The longer such debates continue, the better positioned Trump will be to win back the White House in November. Party conflict and squabbling does not win over moderates and undecided voters.  

Biden has many supporters. Yet the White House will not be won in blue strongholds like California and New York. It will be won by the margins in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin.  

In 2016, less than 110,000 votes in three states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania) gave Trump the White House over Hillary Clinton. In 2020, less than 50,000 votes in three states (Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona) gave Biden the White House over Trump. There is every reason to believe that the outcome in 2024 will be similarly determined by a handful of closely contested states that will only be revealed after the fact.  

Pundits on the left recognize that there are risks in Biden stepping aside at such a late date, less than four months before Election Day.  

Analytically, two of the 13 Keys to the White House would flip against the Democrats (Key 3: incumbency; and Key 2: contested nomination), giving Republicans yet another push forward. How a Trump victory would trickle down to Senate, House and local races remains to be seen, but it’s something that most certainly should concern all Democrats running for office this fall.  

The biggest question for Democrats is who would be best suited to take the nomination. Numerous names have been put forward, including Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, to name just a few. Even Michelle Obama has been discussed as a possible candidate, although she has indicated no desire to enter this or any other race. Accepting the nomination at this late date would be a challenge for anyone, which makes a strong case for keeping Biden as the nominee.  

Yet it is not analytics or opinion, but voters that determine who will win the election.

Trump is in a uniquely favorable position. All he needs to do is stay in the shadows, allowing conflicts among Democrats to create the perception of confusion that may push a few voters over to him in some key states. 

Of course, Trump’s time will come. His legal problems will once again become a focal point of discussion as the campaigns winds toward the finish line. The recent  Supreme Court ruling may give him immunity from certain charges against him; it does not, however, change the actions he took, even if there are no legal consequences associated with them.  

Both Biden and Trump are flawed candidates. Replacing Biden has tremendous risk for the Democrats. Sticking with Trump has its own set of risks for Republicans, given his high floor and low ceiling of support.  

The scenario that serves the best interests of the country is that both Biden and Trump be replaced by more capable and acceptable candidates. Replacing Biden would be a first step toward achieving this. Replacing Trump appears far less likely, but with legal landmines awaiting him, anything is possible.  

In a nation with nearly $35 trillion of national debt held by the federal government — or over $100,000 for every person — and out of control year-over-year budget deficits, perhaps it is time for our elected officials to do what they are elected do to: serve the interests of the people who put them into power. Indeed, putting country over party would be a good first step to achieve this. And the best way to demonstrate this priority is to nominate two new candidates for president.   

Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A data scientist, he applies his expertise in data-driven risk-based decision-making to evaluate and inform public policy.