Bi­den should quit the Demo­cratic race now

Give younger can­di­dates space and air to flour­ish

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Peter Funt

Dis­mal re­sults in Iowa and New Hamp­shire didn’t cause Joe Bi­den’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to be­come un­ten­able; they only confirmed it. Many of us who watched him at close range on the trail saw it com­ing months ago. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent’s cam­paign isn’t going to work.

Bi­den, who has served his coun­try hon­or­ably, must now demon­strate — again — what a good man he is. Rather than cling to hope of a re­cov­ery in Ne­vada or South Carolina, he should with­draw now to help his fel­low Democrats find the best nom­i­nee to de­feat Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Even af­ter finish­ing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hamp­shire, Bi­den’s name recog­ni­tion may keep him at or to­ward the top in na­tional polls. Why would any can­di­date with a le­git­i­mate shot at be­ing pres­i­dent quit the race?

It would have to be an ex­cep­tional act of pa­tri­o­tism.

A year ago, Bi­den seemed the ideal can­di­date. He served in the U. S. Se­nate for an in­cred­i­ble 36 years. He with­stood un­think­able per­sonal tragedies and in­spired us all. He helped Pres­i­dent Barack Obama guide the na­tion out of finan­cial cri­sis and en­act a land­mark health care ex­pan­sion. More­over, he’s a de­cent man: the anti- Trump.

Yet we knew going in that if elected, Bi­den would be the na­tion’s old­est pres­i­dent. At age 78 on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, he would be eight years older than the old­est to serve be­fore him — none other than Trump. At the end of one term he’d be 82; af­ter two terms, 86.

At a re­cent CNN town hall, Bi­den was asked about pick­ing a run­ning mate. He replied that “be­cause I’m older, just like with John McCain, I have to pick some­one, if God for­bid some­thing hap­pened to­mor­row … that the per­son is ready on Day One to be pres­i­dent of the United States.” Sorry, Mr. Vice Pres­i­dent, that’s not com­fort­ing.

Wrong man for the mo­ment

Some Bi­den sup­port­ers have been will­ing to cast aside con­cerns about age. But the na­tion has only one pres­i­dent, and he or she is tasked with what is ar­guably the most de­mand­ing job in the world. Sta­tis­ti­cally, Bi­den and oth­ers his age face in­creased med­i­cal and cog­ni­tive risks, as Bi­den seemed to ac­knowl­edge at the town hall.

On cau­cus night last week in Des Moines, Bi­den looked lost as he strug­gled through a speech, with wife Jill at his side. She seemed to hang on ev­ery word, hop­ing a gaffe wasn’t com­ing.

The word “per­se­ver­a­tion” came to mind as I heard Bi­den say “folks” 11 times in just over 3 min­utes. ( Mer­ri­amWeb­ster: “con­tin­u­a­tion of some­thing, such as rep­e­ti­tion of a word, usually to an ex­cep­tional de­gree or be­yond a de­sired point.”) A big deal? No. Just an­other small re­minder that Joe Bi­den isn’t the man for this mo­ment.

In that Iowa speech, he re­minded us, “Four more years of Don­ald Trump will fun­da­men­tally al­ter the char­ac­ter of this na­tion.” Sadly, Trump might have al­ready fun­da­men­tally al­tered Bi­den’s chances.

Trump’s cam­paign against the man he per­ceived as his great­est threat started with the cruel tag “Sleepy Joe” and con­tin­ued into the im­peach­ment hear­ings, as his hench­men made the name “Bi­den” — re­fer­ring to both Joe and son Hunter — om­nipresent. There is no ev­i­dence what­so­ever of il­le­gal be­hav­ior by ei­ther Bi­den, but the stain caused by the pro­ceed­ings is in­deli­ble.

It’s fright­en­ing to imag­ine how Trump and en­ablers like Sean Han­nity would pound away with ounces of truth and tons of lies about the Bi­den fam­ily’s Ukraine un­der­tak­ings. Da­m­age to Bi­den’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign is bru­tally un­fair, yet un­de­ni­ably true.

Clogged cen­ter lane

Even so, why not let the voters de­cide? Be­cause Bi­den is cast­ing a shadow. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ka­mala Harris of Cal­i­for­nia, as well as for­mer Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Ju­lian Cas­tro, might still be run­ning had Bi­den not been a pre­sump­tive fa­vorite among black and brown voters.

Then there’s the clogged cen­ter lane. Those of us who be­lieve that Sen. Bernie San­ders’ wing of the party is not the best bet this fall want to find the strong­est al­ter­na­tive — a pro­gres­sive with level- headed flex­i­bil­ity. For­mer Mayor Pete But­tigieg of South Bend, In­di­ana, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota made good show­ings in New Hamp­shire. They and for­mer New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg are jock­ey­ing for cen­trist sup­port. Bi­den, as long as he stays in, is in the way.

Bi­den back­ers I spoke with across Iowa lacked en­thu­si­asm. Their sup­port for the dig­nified for­mer vice pres­i­dent was al­most per­func­tory, as if Bi­den was the safe, de­fault can­di­date to top­ple Trump. This elec­tion de­mands more.

I hope Bi­den be­liev­ers don’t think I’m jump­ing to an un­rea­son­able con­clu­sion based on re­sults from two small states that aren’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Amer­ica or the Demo­cratic Party. It goes be­yond that, just as it’s about more than gaffes or “Joe be­ing Joe.”

Here’s the deal ( as Bi­den is fond of say­ing): If Joe is re­ally to be Joe, he will again demon­strate his love of coun­try and party by yield­ing to a younger can­di­date with a less en­cum­bered prospect for beat­ing Trump.

Folks, we owe Joe Bi­den a lot, and he owes us a bet­ter chance in Novem­ber. Peter Funt is a writer and host of “Can­did Cam­era.”

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