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How Operation Ditch Biden Could Start Up Again After the RNC
By Philip Elliott
Washington Correspondent, TIME

Democrats who have spent the last three weeks looking for an off-ramp from Joe Biden currently find themselves on a dead-end street and no clear path out of it. The support among the party’s leaders to push the President off the ticket are not there, at least at this hour, and the sentiment seemed to have petered out at the end of last week.

But the effort could quickly get a recharge if the Biden bashing at this week’s Republican convention is devastating enough to set liberals panicking again. Once the RNC has wrapped up, two key events on Friday and Sunday could reveal whether Biden’s fight to hold on to his nomination is truly over or not.

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee’s powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet to take one last look at the technical aspects of how the delegates will select the presidential nominee. As of now, delegates awarded to Biden are, under most readings of the rules, left with no choice but to back him on the first ballot, thus guaranteeing him the nomination. Biden has said they should vote their conscience, but Biden cannot unilaterally make their call without a corresponding shift in the DNC byzantium.

And on Sunday, the Committee on Credentials is set to meet to finalize who gets to access which parts of the convention floor during the Democrat’s confab in Chicago in August. It is but one way to make sure rabble rousers can’t join a floor fight for the nomination.

Those are both small pieces of the political machine, sure. But ones that may end up mattering if the GOP convention this week turns brutal for Biden. And when former President Donald Trump formally accepts his party’s nomination on Thursday, it will have been less than a week after he survived a harrowing attempt on his life. If Trump manages to meet the sobering moment with humility and to offer calls for unity amid acrimony, expect the hand-wringing over Biden to get more noticeable in a hurry.

For now, the toxic—but limited—fight within the Democratic Party seems stuck in neutral, with neither side quite sure how it will get resolved. But Saturday’s attempted assassination of Trump all but guaranteed shifts in the race that pundits, strategists, and voters still have not fully grasped. And Trump’s selection of 39-year-old Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio as his running mate suggests the ex-President is making a hard push to break Biden’s defensive Blue Wall in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and maybe even Minnesota.

For his part, Biden has insisted he would not step aside unless his aides showed him an unwinnable race, and so far none has. But things were tough even before Trump survived an assassination attempt, and a week of GOP invectives at Biden are not going to help.

To be sure, of all the Democrats in Congress and those serving as Governors, just 7% have called on Biden to step aside. Yet that number is higher, according to what many of them are saying privately. The problem is that they lack a common plot for who would take the top gig and if she or he fares any better; Biden is known, whereas any substitute would lack the familiarity.

Biden’s defenders—and those who remained on Team Joe did so with sincere belief in his chances—have reasons to keep him in the race. After all, while plenty remain worried about the down-ballot impact of his remaining the nominee, he’s not exactly a drag everywhere. In the aftermath of the debate disaster, some of the Democrats’ biggest donors doubled-down on their pledges to Senate candidates. Several new six-figure donors have emerged in recent weeks, according to a national Democrat with direct knowledge of the Senate races; one existing major donor bumped up their pledge by 50%. The party’s official campaign arm had its single best month of major donor fundraising in June since 2008, the source tells TIME.

Part of that was due to the debate but strategists also credit the end-of-term Supreme Court decisions that potentially gave Trump immunity. With the Court so clearly a piece of the Senate’s mandate—and coming on the heels of Dobbs, which ended a federal right to abortion—the stakes were easily tapped for Democratic fundraisers.

Strategists for Senate Democrats also take heart that in 46 of the 47 polls that have been put into the field since Biden and Trump effectively clinched their parties’ nomination, the Democratic frontrunner or nominee has fared better than Biden. Of those 47 surveys, the Democratic and Republican candidates were tied in just two, with Dems leading in all of the rest. The margins are between two and four points.

Yet Democrats at large remain uncomfortable with the current paralysis. Just 33% of them are satisfied with the presumptive nominee. Among Republicans, 71% of them are satisfied with their nominee, according to new NBC News polling.

But by Monday, you could feel some of that confidence wavering. Given the programming expected in the coming days, and how much is likely to dwell on the sitting President’s competence, it’s a safe bet that even Biden’s biggest backers may find themselves asking again—even briefly—if “riding with Biden” is the best bet for the party.

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