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Our monarchical presidency – Washington Examiner

Fourteen days after his disastrous debate, President Joe Biden is still in the race for reelection. Multiple elected Democrats, New York Times editorial writers and columnists, and Democratic Party megadonors — “elites,” sneers the perceptive David Dayen — have called on him to step aside. A secret ballot of congressional Democrats, the procedure under which they choose their own party leaders, would surely go against Biden, probably by a wide margin.

But Biden is staying in. He has strong support from Jill Biden, for whom the Marine Band has been playing a new “Fanfare for the First Lady,” and his son Hunter Biden, and perhaps weaker support from 55% of Democratic voters, according to a CBS poll.

Even though his chances of winning seem poor. In July 2020, the RealClearPolitics average showed Biden running 9 percentage points ahead of then-President Donald Trump, and he carried the popular vote by 4.4 points in November. Now Trump leads by 3.3 points. Do the math.

And things could get worse. That CBS poll shows 72% saying Biden does not have the mental and cognitive health to serve as president. Polling analyst Nate Silver’s model shows him with a 29% chance of winning, the same as it showed for Trump in November 2016, but, as Silver notes, his model’s forecasts “are built from past examples where candidates were capable of running relatively normal campaigns, which Biden isn’t.”

What’s going on here? My theory, which I’ve seen only one other writer, National Review’s Dan McLaughlin, suggest is that people, especially core supporters of the two parties, are increasingly taking a monarchical view of the presidency. In an era of sharp and closely balanced partisan polarization, they feel a strong loyalty to even obviously flawed leaders.

The Founding Fathers didn’t want it this way. Their reference point was Great Britain, which, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, had divided loyalties, between Protestant Dutch- and German-born kings and pretenders with hereditary claims living “across the water” in Catholic France and Italy.

The Founders, with grievances against George III, purposely established a republic with limited powers and revered George Washington for resigning as military commander in 1783 and for retiring from the presidency in 1797 and returning to private life. But the sterling examples set by the Founders, by Abraham Lincoln, and by some 20th-century presidents accustomed many to revere their presidents. Commentators speak of presidents “running the country” even though, most of the time, they don’t run much of the federal government.

In the past generation, Democrats stuck by Bill Clinton through impeachment, Republicans by George W. Bush through Iraq, and Democrats by Barack Obama through the Tea Party rebellion. A somewhat realigned body of Republican voters stuck with Trump while in office and, after what they regarded as kangaroo court prosecutions, in primaries this year against serious competitors, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Democratic voters all but unanimously stuck with Biden in primaries against nominal opposition, and a majority today cling to wanting him to keep running despite diminished powers and dismal prospects.

It’s reminiscent of how 18th-century British Protestants stuck with the German-speaking George I and British Jacobites with the Vatican-based Bonnie Prince Charlie, despite both individuals’ glaring defects.

In one respect, American presidents are more powerful than traditional monarchs. Kings had hereditary successors, with whom they often quarreled but could not depose. American presidents, it is widely conceded all across the political spectrum, choose their vice presidents and, since Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale set a useful precedent in the 1970s, have given them useful work and access to decision-making.

Our system invites millions of voters, 30 million Republicans in 2016 and 36 million Democrats in 2020, to participate in determining whom the two parties nominate for president, and then lets each nominee, just one person, choose someone who might exercise the office for three years and eleven months — as John Tyler did in 1841-45.

Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris poses a problem for liberals who want him to step aside. Her status as a black woman in an identity-politics-addicted party makes it politically perilous to set aside for another candidate, while her failure to demonstrate the policy heft of other post-Carter-Mondale vice presidents leaves doubts about whether she would be as strong a candidate as the pre-debate Biden.

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And how strong was that really? Repeated polling showed that most voters, including many blacks and Hispanics, had a more positive verdict on the Trump presidency than the Biden presidency. And the Pew National Public Opinion Reference Survey released this week,  “perhaps the most important poll you’ve never heard of,” according to New York Times analyst Nate Cohn, reports that Republicans now, for the first time, lead Democrats in party identification.

Liberal elites busy concocting schemes to replace Biden and Harris assume that any respectable Democrat is certain to beat Donald Trump. Maybe not.

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