PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden had one question for Democratic power brokers at a campaign-style rally Friday: “Are you with me?”
The roars of approval and chants of “four more years!” at the Democratic National Committee’s Winter Meeting indicated they were all in for Biden 2024.
Despite lackluster approval ratings, an ongoing classified documents scandal and polls showing most voters would like the 80-year-old to retire, Biden faces zero meaningful opposition to his leadership of the Democratic Party and an unobstructed path to renomination next year, even before he has officially declared his intention to seek it.
During the three-day gathering of elected officials, activists, union leaders, operatives and donors this weekend, serious dissent or discontentment with Biden was almost impossible to find, even after hours at the hotel bar, where alcohol and opinions flowed freely.
“If he wants to run, I think everybody will be 100 percent unified behind him. I mean, maybe 99.9999, but we’re the most unified we’ve been in a very long time,” said Jon Bauman, a California DNC member and president of a PAC that promotes Social Security.
“Eventually, the party’s going to have to move to younger people being in more control, and that’s natural, but this doesn’t feel like the moment yet,” said Bauman, better known as “Bowzer” from the 1950s-style rock and roll group Sha Na Na.
There was no sign of younger Democratic aspirants making behind-the-scenes moves to challenge Biden, nor much evidence of the kind of ideological strife that has cleaved the party so often in recent years.
Prominent supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, were among those cheering loudest onstage next to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris Friday, waving newly printed signs — displaying an updated design introduced last year — that read “GO JOE” on one side and “KAMALA” on the other.
“We feel very very confident in what President Biden is doing and we’re going to support his re-election fully,” said Judith Whitmer, a member of Democratic Socialists of America and former Sanders delegate who won an upset election a few years ago to become chair of the Nevada Democratic Party.
Of course, presidents always run their party establishment, which is not necessarily reflective of rank-and-file voters. But the first signs of real trouble for Biden would likely come from insiders, as was the case for former Democratic presidents like Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter who were pushed out of the White House by friendly fire.
Both past presidents faced Democratic primary threats, with Johnson opting not to seek re-election while Carter won re-nomination but struggled to resolidify the party before the November general election, which he lost.
Outside the DNC meeting, a mobile billboard hired by a small progressive group urged Biden not to run, although the group acknowledged it was struggling to gain traction. Its political director, Sam Rosenthal, said he had spoken with “some DNC members” who privately agreed with their campaign but were “too intimidated to say so publicly.”
Just a year ago, Democratic insiders had no problem displaying their anxiety and disarray.
As inflation rose and Biden’s legislative agenda stalled, up-and-coming Democrats like California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker seemed to be circling the White House like vultures.
But Biden’s prospects turned around dramatically, thanks to the passage of major bills like the Inflation Reduction Act, improving economic news like last week’s strong jobs report, and the better-than-expected results of the midterm election, which Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler called the “proof in the pudding” of Biden’s political strength.
“A lot of people have been pleasantly surprised,” Georgia Democratic Rep. Nikema Williams said of Biden.
It helps that Biden is a creature of the party. Unlike former President Barack Obama, who started his own political group outside the DNC and attended only a few of the DNC’s biannual meetings during his eight years in office, Biden has been to every single in-person meeting so far.
Even DNC members who did not support Biden in the 2020 primary used terms like “wired,” “locked” and “sewn up” to describe the White House’s hold over the party, which is now using to dictate how the 2024 primary will shape up and where its next national convention will be held.
The president is sitting on enough political capital that he felt comfortable taking on New Hampshire and Iowa, booting them from the front of the presidential primary calendar in the biggest shakeup to the primary process in decades. On Saturday, the DNC ratified Biden’s proposal to make South Carolina first.
“This was not the first time the Democratic establishment has pondered whether or not Iowa should remain in the early window, and time and time again, it’s been shot down,” said Mo Elithee, a DNC member who was involved in the calendar rewrite. “People said it couldn’t be done. This president got it done.”
Democrats from New Hampshire and Iowa protested, but knew they had no hope of standing up to Biden — they couldn’t even hold a press conference at the DNC meeting — and were careful not to criticize Biden or suggest he only promoted South Carolina because he did better there than in their states in 2020.
“I am not asking you to vote against the president,” New Hampshire’s Joanne Dowdell told the other 400-plus members of the DNC, “Because it broke my heart to vote against his proposed calendar.”