Could Biden or Trump be replaced as candidates as election nears? What experts say

While the early primary results suggest the country is hurtling toward a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, many Americans believe alternative candidates could be swapped in.

Nearly half of U.S. adults, 48%, believe it’s somewhat or very likely that Biden will be replaced as the Democratic nominee — potentially due to his age and mental fitness, according to a Feb. 15 poll from Monmouth University.

A smaller share, 32%, said it was likely Trump would be replaced, perhaps because of his legal troubles, according to the poll, which sampled 902 people over the phone and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

But, short of being defeated in the primaries, how could Biden or Trump be swapped out?

There are a few scenarios through which new candidates could be named, though they are unlikely and without much precedent, elections experts told McClatchy News.

Joe Biden

Though he suffers from record-low approval ratings, Joe Biden has an enormous lead over his challengers and the full backing of the DNC, meaning he is unlikely to be forced to step aside.

That leaves the possibility of him voluntarily choosing to drop out of the race — which could happen at one of two points, Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University, told McClatchy News in an email.

First, he could announce he is not seeking re-election before the primaries are over, which would throw the nominating contest into chaos.

“If Biden were to announce that he was dropping out today it would be difficult, if not impossible, for other Democrats to get their names on the ballots in upcoming primary states due to filing deadlines,” Leckrone said.

Marianne Williamson, who dropped out in early February, and Rep. Dean Phillips, may already be on the ballots in some states, though, he said.

Newly announced candidates could launch write-in campaigns, but it’s unlikely any of them — at this stage in the election cycle — would garner a majority of the delegates necessary to win the party nomination, he said.

In this scenario, Biden’s delegates, including those awarded in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, would become unpledged and able to vote for whomever they saw fit, Douglas Kriner, a professor of government at Cornell University, told McClatchy News in an email.

“The result would be a full-on open convention with the delegates picking a nominee, potentially over multiple rounds of ballots,” Kriner said.

There is some modern historic precedent for this. In 1968, after a poor performance in the New Hampshire primary, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.

“Senator Robert Kennedy then threw his hat into the race and (Eugene) McCarthy and Kennedy battled each other in a series of primary contests through California, when Senator Kennedy was assassinated while celebrating his victory,” Kriner said.

Then, during the Democratic Convention, the nomination was awarded to Vice President Hubert Humphrey — after a single round of voting, Kriner said.

However, some party rules have changed since 1968, meaning it’s not a direct comparison to now, Leckrone said.

The second possibility is that Biden could announce he is stepping aside after receiving the party nomination, he said. At that point, the party would have to make a determination on a new candidate.

However, “There is no single natural heir to Biden in the Democratic party,” meaning the DNC’s effort to replace him would undoubtedly be tumultuous, Leckrone said.

These possibilities, though, are “extremely unlikely,” David Barker, professor and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, told McClatchy News in an email.

“That said, I don’t know what his health is really like,” Barker said. “It may be worse than we know.”

Former President Donald Trump

Donald Trump, the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP nomination, is also unlikely to abdicate his position voluntarily, Leckrone said.

“The RNC rules state that the nominee can be replaced due to ‘death, declination, or otherwise,’” Leckrone said. “Given Trump’s stranglehold on positions of power within the GOP power structure it seems like a particularly long shot for him to be replaced for ‘declination.’”

However, the criminal proceedings against him could prove to be his Achilles’ heel, Barker said.

Should Trump be convicted in court, he could lose a large share of his support, a January Morning Consult/Bloomberg poll found.

A slim majority of swing state voters, 53%, said they would not vote for Trump if he is convicted, according to the poll.

“I think if he were to get convicted of one of these big crimes he’s charged with before the convention, then the GOP would probably move to choose someone else,” Barker said.

It’s worth remembering that some Republicans tried keeping Trump from receiving the nomination in 2016 through an attempt to add a “conscience clause,” which would have freed pledged candidates to vote for whomever they wanted, Kriner said.

However, Trump — who has been charged with 91 felony counts in four criminal cases — has moved to delay his trials until after the election.

“It looks like none of the trials are going to be done by then,” Barker said, so they appear “extremely unlikely” to affect his chances of receiving the GOP nomination.

This means that, barring unforeseen circumstances — and despite polls showing widespread disapproval of a Biden-Trump rematch — the pair will likely fend off their challengers and face off once again in November.

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