Republicans float a quiet conspiracy theory that Biden won't be on the ballot

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President Joe Biden announced in April that he is running for re-election. His campaign and its fundraising entities have a combined $91 million in the bank, and he has hired key political staffers to help helm his 2024 re-election campaign.

He has no serious opposition that threatens to kick him off his party's ballot.

So he will obviously be the Democratic nominee for president, right? Right?

Though no incumbent president has declined to seek a second term since Lyndon Johnson in 1969, there is an unfounded conversation among a faction on the political right that goes something like this: Democratic power brokers will intervene at the last minute to replace a weakened 80-year-old Biden with someone else as the party’s nominee.

“So here’s the scenario that I think is perhaps the most likely and most dangerous,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on his podcast last month. “In August of 2024, the Democrat kingmakers jettison Joe Biden and parachute in Michelle Obama.”

“I view this as a very serious danger,” he said.

“Right now the thinking among Republicans that I know is that he may be the initial nominee and they swap out somebody else at the [Democratic] convention,” said Cynthia Yockey, a 69-year-old from Fairfield, Iowa, who voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. “Because that will let the real leaders of the party, of the Democratic Party, to make the decision instead of the people.”

The idea, centered largely on the thought that Biden is too old and not sharp enough mentally, is that there's a secret plan to replace Biden due to his health or other reasons by amorphous illuminati-type forces within the Democratic Party. It is not a mainstream thought within the Republican Party, but it has maintained a persistent foothold among a relevant chunk of the GOP base taking their cues from some party officials who continue to toy with the idea.

"I feel like they’re grooming someone, and we all know it’s not Kamala [Harris]," Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, told the "Ruthless" podcast last week. "So I think they [Democrats] have a backup plan because every time I listen to the current president speak, I’m like, 'Is this getting harder?'"

Kevin Munoz, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, replied that “Republicans peddling blatantly false conspiracy theories is nothing new — it’s easier than telling the truth about their election-denying, abortion-banning, and Social Security-cutting platform. These sources would also have you believe we faked the moon landing and that Tupac is hanging out with Elvis on an island somewhere in the Caribbean."

"These lies don’t change the fact that Joe Biden will again beat MAGA Republicans and their twice-rejected agenda in 2024 as his party’s nominee for president," Munoz continued.

Concern over Biden’s age affecting his ability to do the job has been a hot topic of conversation on both sides of the aisle. An August Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 77% of respondents said Biden is “too old” for a second term, a number that includes 69% of Democrats.

The same poll found that just 51% of the U.S. adults surveyed thought GOP front-runner Trump — who is 77 years old, just three years younger than Biden — was too old to “effectively serve,” a number that included 48% of Republicans.

There has been little consideration by Democrats of an actual primary challenge to Biden. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., has publicly signaled he could mount a primary challenge to the president, saying it’s time Biden “pass the torch.” The murmurs, however, have been largely brushed off by both political observers and the White House, which has said Phillips is undertaking a vanity project.

But for conservatives who subscribe to the notion that Biden will not be the Democratic nominee, it’s not Phillips who is generating buzz, but rather names like former first lady Michelle Obama and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom is getting renewed attention this week after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Newsom’s office said the meeting focused on “the climate crisis, and how critical China remains in the world’s effort to reduce pollution,” but the trip predictably quickly became grist for those who see Newsom waiting in the wing.

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said he also saw the trip as political after it was announced last week.

"Let’s be honest, what this is," he said in Iowa City. "The man is running for president doing it and doing it in disguise doing it with a track record state that is more disastrous by the day."

Newsom, who has said he fully supports Biden as the Democratic nominee, is also set to do a November debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who agreed to the event as his campaign was quickly losing ground to Trump.

Former first lady Michelle Obama at the opening day 2023 U.S. Open (Jackson Lee / GC Images file)
Former first lady Michelle Obama at the opening day 2023 U.S. Open (Jackson Lee / GC Images file)

“By agreeing to debate DeSantis, Gavin Newsom is really drawing himself into the presidential conversation,” Republican operative Ryan Rhodes said. “Despite what he is saying, he is maneuvering for a potential push or possible convention floor fight.”

“If they’re going to do it — the actual power brokers and backrooms and power structure would not want to bring this up until next year in the spring until it’s too late for someone to jump in and it has to go to a convention fight where superdelegates control the process,” Rhodes added.

Still other prominent Republican voices point to Michelle Obama as the person Democratic heavyweights truly want to replace Biden ahead of the general election.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who also unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2022, wrote on X last month, “Don’t be surprised ... I still say it’ll be Michelle O … Biden’s out.”

Spokespeople for Newsom and Obama did not return requests for comment.

In July, longtime Republican operative and Trump ally Roger Stone told the audience at a Turning Point Action conference that “the Democratic nominee for president will be Michelle Obama,” a comment that was received with a chorus of boos. Stone confirmed to NBC News last week in a text message he still believes Obama will be the Democratic nominee.

There has been no indication Obama wants to run for president or any other elected office, but the discussion about whether she, or others, could be shoehorned into the nomination by national Democratic leaders continues to permeate throughout portions of the GOP base.

“I think there are Democrats that would love to do that,” said Steve Kirby, who worked as a law enforcement officer in California before retiring and moving to Iowa. “I don’t know exactly how they would do it without antagonizing a lot of their constituents.”

"Democrats do a much better job as a party of lining up behind candidates," added a GOP strategist who requested anonymity to speak freely. "In this case, they are lining up behind Biden with plans to replace him once Republicans have selected their nominee."

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