Democratic donors divided on what comes next, buying Biden more time (2024)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has benefited from frustrated Democratic donors and elected officials failing to rally behind a single plan for replacing him, but that may be changing.

Biden, who stumbled badly last week in a debate with former President Donald Trump and has struggled to clean up the mess, remains popular among fellow Democrats. But many of the party’s top donors are worried that the 81-year-old president’s frailties will frighten enough voters to ensure that Trump wins the White House in November.

Some Democrats would like Biden to stay in the race. Others want him to step aside so that Vice President Kamala Harris can become the party’s nominee. A third set believes the nominee should be someone else — or at least that there should be competition for the spot.

That fundamental disagreement has contributed to paralysis within the party, buying Biden more time to try to reassure his allies. But he hasn’t been able to do that yet, and the public and private calls for him to vacate the nomination, regardless of who would replace him, have been growing in number and intensity.

“Donors are done,” said one Democratic lawmaker who believes Biden should step aside but has so far avoided saying so publicly.

Another donor said that Biden’s performance in a one-on-one interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that is due to be aired Friday night would be a major test to see if the president can hold back a deluge of defections — even though the donor already has reached a conclusion.

“He has to get out of the race,” the donor said. “If he keeps dragging this out, they’ll be angry at him.”

The Biden campaign, however, noted that it also had some donors give the maximum contribution amount since the debate.

A Democratic donor who has hosted events for the campaign said they "completely understand" why people have reservations about sticking with Biden, but “we just have to keep pushing ahead."

The donor added that only Biden can make the decision about whether to step down, and it was "not going to happen because donors said he should step down."

If Biden chose to end his campaign, Harris would likely be able to use the money he’s raised — a significant legal hurdle for any other candidate — and many Democrats believe that elbowing aside a Black woman vice president would harm the party in November and possibly in future elections.

Democrats haven’t yet coalesced around her or anyone else as a replacement for Biden, but there’s a gathering sense that Biden is on his last legs politically.

“The consensus forming is that he has to drop out,” said one longtime Democratic donor who wants Biden to do that sooner rather than later. “Democrats risk historic losses if he stays.”

The fear that he could weigh down the party’s House and Senate candidates is part of the reason party operatives say that some donors have decided to redirect their giving away from Biden and to congressional campaigns.

One contributor pulled down a planned fundraising event after the debate, and the Biden campaign’s goal for an upcoming Texas event has been cut nearly in half, according to a leading Democratic donor.

There’s plenty of evidence that his contributors are already steamed.

One money-bundler said he had fielded more than 50 donor calls since the debate where they expressed deep concern over Biden’s condition at the debate and wondered what else they did not know.

This person said he wasn’t sure what to think of Biden’s mental capacity but grew acutely concerned after The New York Times reported that the president himself told allies he was trying to decide whether to exit the race.

“It changed, I think, a lot of people’s minds … When he says he’s weighing getting out, Oh my God,” the bundler said.

White House staff has vehemently denied that report, calling it false.

A major donor who was on a Biden campaign national finance committee call following the debate said Biden lieutenants admitted they needed to do more to show the world how he’s being president. This donor thought staff wasn’t understanding the gravity of the moment then and is seeming to get it now.

The person also said there’s an inherent dishonesty to politicians and donors who are now panicking over Biden’s age and public meltdown.

“This wasn’t a cover-up. People have been dealing with the president for three years. He’s done events for the f*cking donors. The donors — all of you guys can go f— yourselves. You’ve spent time with him. There’s no way I believe this is the first warning sign that Hakeem Jeffries, Chuck Schumer or anyone saw … There’s been whispers about this for three years. This isn’t some grand conspiracy. He’s 81 years old. But everyone was willing to look the other way.”

Noah Mamet, a Biden campaign donor and fundraiser, said the president's rally in Wisconsin on Friday — when he said he was "staying in the race" — was helpful at calming the waters.

His speech helped calm a lot of donors and activists and remind them of the immense stakes in this election and why Trump is an existential threat to the country.

Only Biden can decide the fate of his candidacy, but some Democratic Party operatives, lawmakers and donors believe that a mass movement among givers and elected officials would effectively force his hand.

“It appears inevitable that the president will want to step down,” said Bill Harris, a Miami-based donor and the former CEO of Intuit and PayPal. “He has a tremendous love of this country and a tremendous fear” of what a second Trump term would bring.

Through a political action committee, Democrats for the Next Generation, Harris is offering to put up $2 million to underwrite a debate or a series of debates among potential Biden successors.

While some Democrats are looking forward, others are furious at what they see in the rearview mirror.

“The mistake happened two years ago. We’re dealing with it now,” said one Democratic strategist who criticized the party for letting Biden capture the nomination without serious opposition.

“We’re in this situation because of cowardice from two years ago, because of f------ vanity from two years ago, and it’s too bad. Selfishness from two years ago,” the strategist said. “It was all happening so slowly, the freaking frog in the pot. Like we knew it was happening. We just never took action.”

The questions now are whether and when Biden will take himself out of the race. He and his aides insist that he won’t leave.

But one money-raiser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive political matters, said he hasn’t seen anything like the ongoing crisis since the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Even then, he said, Democrats he was in touch with weren’t calling on Clinton to resign.

He said he isn’t calling on Biden to walk away from the nomination, even though he believes Vice President Harris would stand a better chance of defeating Trump.

“I’d rather take my chances with her,” he said. “She doesn’t have the age or cognitive issues” and might perform better with Black, women and independent voters.

A donor who has hosted events for Democratic candidates for years said he thinks Democrats would have “an opportunity” to show democracy working if they held an open convention to choose a Biden substitute, and that this situation could “net out into a positive” for the party.

"This guy’s had a great run and should bow out with class," the donor said.

Jonathan Allen

Jonathan Allen is asenior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.

Natasha Korecki

Natasha Korecki is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.

Carol E. Lee

Carol E. Lee is the Washington managing editor.

Peter Nicholas

,

Ali Vitali

,

Scott Wong

and

Monica Alba

contributed

.

Democratic donors divided on what comes next, buying Biden more time (2024)
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