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The Old and the Dutiful

FiveThirtyEight.com explored a fascinating constitutional crisis scenario that could be more likely to occur this year than ever before. What would happen if a Presidential nominee were to die before the election? You can access the FiveThirtyEight story here.

After all, the 2020 election will likely feature the two oldest Presidential nominees in American history. Donald Trump and Joe Biden, together, are 150 years old. Biden is four years senior to Trump. There’s an eighth-grade math problem in there somewhere, but I’ll save you the time. Biden is 77 and Trump is 73. The average lifespan of an American President is 70. So on one hand, both men are on borrowed time. That number is skewed lower by assassinations, but the average life expectancy of the American male is 78, which doesn’t bode well for the former Vice President in particular.

Throw in the coronavirus pandemic, the fact that both men are in the “at risk” group based at least on their age, and consider their typical exposure to crowds, and there’s cause for worry.

The FiveThiryEight story considered three scenarios of a candidate’s untimely passing:

  1. Before his party’s convention, when the candidate is officially nominated.
  2. After the convention, but before the general election.
  3. After the election but before the inauguration.

In all three scenarios, Mike Pence is either the obvious or likely replacement if President Trump were to prematurely breathe his last. One or two Republicans might throw their hats in the ring if Trump didn’t make it to election day, but it would be an uphill fight, assuming Pence wanted to press on. In Biden’s case, it gets a little more murky.

In scenario one, the timing is critical. If there were still primaries on the calendar, you can bet Bernie Sanders, and maybe others, would crank up the campaign machine and try to pocket some delegates to make a viable case at the convention. If the primaries were already over, and Biden met his Maker in July, all bets are off. In either case, there would be a movement to draft someone who was not part of the massive 2020 Democrat field. Michelle Obama, and of course Hillary Clinton come immediately to mind.

The “Draft Hillary” passion on one side would be rivaled by the cries of “Hillary Killed Joe!” on the other. The right-wing conspirators who have blamed the Clintons for scores of deaths over the years would probably attract some moderate supporters if Joe Biden were to meet an unfortunate demise. There’s enough material there for another story at another time.

In scenario two, if Biden were to bid this world adieu after being officially nominated, but before the election, the cast of characters from scenario one would stake their claim here as well. However, the nominated Vice Presidential candidate would be a legitimate force in this set of circumstances. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) would have the final say. Since they had agreed by this point that the VP nominee was good enough to take over for an aging Biden if he kicked the bucket after the election, they would look like doddering fools (not an unfamiliar look for them if you recall 2016) if they tried to displace her or him.

Scenario three – Biden wins the election, but dies before his inauguration – is the most clear cut. The 20th amendment to the constitution actually addresses this fairly clearly, stating that the VP-elect would be come President. Even in that scenario, it’s not unlikely that someone would attempt a power-grab. You have to wonder how a defeated Trump would react.

A President-elect, a party nominee or even a presumptive nominee (as Biden is today) has never died, which makes it increasingly likely to happen at some point. Given that Biden has been somewhat reluctantly bequeathed by his party, you can bet these scenarios have been discussed by more than just the media, which makes it all the more perplexing that the Democrat party has reached this point. They are casting their hopes upon a man who would be the oldest President in history, and who has demonstrated a noticeable degradation of his ability to coherently speak into a microphone. Biden’s nomination puts his party, and possibly the nation, in a precarious position. It’s arguable that there’s never been more uncertainty nine months before an inauguration as to who would be placing his or her hand on the Bible come January 20. Let’s hope the former VP is adhering to Delaware’s stay-at-home order. Don’t be surprised if Governor John Carney extends it until November 3.

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