‘Step Aside Joe’ Campaign Underscores Risks for Democracy as Biden Runs for Re-election

Interview with Jeff Cohen, co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org, conducted by Scott Harris

Former twice impeached President Donald Trump, who already faces 34 felony charges in New York in the hush money adult film star case and 40 federal felony counts for mishandling classified documents, was charged on Aug. 1 with four counts in a second federal indictment for his attempt to overturn the will of the voters in the 2020 presidential election that ended with the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Despite being the first former president to face criminal charges in U.S. history, Trump is wildly popular with Republican voters, and is on track to be the GOP’s 2024 presidential candidate.  Although Trump and much of the Republican Party has embraced an explicit white supremacist and anti-democratic agenda, recent polls find that President Joe Biden is in a virtual tie with the former disgraced president, highlighting a lack of enthusiasm among many voters. A late July New York Times/Siena College poll found that 50 percent of Democratic-leaning voters want the party to nominate someone else, as Biden’s approval ratings remain low.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Jeff Cohen, founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and co-founder of RootsAction.org. Here he discusses his group’s ‘Step Aside Joe’ campaign that underscores the risks for democracy as an unpopular Joe Biden runs for re-election – and pushes for Democrats to choose a stronger 2024 presidential candidate.

JEFF COHEN: The Republican party leadership and base very much seem like a neofascist party. You know, I’m a media critic and a media monitor. I watch Steve Bannon’s program almost every day. I’ve been watching Fox News for about two hours this afternoon. I monitor the right-wing. They are a threat. It’s worse than it’s been in decades. The last time we had an open white supremacist running for president was George Wallace and he didn’t get that far.

But here you have that kind of ideology, that kind of phony populism scapegoating immigrants, scapegoating people of color. You have that now in the leadership of the Republican party and especially in the frontrunner, Donald Trump. So the situation is absolutely dire. And the reason we started the DontRunJoe.org campaign, which is now called StepAsideJoe.org is you see the threat, which is that this Republican party cannot be allowed to take the White House again.

And it’s our belief that Joe Biden can’t win. And part of the reason he can’t win is because some of the most important activists that delivered the election for Joe Biden in 2020 over Donald Trump and RootsAction was involved in Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, three states that we won.

You know, with a Vote Trump Out campaign, some of the best young activists are climate activists and Joe Biden has gone in reverse. He’s now expanding oil drilling in the Arctic, Alaska. He’s expanding oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. He’s expanding exports of liquefied natural gas. The Democratic leadership to shove-through this mountain valley gas pipeline for Joe Manchin, mostly in West Virginia. He’s gone in reverse. And it’s almost as if the Democratic party leadership doesn’t care about social justice activists anymore. It doesn’t care about Green New Deal activists, doesn’t care about climate activists, because that to us amounts to almost voter suppression when you take an issue that’s so important to millions of your voters and you go in reverse.

You know, we have not given up and we really believe that if there’d be enough bravery within the Democratic party leaders in these individual members of Congress to give anonymous quotes to mainstream reporters about how they fear that Joe Biden can’t win. If just one of them or two of them or three of them would speak out and say what we’re saying, which is Joe Biden’s candidacy is very, very risky. And that a more dynamic, more vigorous, more progressive candidate would do so much better at defeating this white supremacist neofascist threat represented by the Republican party.

And we believe if Biden did step aside, immediately there would be members of Congress, senators, governors, throwing their hats into the ring. There’s nothing wrong with a party calling itself the Democratic party having a Democratic debate and having an open primary process.

And as we learned back in 2020, there was an open process — so many candidates for president that they couldn’t fit on the same stage for debates. But at the end of that very open process, everyone, including non-Biden supporters, we all rallied behind the Democratic party candidate and defeated the right-wing. And that, we believe, could happen again.

SCOTT HARRIS: Jeff, we’re told that this election coming up in 2024, that democracy itself is at stake, with Trump pledging to centralize authority in the executive branch if he should win. And vengeance and retribution being the centerpiece of his second administration. Understandably, people want to rally around Biden because a Trump presidency is unthinkable. And that’s the rationale, as you said a moment ago.

JEFF COHEN: But why not rally around someone who’s strong, someone who’s who’s really out there fighting for us? Why not open up the process and rally around whoever wins through that process, rather than having Biden imposed upon us? Again, the polls are consistent. Democrats want a different candidate and yet you have the Democratic party leadership and the Democratic National Committee saying, “No, you’re getting Joe Biden and there’s no alternative to Biden.”

That’s not the way to defeat the right-wing. Everything I’ve said to you, Scott, is how do we prevent Trump from taking office again in January 2025? That’s uppermost in our minds. And we believe the data. I could quote you poll after poll after poll that shows that Biden could be in deep trouble even with this whacked-out, fanatical, narcissistic neofascist Donald Trump as the alternative.

We think we have two months, maybe three at the most to convince Biden to step aside and to open up the primary process. There are stronger leaders ready to go if Biden were to step aside and frankly, we thought he should have stepped aside about six months ago. And it’s not division that we’re about. We’re about let’s defeat the GOP in November 2024.

For more information, visit Roots Action Step Aside Joe Campaign at stepasidejoe.org and Roots Action at rootsaction.org.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Jeff Cohen(28:47) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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