What is a blitz primary?

The phrase “blitz primary” has been flying around Democratic Party circles this week as concerns over President Joe Biden’s fitness to serve a second term refuse to die down in the wake of his disastrous debate performance against Donald Trump late last month.

Since the president’s hoarse and frail appearance on the CNN debate stage in Atlanta on June 27, which the White House attributed to a cold and exhaustion from his recent overseas travels, his party has been in panic mode, holding frantic discussions about whether Biden can still be depended upon to beat Trump in November or whether he should drop out and make way for a younger successor.

A blitz primary, as proposed by Rosa Brooks and Ted Dintersmith, a Georgetown University law professor and venture capitalist respectively, would be a means of realizing that end.

The label simply refers to a swiftly organized selection process to find a replacement candidate to occupy the party’s presidential ticket in the incumbent’s stead, a far faster and slicker alternative to actual primary season, which takes months and sees the states vote one-by-one in interminably plodding fashion.

Biden, of course, won the conventional Democratic primaries at a canter earlier this year but was barely challenged by anyone other than Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips and kooky self-help guru Marianne Williamson and did not escape the process untainted, suffering a huge protest vote in Michigan in late February when 100,000 people marked “uncommitted” on their ballot papers in opposition to his handling of events in the Middle East.

Any primary at this stage would, by necessity, need to be executed in time to reach its climax at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Chicago – beginning on August 19 – to give its hypothetical winner time to make an impression on the national stage before facing Trump at the ballot box on 5 November.

That’s the case in Brooks and Dintersmith’s version, which they first outlined in a memo on July 2 sent to wealthy party donors and members of the Biden administration and campaign.

Their scheme, first reported by Semafor, would require Biden to voluntarily announce his decision to step aside, with the full support of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Joe Biden addresses the Nato summit in Washington DC on Tuesday July 9 2024 (Evan Vucci/AP)
Joe Biden addresses the Nato summit in Washington DC on Tuesday July 9 2024 (Evan Vucci/AP)

His doing so would trigger a new primary process in which a fresh slate of contenders would be given a matter of days to put themselves forward as candidates before delegates to the Chicago convention whittle the list down to just six names.

The sextet would then begin running “positive-only” campaigns in the month ahead of the party gathering, which would be punctuated by weekly forums at which they would be interviewed by politically sympathetic celebrities, with Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Stephen Colbert among the names touted in the memo, a gambit intended to generate as much social media excitement as possible.

Finally, with Biden’s 3,094 delegates released, they would be free to cast their votes ahead of Chicago, ranking the candidates in order of preference, with the winner finally announced to much fanfare at the convention’s finale – perhaps after a reality TV-friendly elimination process to build suspense and engagement.

Clockwise from top left: Vice President Kamala Harris, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Maryland Governor Wes Moore and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, all possible candidates for a hypothetical ‘blitz primary’ (AP/Getty)
Clockwise from top left: Vice President Kamala Harris, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Maryland Governor Wes Moore and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, all possible candidates for a hypothetical ‘blitz primary’ (AP/Getty)

Brooks and Dintersmith are not the only ones to envision an idea of this sort. The influential Democratic congressman Jim Clyburn also entertained the idea of a “mini-primary” being staged should Biden announce he was stepping down when asked recently what would happen in that scenario by CNN.

The trouble with the duo’s inventive and imaginative proposal is that it hinges on the president’s whole-hearted cooperation and, so far, he has refused to meekly bow out, stubbornly insisting instead that he is going nowhere.

Biden said as much at an Independence Day speech at the White House, in his Friday night reset interview on ABC with George Stephanopoulos, on the campaign trail in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania last weekend, in a letter to congressional Democrats on Monday and again in a phone-in with MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

But, no matter how emphatic his denials, speculation about the president’s well-being absolutely refuses to die down.

Mega-donors like George Clooney have spent the last 13 days expressing disquiet and pointing to dipping polls, journalists have pressed the campaign endlessly on whether or not it is covering up an undisclosed medical condition and at least 12 Democratic lawmakers have called for Biden to go, either in public or in private.

All the while, Trump himself has been purring behind the wheel of his golf buggy, the twice-impeached presumptive Republican nominee and convicted felon relishing the chaos after spending months warning his rival was suffering from “cognitive decline” and feeling vindicated by what the world saw for itself all too clearly.