The White House breathed a sigh of relief after Tuesday’s election, convinced Democratic wins will smother this week’s earlier panic over a New York Times/Siena College poll showing President Biden losing to Donald Trump in five key swing states.

But the White House can’t relax.

Biden turns 81 this month, and let’s say you can increasingly walk through his deepest thoughts and not get your ankles wet. 

Axios reports Biden is now wearing tennis shoes and using the short stairs on Air Force One to avoid slipping. 

A special team of aides (dubbed “The Fall Guys”) surrounds him and assists the president when he doesn’t know where to go after he speaks at a podium.

Notes Axios: “Democrats, including some in the administration, are terrified that Biden will have a bad fall — with a nightmare scenario of it happening in the weeks before the November 2024 election.”

Voters are also worried.

The same Times/Siena poll that showed Biden losing swing states to Trump found 71% of those states’ respondents think Biden’s too old and 62% think he lacks the “mental sharpness” to be president.

Most strikingly, 51% of Democrats believe Biden is “just too old to be an effective president.”

In the privacy of a voting booth, many of them could voice those doubts.

That’s why Democratic leaders are so furious Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips is challenging Biden and making his age a main issue.

“It’s threatening the success of the Democratic ticket from top to bottom,” Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) told Politico.

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn is spot on when he complains primary challenges can sour voters on the party’s presidential ticket: “These things, historically, they’ve never been good for the sitting president.”

Phillips is undeterred. He tells reporters “Joe Biden is going to lose the next election” and the party must replace him.

A wealthy man, he has just hired Jeff Weaver, an architect of Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, as a senior strategist, while Steve Schmidt — the manager of John McCain’s comeback in the 2008 New Hampshire primary that won him the GOP nomination — is heading a Phillips super PAC.

Phillips thinks Biden has created an issue that could hurt him in New Hampshire. 

Under pressure from Clyburn, Biden decided not to be on the ballot in New Hampshire and instead make Clyburn’s South Carolina the first Democratic primary.

But the Granite State prides itself on having the first-in-the-nation primary — state law even dictates it be held at least seven days before any others.

Some 100 prominent New Hampshire Democratic leaders have started a “Write-in Biden” group, and many claim the White House will offer tacit help.

Others note New Hampshire voters like to show politicians they count.

Phillips’ argument is: Biden is too old, the country needs a stronger leader and dissing New Hampshire has damaged its first-in-the-nation primary status.

Sounds like the foundation for a late-breaking upset to me.

Publicly, leading Democrats insist Phillips will go nowhere in the state, but privately they know history is a cautionary guide. 

In 1968, an overconfident President Lyndon Johnson did not deign to have his name on New Hampshire’s primary ballot. Just like Biden.

LBJ’s local supporters organized a write-in — also like Biden’s — to provide an alternative to Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s sudden insurgent primary challenge.

McCarthy began to build momentum. Voters were upset at foreign-policy incompetence and the loss of US troops in Vietnam, angry LBJ was ignoring the state and concerned about stubborn inflation.

Johnson wound up winning 49% against McCarthy’s 42%.

It was a truly Pyrrhic victory. McCarthy’s team realized that a loser who won many more votes than expected would be viewed as the winner.

Major media outlets turned on a dime and repeated that analysis so often many people thought LBJ had lost.

Within days, Sen. Robert Kennedy announced he would enter the race, and Johnson surprised everyone by retiring two weeks after that.

New Hampshire also ended President Harry Truman’s career. 

He had low poll numbers going into the 1952 election. Unsure if voters would give him another term, Truman nonetheless agreed to have his name appear on the New Hampshire primary ballot.

The result was grim. A sitting president, Truman won only 44% against Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver. 

Eighteen days later, Truman dropped out of the race. Adlai Stevenson, the eventual Democratic nominee, lost to Dwight Eisenhower.

Beltway pundits almost always accept the White House line that the incumbent is invincible, but that turns out to often be wrong. 

Why are they so sure the majority of Democrats who don’t want Joe Biden to be their nominee won’t express that view when they actually get a chance to vote?

John Fund is a columnist for National Review and a fellow at the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.

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