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Inside the GOP Effort to Make Sure Biden Is the Democratic Nominee

“We would make it extraordinarily difficult” for Democrats to replace Joe Biden on the ballot, a Heritage Foundation leader told NOTUS.

President Joe Biden, from right, greets House Speaker Mike Johnson, R- La.
Shawn Thew/AP

President Joe Biden’s Democratic allies could get a boost to keep him on the ticket from some unlikely partners: Republicans.

Led by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, Republicans are currently looking to guarantee that Biden will be the Democratic nominee — and to make it so that, if Biden withdraws, it won’t be easy to replace him on ballots.

While Biden’s campaign insists he has no plans to drop out, Republicans are gearing up for any and all possibilities. They’ve been preparing for this moment for quite some time.

About four months ago, after special counsel Robert Hur’s report raised more concerns about Biden’s health, staffers at Heritage’s Oversight Project started researching laws in states across the country for replacing a nominee. They laid out just how difficult it would be for Democrats to replace Biden in key swing states in a memo that was compiled in early April and released last week ahead of the debate.

“If the Biden family decides that President Biden will not run for re-election, the mechanisms for replacing him on ballots vary by state,” reads the memo. “There is the potential for pre-election litigation in some states that would make the process difficult and perhaps unsuccessful.”

The upshot was that replacing Biden on the ticket would be “extraordinarily difficult” and that “we would make it extraordinarily difficult,” Oversight Project Executive Director Mike Howell, who authored the memo, told NOTUS this week.

With Biden’s odds of winning looking longer by the minute, organizations like Heritage are pledging litigation to make replacing Biden close to impossible. They suggested they — or their allies — would challenge efforts to replace Biden on the ballot, which would already be difficult given the timing.

“The problem that any potential replacement for Joe Biden would likely run into is that in many states, including in several key states, the deadline for getting on the ballot has already passed,” Zack Smith, a senior legal fellow at Heritage, told NOTUS. “Or in many states, the process for replacing a candidate currently on the ballot just isn’t clearly defined because it happens so rarely.”

The memo identifies Wisconsin, Nevada and Georgia as attractive states for litigation to keep a new Democrat from replacing Biden on the ballot.

“We’ve zeroed in on a few states that we think are the best case,” Howell told NOTUS, declining to name or further discuss the specific states.

“It all depends on when and how they do it,” he continued. “And then what state that we’re looking at now that matches up to be the right one, going in there and working with the right people.”

An urgent push to replace Biden could cripple the plan. Biden isn’t on the general election ballot yet because he isn’t officially the Democratic nominee, although the party currently plans to name Biden the nominee in a virtual roll call before the August convention. And the Democratic National Committee has no plans and is not anticipating a move to try to replace Biden.

“Biden has always had our back, and we’re gonna have his,” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said Saturday on MSNBC.

If he dropped out before then or if the party voted to move forward with a different candidate, the project would be hard-pressed to keep Biden on the ballot, according to state election lawyer John Ciampoli.

“I don’t know how there’s a state law that locks Joe Biden in at this point as the Democratic candidate,” Ciampoli told NOTUS. “How can a state make someone a candidate when the party hasn’t made him their candidate yet?”

Former President Donald Trump, for his part, hasn’t said whether he wants Biden to remain atop the ticket, but those around the former president told NOTUS they think the best-case scenario is for Biden to be the Democratic nominee.

“We definitely want the dementia patient,” a source close to Trump told NOTUS. “They made their bed; they get to sleep in it. But we also love the chaos of their public decision-making process.”

According to a CNN poll conducted after the debate, Trump is ahead of Biden 49% to 43% — the same numbers from CNN’s poll in April of this year. However, in a hypothetical matchup between Trump and Vice President Kamala Harris, the race was within the margin of error, with Harris clocking in at 45% and Trump at 47%.

Since some in the Democratic Party began considering a nominee change, Republicans have largely looked on at the carnage without publicly picking a side in the “will he, won’t he” struggle.

“Joe Biden is an anvil wrapped around the neck of every Democrat candidate and incumbent,” a senior GOP strategist told NOTUS. “Republicans should be praying nonstop he stays in the race.”

Still, there have been a handful of GOP officials clamoring about Biden’s cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him as president, though that may be more red meat posturing than an actual effort.

Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters on Friday that Biden’s cabinet should discuss invoking the 25th Amendment. Rep. Chip Roy introduced a resolution last week “calling on Vice President Kamala D. Harris” to replace Biden and “immediately exercise powers as Acting President.” And Sen. Thom Tillis called for Biden to step aside “for the sake of the country” in a recent CNN op-ed.

Those efforts are likely to go nowhere but conservative blogs and Facebook homepages, but Republicans insist their efforts to remove Biden aren’t just about their own interests or weakening the president politically.

“It’s not just political. It’s not just the Democratic Party. It is the entire country,” Johnson said. “We have a serious problem here because we have a president who, by all appearances, is not up to the task, and these are very dangerous times. This is a very serious moment in American history and it needs to be regarded and handled as such.”

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. Reese Gorman is a reporter at NOTUS.