David Axelrod, CNN star and chief architect of former President Barack Obama’s electoral victories, is not exactly the most popular person in Biden World right now.
Following a brutal set of New York Times polls that found President Joe Biden trailing Donald Trump in several battleground states, Axelrod suggested that the commander-in-chief should suspend his campaign for the good of the Democratic Party.
“He’s defied [conventional wisdom] before but this will send tremors of doubt thru the party—not ‘bed-wetting,’ but legitimate concern,” Axelrod tweeted on Sunday while sharing the poll results.
Adding that Biden is “justly proud of his accomplishments,” the Obama alum expressed concern about “demagogue” Trump’s “brazen disdain” for democracy before insisting that the “stakes of miscalculation here are too dramatic to ignore.”
He then seemed to urge Biden to step aside.
“Only @JoeBiden can make this decision,” Axelrod wrote. “If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?”
Even though he was far from being the only prominent Democrat to sound the “five-alarm fire” bell, Obama’s chief campaign strategist and senior adviser’s suggestion that Biden go away nevertheless drew wall-to-wall coverage on cable news, especially on the conservative channels. In fact, since Sunday, Axelrod’s remarks have been mentioned at least 73 times across Fox News, Fox Business Network, and Newsmax.
With conservatives running wild with Axelrod’s warning shot and gleefully noting that it comes from a key Obama confidant, Biden’s biggest allies, members of his re-election campaign, and even his own family members have publicly trained their fire on Axelrod. (Despite their outsized rage at him, the feeling among Biden’s camp is that Axelrod’s remarks don’t “represent any broader rebellion among Obama alums,” according to Politico.)
Much of the pushback against Axelrod has centered not only on his repeated criticism of Biden in recent years but also on the fact that Obama himself faced severe headwinds and calls to drop out during his own 2012 campaign, which eventually resulted in re-election. The broadsides against Axelrod also exposed an ongoing rift between the longtime political consultant and Team Biden.
Axelrod did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for additional comment.
“Man who called Biden ‘Mr Magoo’ in Aug 2019 is still at it,” former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted in response to Axelrod. During the height of the 2020 Democratic primary, Axelrod declared on CNN that Biden was “kind of Mr. Magooing his way through” the process.
“The biden doubters doubted in 2019 — and the nyt analytics types said that Rick Perry would beat Obama in 2011,” Klain added in a separate post. “But @JoeBiden is the kind of tough fighter that enabled him to beat trump in 2020 and he’ll punch him out again this time.”
TJ Ducklo, a senior adviser on Biden’s re-election campaign, has also gone after Axelrod quite a bit. Resurfacing a June 2020 tweet from Axelrod urging others not to assign “too much importance” to any one poll, Ducklo snarked: “Couldn’t agree more.”
Ducklo also amplified observations from Biden-friendly media personalities and Democrats who called out Axelrod for constantly criticizing and selling the president short. For instance, he shared a clip from MSNBC’s Morning Joe that featured host Joe Scarborough saying Axelrod “has been critical of Joe Biden for years” before heaping praise on Biden.
“Joe Biden has been underestimated his entire career and he’s being underestimated now,” Scarborough declared. “This is not smart to bet against him.”
CNN political analyst Kate Bedingfield, a former Biden White House communications director, took her CNN colleague to task by invoking op-eds written by Democratic pollsters in late 2011 urging Obama to drop out due to sagging poll numbers. “I think Ax of all people knows at this moment there’s always going to be concern,” she said on Monday’s broadcast of CNN’s The Lead.
“We appreciate his thoughts,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates flatly said when asked to respond to Axelrod’s comments.
Even Biden’s family members got in on the action. The president’s granddaughter Naomi tweeted that she was “looking forward to proving the political pundits wrong…again,” sharing a February 2020 post she wrote lambasting Axelrod’s observation at the time about Biden not winning any delegates in the New Hampshire primary.
While the Biden team has tried to emphasize that polls a year out from an election haven’t accurately predicted the winners in past races, Axelrod has sought to clarify and expand on his remarks.
Speaking to The New York Times, Axelrod seemed to acknowledge that the Biden campaign was making the same argument he did in 2011 when Obama was down in the polls. At the same time, however, he contended that his candidate wasn’t as far back as Biden is today. Saying he believed Biden would remain in the race, he advised the president’s team to more forcefully attack Trump.
“I think he’ll run,” he told the Times. “I think he will be the nominee. If so, they need to throw the entire campaign into a very, very tough competitive frame very quickly.”
In a later interview with Politico, Axelrod then attempted to claim he never actually called on Biden to exit the race. “It’s overreacting to say I told him to drop out,” he said. “I didn’t do that… He’s the only one to make the decision. And if his decision is ‘no, I’m the best person to take this on,’ then he will.”
Meanwhile, a Biden 2020 campaign alum told The Daily Beast that Axelrod has become something of a broken record in his criticism of the president before mockingly quoting the Obama strategist’s tweets.
“I’d think that a senior strategist from the Obama-Biden 2012 re-election campaign would remember Gallup writing, ‘Generic’ Republican Continues To Lead Obama In 2012;’ or The Washington Post writing, ‘Obama Ratings Sink To New Lows As Hope Fades;’ or The New York Times declaring Obama ‘Toast,’” the alum said. “I hope he hasn’t lost a step. ‘What he needs to decide’ is whether that kind of commentary ‘is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?’”