‘No one involved in the effort thinks he has a path’

WASHINGTON — Several of President Joe Biden’s closest allies, including three people who are directly involved in efforts to re-elect him, told NBC News they now see his chances of winning as zero — and the likelihood of him taking down fellow Democratic candidates growing.

“He needs to drop out,” one Biden campaign official said. “He will never recover from this.”

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For two weeks, Biden has struggled to stabilize his campaign following a late-June debate debacle. His ongoing clean-up effort, which is scheduled to include top aides meeting privately with Democratic senators and a presidential press conference Thursday, has done little to reassure lawmakers and party officials.

Instead, the reverse is happening.

The set of Democrats who think he should reconsider his decision to stay in the race has grown to include aides, operatives and officials tasked with guiding his campaign to victory. Those who spoke to NBC News said the sentiment that he should exit and leave the Democratic nomination to someone else — most likely Vice President Kamala Harris — is widespread even within the ranks of the campaign and the outside Democratic entities supporting it. 

“No one involved in the effort thinks he has a path,” said a second person working to elect him. 

A third person close to the re-election campaign said the present situation — the questions swirling around Biden’s cognitive abilities, the dearth of fundraising and more polls showing Biden dropping and other candidates faring better — is unsustainable. This person also said they didn’t see how the campaign could win. 

All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity because they don’t want to be seen as further damaging a candidate they appreciate for his victory over then-President Donald Trump in 2020 and his policy wins in the White House. But two others close to Biden told NBC News that while they haven’t given up all hope of a turnaround, they see that as an increasingly unlikely outcome. And they believe the goal of defeating Trump in November should take precedence over backing Biden.

“The question for me, and a lot of us, is: Who is the best person to beat Donald Trump?” another person working to elect Biden said. “There are a lot of us that are true blue that are questioning our initial thoughts on that.” 

Ultimately, the decision rests with Biden on whether or not he stays in, and the president has been insistent this week that he’s not going anywhere. But these sources say that Biden is done — whether he drops out before November or whether he loses to Trump on Election Day.

Hours after NBC News asked Biden aides about that conclusion, campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon and campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez sent a memo to staff Thursday outlining why they believe the president can still win.

“Our internal data and public polling show the same thing: this remains a margin-of-error race in key battleground states,” they wrote. “The movement we have seen, while real, is not a sea-change in the state of the race — while some of this movement was from undecided voters to Trump, much of the movement was driven by historically Democratic constituencies moving to undecided.”

O’Malley Dillon and Chavez Rodriguez said they still view Georgia and Arizona — states Biden won in 2020 but where he trails in polling now — as winnable, along with the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

“No one is denying that the debate was a setback,” they wrote. “But Joe Biden and this campaign have made it through setbacks before. We are clear eyed about what we need to do to win. And we will win by moving forward, unified as a party, so that every single day between now and election day we focus on defeating Donald Trump.”

Biden defenders have pointed to a 538 forecast of the fall election that shows the president’s chances of winning have barely moved post-debate, remaining at a 48 in 100 chance of winning. In the 538 average, Biden trailed Trump by 2.1%.  

But Democrats this week have watched shifts in other surveys that have set off alarms, including an AARP poll showing Biden trailing in Wisconsin, which had been his best battleground state. 

“That’s the bright shining data point,” a longtime Democratic presidential campaign strategist said. “We have this window and the White House is just running out the clock, which is so selfish. We’re all waiting around for Joe Biden to f— up again, which is not a great position to be in.” 

NBC News reported Wednesday that fundraising for the campaign is drying up as major Democratic donors and grassroots contributors are closing their wallets. At the same time, Trump, who is due to accept the Republican nomination next week, has been raking in cash.

The concern for many Democrats is that Biden will not only lose but perform so poorly that he acts as an anchor on down-ballot candidates. 

“I worry that the symbol of our party is the person who’s running for president and that that does absolutely trickle down to the down ballot races,” said one state party chair who wants Biden to abandon his campaign.

But as more Democrats come to the conclusion that Biden can’t win — and shouldn’t try — his innermost circle has tightened to the point that it only includes family members and a couple of longtime advisers, according to two people familiar with deliberations about the future of the campaign. 

The combination of Biden floundering publicly and relying on an increasingly insular set of advisers privately has damaged Democratic insiders’ confidence in his ability to make the best decisions for himself, the party and the country. 

One Democratic lawmaker close to Biden said that while he will “never publicly disavow” the president, he believes that bowing out would be “the right thing for himself and the country.”

This lawmaker argued that Biden still has a chance of beating Trump. Yet he said Biden’s legacy would be “completely ruined” if he ends up losing and dragging down Democratic candidates. Public calls for Biden to exit the race, this lawmaker said, are “counterproductive” because they make the president more likely to fight back.

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