For political analyst Chris Whipple, there is no doubt about the Democratic candidate for President in 2024. “He’s running!”
He, of course, is President Joe Biden. Whipple’s book on the Biden presidency has just been published, and the author was at the LBJ Library here in Austin to talk about the last two years. Specifically, the book is up-to-date as of Nov. 12, 2022, so it covers the immediate aftermath of the Congressional elections. (In this article I will refer to the former president as ‘DT’, although Whipple does not use this designation.)
In his many conversations with White House insiders, Whipple says DT “will be the person Biden will run against. Biden feels he has unfinished business and the stakes could not be higher. I do think the Biden White House believes democracy is on the ballot in 2024.”
Asked about another alternative for the 2024 election, Whipple poured cold water on the idea. “I don’t think there is a plan B for the Dems. Any Democratic challenger to Biden sinks their prospects.”
Whipple cast his book as a “political thriller in three acts.” The first act, the Transition, was fraught with landmines and could have been stopped if only DT wasn’t so ignorant about what was going on right under his nose. The second act was Afghanistan, and the third act is The Ukrainian war. “In the case of Afghanistan almost everybody did everything wrong, but with Ukraine, almost everybody has done everything right.”
Overlaying and overlapping these three acts are three big tests that Whipple identified as the pandemic, Ukraine, and how he has faced down the threat to democracy. On these three Biden gets high marks from Whipple, but let’s go back to the Transition, the gripping details of which are explored as the book opens.
“It came down to an obscure DT staffer, a deputy White House chief of staff Chris Liddell, who was born in New Zealand and rose to become CFO of General Motors and Microsoft. He wound up in the White House : he didn’t like DT but thought that the office would change him.” Liddell, related Whipple, “found himself there in the final days. He carried out a sub rosa operation under DT’s nose and without his knowledge: he made sure the wheels of transition kept turning. He stayed out of the Oval Office so that DT wouldn’t know what he was up to. He had friends who would talk him off the ledge every time he was about to quit because of some outrageous thing DT had said. They said ‘you can’t leave, somebody’s got to land this plane!’” He stayed to Inauguration Day on January 20th, a day Whipple identified in this case as the most dangerous of all.
“People ask me why I wanted to write this book, and my answer is ‘How could I not?’ When Joe Biden and his team came into office they faced the most daunting challenges since FDR’s time: a once-in-a-century pandemic, crippled economy, racial injustice, global warming, and the aftermath of a bloody attempted insurrection. So, it really seems to me that this is the fight of Biden’s life.”
Whipple said Biden and Lincoln have some things in common but “great oratory is not one of them!,” a quip that elicited lots of laughter from the audience. (He did identify the speech he gave on the 1st anniversary of the Jan 6 Insurrection to be the “best speech of his Presidency.”) “But I do think that they were both uniquely placed to meet the moment when extraordinary crises developed.” Crucially, Whipple notes that both Lincoln and Biden were “underestimated over and over again.”
But Whipple immediately qualified the Lincoln comparison. “He’s not a saint, he’s not Abraham Lincoln. He does take names of people who crossed him. He has a temper, but he knows what he wants and he spent decades training for the crises that he’s now facing.”
Having previously written a book on the Chiefs of Staff of the last few presidents, Whipple puts a spotlight in the book on Ron Klain, who just stepped down as Biden’s first chief of staff. On the subject of Afghanistan, Klain was quite direct in an interview with Whipple, who writes he was struck by the hypocrisy of Biden’s critics. “Every person who’s gone on TV,” said Klain, “and blasted our handling of this, at some point in the past ten years said, ‘The Afghan army is great!’” Klain considered resigning at the end of 2021. “He loved being White House chief of staff, even when things were going badly, and believed he made Biden more effective. But the workload was relentless and debilitating.” Fortunately he stayed till February 7, 2023.
Klain, who is well aware of what a heavy workload is, praises the First Lady in this book. “She’s incredibly hard working,” and is a shrewd judge of people around her husband. “Like Nancy Reagan,” writes Whipple, “she could detect those who were pursuing their own agendas at the president’s expense.” Attention is also given to Vice-Pres. Harris. Whipple writes that “When Harris did get noticed, it was often for the wrong reason.” He sent her questions to be answered for this book, “but wouldn’t say what her worst day had been as vice president,” and also declined to answer a question about morale problems in her staff. Her direct engagement with this book takes up only half a page; in his remarks in Austin, Whipple best described her as “a work in progress.”
Complete with 45 pages of notes, enabling anyone to trace the sources he used, Whipple’s book is certainly the best political expose yet on the Biden presidency. Published now on the cusp of the run for the 2024 election, it should be read by anyone who is unsure if they want Biden as president for another term. If you want keep your freedom and democracy, the choice is clear.
Photo of Mr. Whipple by C. Cunningham; copyright Sun News Austin. For more events at the LBJ Library, visit:
The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House is by Scribner. It lists for $30.