Historian Allan Lichtman, Who Predicted 9 of Last 10 Presidential Elections, Gives Grave Warning About Biden – ‘Huge Mistake’

There are two views of President Joe Biden’s performance in Thursday night’s presidential debate, one good and one bad.

The good take is that it was bad. Very bad, in fact.

The bad take is that it was disqualifying.

Pundits spent the hours following the debate emphasizing how many key Democrats were assessing their options in replacing the president atop the ticket. No fewer than two major newspapers, The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have editorially taken the position that Biden ought to step aside as the Democratic nominee.

Those who are in the “good take” camp — mostly in Biden’s administration or immediate orbit — spent the days following the debate in what Bloomberg described as a “frenetic weekend blitz” where they “angrily denounced the suggestion Biden and his family might entertain a discussion of leaving the race as they traveled to Camp David for a private getaway, where photographer Annie Leibovitz would be taking pictures of the beleaguered clan.”


Watch: KJP Snaps at Reporter When Asked if Biden Is ‘Disabled’ After Rough Debate – ‘You Know Better!’

“The strategy will be remembered as a display of either remarkable foresight or incredible hubris,” Bloomberg noted.

In the “remarkable foresight” camp is American University political historian Steven Lichtman, whose model has correctly predicted nine out of the last 10 elections, including Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

He made news by going on CNN and telling host Abby Phillip on Friday that it would be “a huge mistake” to replace Biden atop the ticket — although his logic may be less than convincing if you, you know, watched the debate.

Lichtman, for the unacquainted, has a 13 “key” criteria chart to predict how a presidential election will go: party mandate, contest, incumbency, third party, short-term economy, long-term economy, policy change, social unrest, scandal, foreign/military failure, foreign/military success, incumbent charisma, challenger charisma.

“We rely on the 13 keys, which tap into the structure of how elections really work,” he said.

“And they show that Democrats’ really only chance to win, contrary to everything you’ve heard, is with Biden running,” Lichtman said. “Look at the incumbency key. Biden checks that off. The contest key, he checks that off. He was uncontested. It takes six keys to count out the White House party.

“That means of the remaining 11 keys, six would have to fully finish. Biden doesn’t run. They lose the contest key. They lose the incumbency, and only four more keys would have to fall.”

You’ll notice that there’s nothing regarding debates here. How do debates affect candidacies, according to Lichtman?

They don’t: “Zero,” he said when asked about the impact of Thursday’s debate.

“Debates are not predictive of outcomes,” Lichtman said. “Hillary Clinton won all three debates, still lost. John Kerry won all the debates, still lost. Barack Obama got trounced 72 to 20 percent in the poll, worse than Biden, and went on to win.”


Watch: KJP Snaps at Reporter When Asked if Biden Is ‘Disabled’ After Rough Debate – ‘You Know Better!’

As for those talking about replacing Biden for his cognitive decline?

“It’s a huge mistake,” he said. “They’re not doctors. They don’t know whether Biden is physically capable of carrying out a second term or not. Remember, a lot of folks were saying the same thing about Ronald Reagan, who was, you know, 73, and age was very different then. And they said, ‘You know, he’s not capable of carrying out another term.’ He won 49 states.”

Lichtman said he was leaning toward Biden in the spring and hadn’t “made a final prediction,” but he dismissed anyone talking about Biden’s weaknesses as tyros and dilettantes.

“All of these pundits and pollsters and analysts that you see on all the cable channels and all the networks have no track record in predicting elections,” he said.

“And if they come on and they claim they know how this debate is going to affect the outcome of elections, they have no idea. It’s sports talk radio. It may be entertaining, but it has no scientific basis.”

The problem with academic logic is the problem with conducting all elections as if they were done on paper: Yes, most presidential contests fall within these parameters, but there are outlying events that supersede even the most stable of models.

Thursday was one of those events.

Consider that the Trump campaign put out a 90-second ad that was nothing more than Biden talking — or attempting to talk — during the debate.

Yes, debates are usually snorefests in which carefully rehearsed talking points are crammed into two-ish minutes of vague promises that emphasize tone over substance, and they usually have no effect on a race or the prolonged perception of an individual.

The only time I can ever think of where a presidential or vice presidential debate forever altered the image of a candidate was the vice presidential debate of 1988 — somewhat before my time, but one that still gets talked about, since Vice President Dan Quayle’s legacy as an underprepared lightweight was cemented when he compared his level of experience in the Senate to that of John F. Kennedy when he was elected president.

His opponent, Michael Dukakis running mate Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, promptly destroyed him for even daring to make the comparison:

That moment still gets raised now and then despite the fact we’re 36 years removed from it. Nothing else in that debate was that horrible for Quayle — but the sting left a scar he could never quite hide during the remainder of his political career.

OK, now think of that moment for 90 minutes straight every time the leader of the free world opened his mouth on Thursday — and, at times, when he was merely being quiet.

And the effect this has, according to Lichtman’s “13 keys” model? “Zero,” to quote the guy himself.

You can regurgitate your “13 keys” and say that everyone who ignores them is on par with a sports radio caller who absolutely knows that the backup quarterback is the guy to start this week because he played for two years on the JV team in high school.

However, this is the “incredible hubris,” to use the Bloomberg report’s words, of modeling the race along a set series of points that gives more or less equal weight to all and, perhaps most importantly, refuses to acknowledge that data might arise outside of that set which upends the whole model.

That’s what we witnessed last week. Lichtman is right that replacing Biden at this juncture would be “a huge mistake” — but that’s only because you’re damned if you don’t, but you’re more damned if you do.

A fight over the candidacy at the Democratic National Convention amid an extremist revolt on the Israel-Hamas war within the party, coupled with what would be a growing scandal over what the president’s enablers knew about his obvious incapacity of mental faculties and when they knew it, would overtake any reinvigoration that a new candidate might bring.

Is Biden mentally ill?

As bad as it might be, the Democrats’ best bet still, alas, seems like carrying this semi-sentient lump of flesh over the finish line.

However, to say that nothing changed after Thursday’s debate because nothing generally does change after presidential debates is to ignore the singular nature of this debate and what it said about a president who, to beat expectations, merely had to remain cogent and awake for the entire night — and failed so badly that insiders immediately wanted to throw the guy overboard.

This is why you don’t bring in academics to try to convince you reality is just not so, even when they claim to have a 13-point scale they can use to prove reality isn’t real. At the end of the day, though, it’s still reality.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he’s written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.

C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he’s written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).


Morristown, New Jersey


Catholic University of America

Languages Spoken

English, Spanish

Topics of Expertise

American Politics, World Politics, Culture

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