Ready for it? Hunger Games meets March Madness meets America’s Got Talent!


If Biden withdraws, the election of the Democratic nominee for president will be up to the delegates to the Democratic National Convention. There are 4,672 delegates: 3,933 pledged delegates and 739 automatic delegates (AKA Superdelegates). Only pledged delegates get to vote in the first round. If nobody wins on the first round, the superdelegates also get to vote in subsequent rounds. This means it takes 1,968 pledged delegates to win in the first round, or 2,258 total delegates to win in the second and later rounds. Of the 3,901 pledged delegates elected so far, 3,894 are pledged to Joe Biden.

Here’s how the DNC could produce a riveting “show” and a strong nominee over the next eight weeks: think of it as March Madness meets America’s Got Talent, only with 4,682 judges. Call it Democrats Got November.

  1. Joe Biden bows out gracefully, commends Kamala Harris, recognizes that he can’t hand pick his successor, and vows to be a strong President until January 2025 and a vocal supporter of the eventual Democratic nominee.
  2. The DNC announces a dramatic new plan for choosing a nominee.
  3. The DNC prepares an initial very inclusive list of possible nominees and sends it to the delegates with instructions for each to identify the 10 people they’d most want to see vying for the nomination. There’s even a blank for write-ins.
  4. The DNC tabulates the results and creates a new list of the 16 names mentioned most by the delegates. The next half-dozen names are designated as “alternates” for the moment. The List of 16 potential candidates is announced.
  5. The DNC then asks each person on that list if he or she will commit to running for President if nominated and commit to serving as President if elected. Each will also be asked to commit to serving instead as Vice-President if selected, and to supporting the eventual nominee. For those who say yes-yes-yes-yes, an accelerated vetting process is launched immediately. Those who decline to run or who quickly fail the vetting will be replaced from the alternates list to get back up to 16.
  6. The DNC announces the results – the 16 official candidates.
  7. DNC staff quickly creates short biographies of each of the Sweet 16, each readable in about 10 minutes. These will go to the delegates. Each of the 16 will also be invited to create a 10-minute video making their case any way they like and be given two weeks to do so. The DNC will provide a video crew for any who don’t have them.
  8. Delegates will read the bios and watch the videos. The DNC will then conduct a ranked choice poll of the delegates, asking each to select their 8 favorites, and stack rank them.
  9. The ranked choice vote will be used to select the Elite Eight. If a candidate is disqualified by the ongoing vetting process, the next-highest scoring name will replace him/her.
  10. The DNC will recruit a panel of top journalists who will gather together to interview each of the Elite Eight individually, using a set of questions designed to determine how well each candidate handles difficult issues, and touching on the most important topics and/or political hot buttons in this election. The tone will be challenging but not egregiously adversarial. The delegates and public can watch the interviews live. Delegates will have up to a day after each is conducted to watch the video. Each will last about an hour.
  11. After viewing the interviews, the delegates will respond to another ranked choice poll, thereby selecting the Final Four. At the convention, each of the Final Four will give a major speech, after which the delegates will be polled to score their initial reactions.
  12. After all 4 have had their chance to speak, the Final Four will be invited to an extended AMA together, live with the delegates, with a system ensuring that each gets an equal number of delegate questions and a roughly equal amount of speaking time. Delegates will use their phones to submit questions, and a team of editors will sort, combine and clarify them rapidly, to feed to one or more readers who will ask them. Maybe celebrity Democrats not running for office are the readers?
  13. A final ranked choice vote will be taken, with the winner declared the nominee. The nominee will then review all the scores and other info about the other candidates in the Sweet Sixteen and choose his/her Final Four choices for Vice President. The delegates will then participate in a final ranked choice vote for VP from the nominee’s four choices. The bottom two will be eliminated.
  14. The nominee gets his/her choice of VP between the final two.
  15. There will be a big reveal at the convention, with speeches by new nominees and maybe a few favorite runners-up to be sure to connect with key constituencies. The POTUS speech is the grand finale.

I don’t think the DNC is likely to do this (for a hundred reasons), but there’s no reason why they couldn’t. Instead, senior Democrats are making a million outdated (and frequently fearful) assumptions about how an “open convention” might be terrible, or at least uncontrollable, and just assuming a chaotic scramble from now until the convention, with many ways things could go sideways, and in any case nobody campaigning against Trump until after the convention.

I think a production like this would dominate news coverage for two months, pushing Trump mostly out of the spotlight. It would create a rocket-fueled launch for the new ticket. It could make Trump and the Republicans look old and tired. It would be a tremendous help in raising new money.

For any of this to happen, Joe Biden would have to recognize that his resting oldface during the debate put him in a deep hole without a ladder, and that his country and party need him to make a dignified exit.

Tom Corddry
Tom Corddry
Tom is a writer and aspiring flâneur who today provides creative services to mostly technology-centered clients. He led the Encarta team at Microsoft and, long ago, put KZAM radio on the air.


  1. This reminds me of when it was proposed to allow corporate America to sponsor postage stamps. The idea was that companies like Boeing, Microsoft, etc would pay for the privilege to have their company on a first class stamp and that this would help to fund the US Postal Service. The Postmaster General was interviewed on national TV about the idea and immediately declared that it would never work. When the interviewer inquired as to why the postmaster general didn’t think the idea would work, he was told; “ Because it’s a good idea”…

  2. Tom,
    Amusing but too complicated. I think the same ends would be achieved though the usual campaign (OK, free-for-all) process. Result would be a reset to issues rather than Biden’s age and real issues would alert voters to Trump’s lies.

  3. Brilliant! The question is can our risk-averse politics and politicians, and our brand-protective parties, i.e. the Democratic Party, dare to do a new thing?

  4. Think of how it would change the momentum. It not only eliminates the age concerns, but turns them on Trump. A transparent (to a degree) process is fresh, allowing everyone to articulate their visions. It dominates the national attention for the next five weeks and gives whoever is chosen momentum to get to November. And it demonstrates fresh thinking, taking attention from Trump. One of the (many) reasons Washington joined the ranks of national deities was his selfless example of serving then passing on leadership after he had done so. Biden would be revered for his decision for the good of the country. The rising calls for withdrawal this morning from major newspapers and magazines are becoming a tsunami making the decision to go inevitable (even if Joe isn’t ready to acknowledge it yet). I love Joe. Most consequential and effective president of my lifetime. But it’s time.

  5. — Biden is going to do something interesting.

    — Too bad we don’t have a system which could allow for coalitions across traditional lines e.g. Liz Cheney Republicans formally support a Democrat for this election (and getting something, such as a few Cabinet positions) with “progressives” leaving the Democratic Party.

  6. Yes, complicated, but I think that’s supposed to be a virtue of the process – it’s complicated in a way that will be interesting to TV viewers etc.

    My question: who are these delegates? Are they the right people to make this call? They aren’t typical selected with the idea that they’re going to be making any decisions of consequence, but maybe that’s OK. I’d be a little more concerned, if they have anything to do with party district organizations, which seem to be deeply out of touch with their constituencies.

  7. I’m with Dick Lilly and Douglas McLennan on Tom Corrdry’s idea. It IS too complicated, but a much simpler version would absolutely net great candidates (we have SUCH a deep bench! I am sick and tired of reading people’s “but WHO???” laments). More importantly, this would absolutely dominate the news and flip the script. Trump would essentially fall off the radar on all but the Right-wing outlets. We could talk about issues instead of Biden’s age, and what media does cover Trump might finally focus again on his crimes, his lies, and HIS age.

  8. It’s a nice process. I’d like to see it used in the future – I’m a big fan of ranked choice voting & supported experiments with it when I was a legislator.

    The problem? There isn’t time. Ohio failed to amend their election laws consequently requiring the parties to certify their candidates by August 7th to appear on the general election ballot. That’s a problem.

    Second, Federal election law places barriers to transfer funds between campaigns. Biden-Harris I assume could be the same campaign as Harris-Somebody, but Newsom-Somebody would be challenged to move the ~$100M+ out of the Biden-Harris campaign.

    We’ve chosen a difficult place to be.

  9. Donn Cave, all I know about the delegates is that they are mostly Biden delegates and to a lesser extent party grandees. You are right, this is an important question! What we need From them is a shared conviction that the highest priority is choosing a ticket with the best chance of defeating Trump. I would guess that Biden backers in the primaries would include a lot of people who supported Biden because they thought he could even n, so maybe they’ll be up to this task.

  10. Fred Jarrett, I recently read an argument that the money issue is somewhat misunderstood. According to the author there are no legal obstacles to transferring the money from the Biden-Harris campaign to the Democratic Party, and the party can then do what it wants with the money, including giving it to the campaign of the new ticket. I haven’t confirmed this.

  11. I also expect that the process could and would be streamlined, but thanks for proving the concept and showing a way forward. Would that the DNC poobahs would read it. And that Biden wd see that from the view of his reputation, withdrawing is a win-win. If his replacement wins, he becomes the selfless Cincinnatus who made it happen. If she/he loses, he can say, as he did in 2016, “I could have beaten that SOB.”

    • A member of the DNC recently remarked “We couldn’t organize a two-car parade.” I think what they’d need is some help from people who know how to produce riveting-yet-dignified spectacles. Coincidentally, quite a few such people work in Hollywood and are already huge Dem donors. Spielberg, apparently, is advising on the convention, Ari Emanuel is spitting fire and fury at Biden, Barry Diller is said to want a change in the nominee… these guys give millions AND either know how to do this or know people who do. I’d love to get a few of them to pay attention.

  12. The elephant in the room: For a couple of practical reasons that are not about her, Kamala Harris is an obvious choice, but on the other hand there’s some reason to doubt she has the best chance to win. She’s on the ticket that they bring to the convention, she can reportedly have the campaign funds that exist, but is she the best chance to win? Some people like her, everyone wants to like her, most people understand that it hasn’t been fair, no one can come up with any reason why she wouldn’t be a fine choice, except that she’ll lose.

    I started this thought with the idea that this isn’t the kind of dilemma you drop in a bunch of delegates’ laps, but as I write it down, I guess that’s really who has to do it. The party establishment sure isn’t going to touch it with a stick. The delegates can make a choice, party afterwards and go home without fear of punishment. The Corddry Show would likely be a good process for it, focused the way it is. To be clear, I’m not saying I know what the right choice is, but this process has some promise to make whatever the choice is, into the right choice.


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