Biden’s Surprise Challenger & Scalise’s Speaker Weapon

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
December 22, 2022

Last week, in my piece titled Biden’s Inevitability Mythology, I reported on one of the more amusing Washington parlor games of late—the fact that a number of leading Democratic figures, like Gavin Newsom and J.B. Pritzker, are paying diligent lip service regarding their fealty to the president while quietly amassing political organizations of their own, in preparation for the possibility that Joe Biden suddenly decides not to run, or if another challenger “breaks the seal,” which would open the dam. Since then, I learned that Marianne Williamson, the spiritual activist and 2020 candidate, has been actively making significant moves toward challenging Biden. 

At a party in L.A. last month, Williamson spoke about her position against “corporate Democrats” and the need to challenge Biden. Two very reliable sources have also told me that Williamson has already put out feelers to donors and secured an exploratory committee campaign tab on Act Blue. She has visited New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Iowa (before the decision to nix Iowa from the primary lineup). She’s already trying to build an operation in South Carolina where staffers are reaching out to former Bernie Sanders alumni to see if they’re game. (Williamson declined to comment.)

Do I think the entry into the race of a fringe candidate will prompt Pritzker, Newsom, Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg to jump into the race? Unlikely. This is not an open primary, like in 2020, where Williamson was able to make it onto the debate stage twice because of her fundraising and polling, until the D.N.C. upped the threshold for debate stage access. But it will surely make for some interesting television if she’s somehow able to force the D.N.C.’s hand into actually holding a debate and a primary against a sitting president.