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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden take part in a meeting on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on March 24, 2023.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

If they had their druthers, Democrats in the United States and Liberals in Canada would prefer candidates other than incumbents Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau to lead them in their coming elections.

But they’re afraid to speak out. They’re hushed. They’re giving the leaders a pass, no matter that the consequences may well be a progressive’s nightmare: Donald Trump as president again, and Pierre Poilievre as prime minister. In such an eventuality, they will look back on their current silence with deep regret. Why, they will ask, were we so gutless?

Some recent polling has Mr. Trudeau trailing the Conservatives by close to 20 points. But the attitude is to let the death march proceed.

How things have changed. After being in power a goodly number of years like Mr. Trudeau, Jean Chrétien faced enormous pressure to step down from his party – though rather than being 20 points behind, he was about 20 ahead!

The only senior Liberal calling for Mr. Trudeau to step down – MP Ken McDonald did so at one point, but subsequently reneged – is Senator Percy Downe, who once served as Mr. Chrétien’s chief of staff. Whether Mr. Chrétien was on board with his old friend doing that, we don’t know. In any case, it had little effect. Few picked up on it.

The passivity of the party, a Chrétien cabinet minister told me yesterday, is amazing, given that Mr. Trudeau, fresh off another scandal – the ArriveCan one – seems beyond salvation.

But that former minister doesn’t believe Mr. Trudeau will stay. He predicted he will step down at the end of this month, because it will mark exactly 40 years since his father Pierre Trudeau took his famous walk in the snow and announced his retirement.

Such a departure is not beyond the realm of possibility. But most Liberals will tell you that since no one is pushing him, Justin Trudeau will hold on as long as possible, in the hopes that his support numbers will recover and he can make another run for the crown.

Meanwhile, though his approval ratings are not quite as bad as our Prime Minister’s, Mr. Biden faces dismal polling and, as a further embarrassment, trails Mr. Trump, the most wretched Republican challenger imaginable. To make matters even worse, special counsel Robert Hur’s report last week on Mr. Biden’s possession of classified documents highlighted the octogenarian’s biggest weakness: his allegedly befuddled cognitive condition.

Mr. Biden, who looks increasingly sclerotic, sadly played to stereotype. No faceplants last week, but over the past week and a half, he has mistaken Mexico for Egypt and goofed twice on the names of leaders.

I still think, as I speculated recently, that he will beat Mr. Trump – but not if senility becomes the dominant talking point about his campaign.

The Democrats have big talents, such as California Governor Gavin Newsom and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose prospects would be better than old Joe’s. But at this point, the party is fearful of any show of disunity.

Part of the reluctance is that, despite what the polls say, Mr. Biden has performed ably on most files and has restored decency to the Oval Office. Moreover, he beat Mr. Trump in 2020, and the Democrats did surprisingly well in the 2022 midterms when many were predicting a red wave.

At this point there is no chance of any big name in the party coming forward to successfully challenge him for the nomination. But he could surprise us and announce soon that he will not seek a second term. He could release his delegates and throw the race open like Lyndon B. Johnson did on the last day of March, 1968.

The chances of that happening will increase if his polling numbers drop further and if party heavyweights have the courage to go to him and apply some pressure. No guts, no glory, as the saying goes.

In the case of Mr. Trudeau, the same should happen – though party heavyweights beyond himself are scarce. Like Mr. Biden, he commands loyalty in large part because of his record: his revival of the party from third-place status in the 2015 election and his two narrow victories since then.

But he must know the way the tides run. Even if the economy improves and even if his performance improves, the likelihood is that voters will still feel it is time for a change.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Biden can both go out with winning political records and, especially in the case of Mr. Biden, substantive legislative records. What’s getting in their way is power lust and ego gratification. Democrats in the U.S. and Liberals in Canada shouldn’t allow it to happen.

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