Over the last four years, President Biden has built an impressive record of achievement in the economy, the environment, healthcare and rights. On his watch, unemployment rates hit a historic low, inflation-adjusted wages of low-wage workers grew 12 percent, and the number of Americans lacking health insurance dropped by 26 percent. Violent crime has fallen to some of the lowest levels in 50 years, while worker and consumer protections have been significantly expanded. 

The Inflation Reduction Act — which has been called “the most comprehensive climate legislation the U.S. has ever seen” — has spurred business investment and created well-paying jobs that advance energy security. 

Biden has promoted women’s rights at home and abroad and taken action to advance racial equity. His signature agreements with Congress have been transformative: the bipartisan infrastructure law has helped rebuild America’s roads, bridges and telecommunications networks; the CHIPS and Science Act is bringing semiconductor manufacturing, research and development back to the United States; and the American Rescue Plan helped the country recover from the worst aspects of the COVID pandemic.

Yet, if the election campaign continues along its current trajectory, what will be remembered about Biden on November 5 will be not his leadership but his feebleness. Evidently, his debate performance on June 28 was not an aberration or “one bad night,” but a recurring lapse that will only increase in frequency as he ages. If he and his family continue to deny what is apparent to everyone else, they risk mirroring the very trait that is most repugnant in Donald Trump: putting personal interests above those of the country.

And that’s not who Joe Biden is. Over the 20-plus years that I worked as a Senate staffer, I saw many politicians. Many were in it for themselves and most harbored the illusion of becoming president. But Biden was one of the few — like my boss, Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland — raised from humble beginnings on the belief that public service was the highest calling. They did it not for fame, glory or power but to use their prodigious skills to pursue the democratic ideal.

Biden honestly believes that he, and he alone, can beat Trump, and that he, therefore, has an obligation to stay in the race. But after the first debate, that rationale has been thrown into question. The longer he waits to change course, the more likely it is that no candidate will be able to defeat Trump.

The realistic options before Biden and the Democratic Party are limited and bleak. However, there is one alternative that has not been widely discussed, one that would increase the party’s chances in November and secure Biden’s place in history. He should step down from the presidency now and make Kamala Harris our first female president.

Doing so would help avert a messy and divided convention in August, putting her in the undisputed lead and discouraging other Democrats from mounting a challenge. It would give her full access to the funds Biden has raised and breathe new life and vigor into the campaign. Most important, handing the reins to Harris now would give her a chance to prove herself in the role in a way that would not be possible if he waited until the convention — or afterward— to make such a decision. In this way, Biden would be known forever as the one who facilitated the inauguration of America’s first woman — and woman of color — president, and like George Washington, one who voluntarily relinquished his own power for the good of the country.

Given that the Trump campaign will essentially be running against Harris regardless of whether she is president or vice president, Biden can do her and the country a favor by giving her the opportunity to build a record and consolidate support in her own right. Waiting until the convention to do so will reduce her, and the party’s, chances of winning in November. 

And waiting until the election to acknowledge that the playing field has changed would be a gross disservice to the nation he has served his entire life. From what I know of Joe Biden, he has the grace and decency to make what would be undeniably the hardest, and perhaps the best, decision of his life.