Joe Biden was the oldest person ever to be inaugurated as US President when he was sworn in on 20 January 2021, at the age of 78. He has recently entered his ninth decade, and at the time of the January 2025 presidential inauguration would be 82. The most pertinent question that seems to have overshadowed American power politics since Biden defeated Trump is would he run again? Only he can answer that with any certainty, but that still leaves the question of if he should run again.
He has hitherto been clear on numerous occasions that it is his intention to run for re-election, but that he is yet to make a formal decision. The question must be asked if this is his actual dilemma, or if he maintains this for political purposes; even if he did have zero intention of a second term, he isn’t likely to admit that publicly for as long as possible, given that it would immediately transform him into a lame-duck President and would potentially stifle his own political capital and ability to get legislation passed in the remainder of his term.
The President’s age is perhaps the most common concern many Americans, including many Democrats, have about his ability to run for re-election and serve the full term, which would carry him to 86 if he completed it. Whilst much is made of his, admittedly frequent, gaffes and apparent predisposition for being easily distracted or going off on tangents in the media, what is often neglected is how this is nothing new for Joe Biden. He grew up with and worked hard to control a stammer, and his characteristic gaffes were seen almost as frequently and noticeably when he spoke in Senate confirmation hearings in the 1980s to any address he may give today.
What is the difference between then and now in how you hear about his struggles and characteristics? He is now the President of the United States.
This is why the insensitive claims of dementia or other illnesses on Biden’s part seem to be unwarranted when predicated purely on his mannerisms and speaking habits, which are nothing remotely new. His age, whilst a fair point to raise, is probably not a good enough reason alone to discredit his ability to run and win if it is not impacting his performance. Of course, it is impossible to know how his age may come to impact his ability to execute the duties of the office in several years’ time if he did run, as it would be with anyone.
It is worth noting that Ronald Reagan effectively dismissed widespread bipartisan concerns about his age in the 1984 election cycle when he sought re-election (when he was nearly 74) with a single comical quip against Walter Mondale in the debates.
If you are a Democrat, putting aside the orthodox tribal loyalties, the lack of a strong alternative nominee probably compels you to Biden’s side. His own Vice President, Kamala Harris, whilst comparatively youthful and certainly not lacking in optimism and enthusiasm, is incredibly unpopular, and Hillary Clinton in all but name in her ability to galvanise the GOP against her. Pete Buttigieg surely remains too inexperienced for another presidential run and struggles badly with voters of colour, a key constituency for any successful Democrat. Similarly, Bernie Sanders is not likely to run again being older than Biden and having clearly drawn the ire of the Democratic establishment, and Elizabeth Warren has ruled out a 2024 presidential run and is instead seeking re-election to the US Senate in 2024.
Given that in all probability if Biden does not seek re-election the most likely nominee by far is Vice President Harris even if there is a contested primary, this may encourage Democrats to fall into line, despite concerns. They want to keep Republicans out of the executive branch infinitely more than just to see another Democrat in there.
On top of that, polls and Democratic operatives and officials suggest if Trump is the GOP nominee, somewhat more likely now that he has announced his campaign, Biden is the best Democratic chance to defeat him, but worry about his chances against another, perhaps more vigorous or youthful, opponent. This is something very difficult to predict at this stage, given that there are plenty of known unknowns about the 2024 Republican primary, such as whether Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or any other big name will challenge Trump and in turn potentially gain the right to face Biden. Similarly, it isn’t likely to be especially encouraging for him that a clear majority (72%) of Americans do not want him to seek re-election.
Moreover, whilst the Biden White House has countless legislative achievements, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the CHIPS and Science Act to improving veteran healthcare, many of his administration’s shortcomings will be largely ignored in a 2024 campaign, despite Biden running on a record if he did campaign unlike in 2020. The American electorate are notorious for having reasonably short memories when it comes to most political issues outside of the economy. Quite simply, some of the major criticisms of Biden’s performance, such as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in summer 2021 and the swift return to power of the Taliban, will likely be lost on most Americans when they come to vote in 2024, either in a primary or general election. The economy will be the primary concern, and inform widespread perceptions of the candidate, as it always is for any US presidential election.
It would be different if incidents like this fit neatly into powerful potential Republican narratives of consistent failure or incompetence that could help put issues like this at the fore of voters’ minds, but Biden has not really had any truly catastrophic or constant failures that would highlight his supposed failures nicely that say the bungled COVID response was for Trump.
His approval rating has been underwater since the Afghanistan crisis and remains stagnant at 41.6% approval and 53.2% disapproval as of mid-November 2022. Historically, Presidents with that strata of approval may seek but do not win re-election, with the best examples in Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George HW. Bush in 1992. Nonetheless, this same approval rating encouraged pundits to predict sizeable Democratic midterm losses, but these did not materialise. Whilst this is surely mostly due to the overturning of Roe v Wade and not Biden, those precedent-defying results will undoubtedly lift his spirits if his intention truly is to run once more.
Realistically, Joe Biden I believe could run for President again and win, especially if Trump is the Republican nominee, and he may very well do so if he finds it to be in both his party’s and country’s interest.