Biden Should Not Run in 2024
The 46th president will leave an admirable legacy. But it's time for a younger generation to step forward.
This is the second of a two-part debate. “Biden Should Run in 2024” by Seth Moskowitz was published on Monday.
Joe Biden was grappling with whether to seek one or two terms as president even before he secured the nomination in 2020. Now, with the midterms over and Trump throwing down the gauntlet for 2024, it’s time for Biden to finally decide: should he stay or should he go?
With any luck—and perhaps some tough love from advisers and family members—Biden will fall back on his initial inclinations to be a “transition” president and agree to step aside. The Democrats’ unexpectedly strong showing in the midterms, while perhaps making it more tempting to hang on, allows Biden to take the off-ramp from a position of relative strength and agency. Rather than being pressured to the sidelines by his party or the public, Biden can make the call to go out on his own terms.
This is advisable for several reasons.
First and foremost is his age. Already the oldest president in U.S. history, Biden turned 80 in November, meaning that a second term would take him to the age of 86. Some experts—and Biden himself—emphasize that numerical age isn’t everything, and it’s true that energy levels and mental acuity vary for each person. Yet even Biden acknowledges that his age is a “legitimate question,” and voters don’t have to look far for recent flubs that seem to exceed his usual penchant for gaffes.
Even if Biden is as fit as he says, voter perception matters for electability. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 68 percent of respondents (including 46 percent of Democrats) think Biden may not be up to the challenge of running in 2024, and 86 percent believe that 75 years old should be the cut-off for serving as president. In a New York Times/Siena College poll this summer, age was the number one factor cited by Democrats who preferred someone other than Biden as the nominee in 2024.
Second, Biden’s age is coupled with the fact that he remains unpopular. Despite clawing back slightly since the summer, his approval ratings have remained stubbornly low at about 42 percent, the lowest numbers for a president at this point in their term for over half a century. This suggests that Democrats overperformed in the midterms in spite of Biden, rather than because of him.
Third, Biden is not guaranteed to beat Trump in a potential rematch, and he shouldn’t let the former president’s announcement tip the scales on his own decision. Biden may believe he’s the one candidate who can beat Trump, but recent polls show the two neck and neck, some with Trump several points ahead. Meanwhile, Trump will likely face his own primary challengers, and if he’s off the ticket, Biden would struggle against a GOP candidate with broader appeal like Ron DeSantis.
The obvious argument against stepping aside is the seeming lack of a viable successor. Vice President Kamala Harris should be the clear heir-apparent. Despite polling relatively well with young and black voters, however, her approval rating is even worse than Biden’s, and she would need a significant profile shift over the next two years to go up against Trump or DeSantis.
But other viable alternatives to Biden would emerge in an open primary. For one, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is especially well-positioned to build on his breakout 2020 campaign with four years of federal experience. As a veteran, a Midwesterner, and an openly gay husband and father of two, Buttigieg could appeal to many demographic groups—and be a youthful standard bearer for the relatively moderate approach to politics that Biden sought to embody.
Democrats will benefit from having new voices in the race as well. Most notably, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a rising star who blasted past her MAGA-backed opponent in her re-election contest—and helped down-ballot Democrats take back the key swing state’s house and senate for the first time in nearly forty years. In the course of the campaign, Whitmer galvanized “yes” votes in a referendum to include abortion rights in the state constitution, becoming a leading voice on reproductive rights and tapping into voters’ disaffection with GOP stances on the issue. It’s true that Whitmer had come under fire from the right for Michigan’s Covid restrictions, but her subsequent pushback against militia groups who had targeted her also won her respect as a leader standing up to political extremism.
Whitmer and Buttigieg clearly aren’t the only options. Without Biden in the race, the field would be wide open for Democrats. And that’s a good thing. New faces would bring a breath of fresh air to the party and the country, especially when combined with a younger generation of Democratic leaders taking the reins in the House.
Finally, Biden may find that committing to a single term actually enhances the remainder of his time in office. Far from being a lame duck, Biden would have the opportunity to lead with the convictions that drew him to the presidency in the first place, freed from the political gymnastics of trying to please all sides of the party, and no longer beholden to the special interests and optics necessary for re-election. By foregoing a second term, Biden would preserve his legacy as the figure who struck a blow to Trumpism, restored America’s leadership in the world, and righted the ship of U.S. democracy when it was most in peril.
Julie M. Norman is an Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at University College London, and Co-Director of the UCL Centre on US Politics.
This article represents the individual views of the author, not those of Persuasion.
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