Biden Should Run in 2024
Despite his flaws, he is the best hope for the Democrats and for the country.
This is the first of a two-part debate. “Biden Should Not Run in 2024” by Julie M. Norman will be published on Wednesday.
Joe Biden has a very difficult choice to make. With the midterms finally over and the country turning its collective attention to 2024, the president needs to decide whether or not to run for reelection. And although Biden has said that it is his “intention” to run, his refusal to formally commit has left open the possibility that he’ll step down after just one term.
There is no shortfall of arguments as to why Biden should call it quits. Atop this list is that he’s very old. The president recently turned 80 and would be 86 by the end of his second term. It’s not hard to imagine that his advanced age could seriously impede his ability to run a strong campaign in 2024 and effectively execute the duties of the presidency should he win a second term. Then there are more general concerns about Biden’s judgment and his leadership. He has at times overreached his executive power, lied and stretched the truth, and exploited the country’s partisan divides for political gain.
Normally, these criticisms would have me joining those calling for Biden to go. But given the particularities of the moment, a Biden retirement would spell serious trouble for both the Democratic Party and the country at large. Ultimately, Biden running again in 2024 is the best of several bad options.
To understand why, one first needs to consider the broader political context. Both of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, belong to the party’s hardcore nationalist wing. Though Trump’s offenses have been more egregious than DeSantis’s, both have shown an ambivalence towards basic democratic principles and a willingness to weaponize government power against their enemies. On top of this, Republicans are likely to take majorities in both the Senate and House, giving a theoretical President Trump or DeSantis unified control of the federal government.
Looking down the barrel of a Republican trifecta led by DeSantis or Trump, Democrats should be singularly concerned with one thing: winning. This, in a word, is why Biden should not step down. If he does so, Vice President Kamala Harris will almost certainly become the Democratic nominee, and that would be tantamount to political malpractice.
By almost any measure, Harris would make for a terrible general election candidate. Her approval rating consistently trails the president’s by several points, frequently dipping below 40%. She also fares worse than Biden in theoretical matchups against DeSantis and Trump. One recent poll has Biden tying Trump, while Harris trails him by two points. Another poll shows similar results when the Democrats are up against DeSantis: Biden ties him, while Harris loses by three points.
To be fair to Harris, part of the blame for her unpopularity belongs to Biden. By handing her responsibility over two of the nation’s most intractable policy issues—voting rights and immigration reform—the president made it inevitable that she’d be seen as an ineffective vice president.
Even so, Harris’s most significant political challenges are her own fault. One doesn’t need to be a communications expert to know that Harris has an authenticity problem—you just need to watch the excruciatingly uncomfortable video of her meeting with a group of paid child actors to discuss space exploration. And that debacle was not a one-off. The only time most Americans seem to hear from Harris is when she sporadically goes viral for disastrous interviews or rambling speeches. After she launched her doomed 2020 presidential primary campaign, it quickly became clear that Harris is not the superstar that Democrats hoped.
Biden, by contrast, has vastly outperformed expectations. Faced with the hurdle of a 50/50 Senate, many Democrats and political pundits didn’t think Biden would achieve all that much in his first term. But in retrospect, the first two years of Biden’s presidency have been astonishingly productive. Biden has signed a massive Covid stimulus package, infrastructure investment, the Inflation Reduction Act—which addresses climate change, lowers prescription drug prices, and reduces the deficit—and a bill to invest in domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing. Just last week, Biden signed a historic law recognizing same-sex marriage. Even more impressive is the fact that most of these accomplishments were achieved with some level of Republican support.
One doesn’t need to think that Biden is perfect to recognize that this record is impressive and that he has a number of electoral strengths. His penchant for moderation and bipartisanship (at least compared with other politicians) has yielded legislative and electoral success that once seemed very unlikely. And while voters may disapprove of the way Biden has handled his presidency, they give him higher marks for his personal traits. For example, voters are more likely to say that Biden is “knowledgeable,” “compassionate,” and “mentally fit” than they are to say that he’s “too liberal,” “reckless,” or “thin-skinned.” Admittedly, his numbers on these questions still aren’t exceptional, but as Biden himself is fond of saying, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.” Running against Trump or DeSantis, Biden may indeed look better than the alternative, which could very well be enough to carry him over the finish line.
One might think that the party could just opt for someone other than Harris if Biden were to step down. Unfortunately, historical precedent and contemporary realities make that seem very unlikely. Since 1952, four sitting vice presidents have run for their party’s presidential nomination. All four were successful—despite the fact that three of them, like Harris, had previously competed for the nomination and failed. What finally catapulted them to the nomination was the name recognition, establishment support, and fundraising capacity that come with the vice presidency.
It’s hard to imagine any of Harris’s competitors overcoming these advantages. Indeed, Harris leads every recent high-quality poll asking Democratic voters who they’d vote for in 2024 if Biden steps down. Moreover, the candidates who typically come in second and third in these surveys—Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders—are both terribly positioned to take on Harris. Both are white men who struggle with black voters and would face intense criticism for trying to replace the party’s first black woman vice president. The fact that the Democratic primary calendar is being shuffled in a way that will help establishment and minority candidates only makes defeating Harris an even taller task.
Ideally, Biden running again would give the party enough time to build a solid bench of candidates to compete with Harris for the 2028 nomination. Potential contenders for that list include Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Pennsylvania Governor-elect Josh Shapiro. Another four years may also give figures like Buttigieg the time to gain more experience and shore up some of their weaknesses. But for now, none of these politicians have the profile or support that would be necessary to defeat a sitting vice president.
In short, Democrats have two options in 2024: Biden or Harris. And while Biden is not a perfect president or an ideal candidate, he has real strengths that he can run on to defeat Trump or DeSantis. Harris, on the other hand, is liable to hand the country to a Republican trifecta. Given all that’s at stake in 2024, Biden needs to run for reelection.
Seth Moskowitz is an associate editor at Persuasion. He also writes Brain Candy, a newsletter about politics and elections.
This article represents the individual views of the author, not those of Persuasion.
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