Replacing Biden in 2024?
From the Cliché File.
So, I noticed “one of those” headlines today. You know, the ones you see on a regular basis at this point in a presidential term. I think of them as coming from the “cliché file.” This one was of the genre “will the incumbent party replace its nominee after only one term?” It is from the NYT: Should Biden Run in 2024? Democratic Whispers of ‘No’ Start to Rise. Kudos from the onset for the “whispers” reference. It just makes it sound like something in going on that is just so naughty that it can’t be spoken aloud! (Never mind that people have been speculating about Biden being a one-termer since before he was nominated).
Here’s a taste from the article that is a chef’s kiss of silliness masquerading as somber seriousness:
Interviews with nearly 50 Democratic officials, from county leaders to members of Congress, as well as with disappointed voters who backed Mr. Biden in 2020, reveal a party alarmed about Republicans’ rising strength and extraordinarily pessimistic about an immediate path forward.
I mean, they talked to 50 people. And they are alarmed that the mid-terms look bad for Democrats! (which, we have known since, well, January of 2021–and that was before gas prices went through the roof and Putin started a disruptive war of choice). I suspect that if the reporters talked to pretty much anyone with even a passing pro-Democratic interest in the mid-terms and they would find “alarm” about the GOP and an “extraordinarily pessimistic” set of views. They might even hear whispers about the desire for a “better” candidate than Biden in 2024. But, as I like to say, better is always better. The devil in such a formulation is in the details.
Two thoughts occur.
The first is that Biden is uniquely situated for such whisperings because of his age. Not to be unduly blunt, but at his age, there is an elevated (relative to a younger person) chance that he won’t live to see the end of his current term, let alone a second. Perhaps more importantly there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about cognitive decline at his age.
Indeed, the NYT notes:
To nearly all the Democrats interviewed, the president’s age — 79 now, 82 by the time the winner of the 2024 election is inaugurated — is a deep concern about his political viability. They have watched as a commander in chief who built a reputation for gaffes has repeatedly rattled global diplomacy with unexpected remarks that were later walked back by his White House staff, and as he has sat for fewer interviews than any of his recent predecessors.
All I will add to that is that Biden has been known for gaffes since he was well younger than me. And, in my view, he has known full well what he was doing with his remarks that have “rattled global diplomacy” whether it be the line about Putin having to go or affirming that the US would defend China. If those statements were gaffes, they were Kinsley gaffes, not age-related ones (save, perhaps that the older one gets, the more one DGAF).
But the second thought is that all of the anxiety (and even the whispers!) is super normal. I suspect that if I took the time, I could find similar stories about most presidents (if not every single one of them) at about this time in their first term. After all, we know that presidents tend to lose seats in the mid-terms during their first term. We know that as soon as they take office, their popularity tends to start eroding. It is all a cycle.
I did find this from an Ezra Klein piece when he wrote for WaPo in 2011:
In December 1994, two-thirds of Democrats wanted to see a primary challenge mounted against Bill Clinton. In November 2010, 38 percent of Democrats wanted to see a primary challenge mounted again Obama
Can I remind everyone that the 2010 mid-terms were the Tea Party election? Indeed, CBS News wrote in November of 2010 (Why Democrats Lost the House to Republicans):
Congressional Democrats suffered their worst electoral defeat in decades, losing more than 50 seats in the House of Representatives. Preliminary CBS News exit polls show that these results were fueled primarily by a depressed turnout among Democratic base groups, independents leaning Republican and voter backlash against President Obama and his handling of the economy.
Mr. Obama proved to be a major liability in the 2010 election. Fifty-five percent of voters disapproved of the way the president is handling his job, including 58 percent of independents.
Voters were no happier with the Democratic-controlled Congress.
The exit polls show that voters have become disillusioned with Democratic policy prescriptions for the most pressing political problems.
And 51 percent of voters think Mr. Obama’s policies have hurt the country. Not surprisingly, sizable majorities of all these groups preferred Republican House candidates to their Democratic counterparts.
Nowhere is this dissatisfaction more strongly felt than with Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, the issue viewed as the most important facing the country by 62 percent of the midterm electorate.
I expect that an almost identical story will be written (scores of them, in fact) with “Biden” replacing “Obama” after the 2022 mid-terms.
Indeed, an Ipsos poll this week has Biden at a 61% disapproval of his handling of the “economic recovery” to almost exactly match Obama’s 62% dissatisfaction rating on the economy quoted above. That Ipsos poll gives Biden a 71% disapproval on his handling of inflation.
None of this is to defend Biden, per se, nor to say that he should definitively be the nominee in 2024 (after all, the two years between then and now is both crazy short and simultaneously crazy long). But what all of this is to say is that this is both normal and also a reflection upon what I consider the lazy pattern that even elite media constantly falls into.
BTW, back to the article, I would underscore yet again the poor quality of political analysis even in our elite newspapers:
the repeated failures of his administration to pass big-ticket legislation on signature Democratic issues, as well as his halting efforts to use the bully pulpit of the White House to move public opinion, have left the president with sagging approval ratings and a party that, as much as anything, seems to feel sorry for him.
That has left Democratic leaders struggling to explain away a series of calamities for the party that all seem beyond Mr. Biden’s control: inflation rates unseen in four decades, surging gas prices, a lingering pandemic, a spate of mass shootings, a Supreme Court poised to end the federal right to an abortion, and key congressional Democrats’ refusal to muscle through the president’s Build Back Better agenda or an expansion of voting rights.
First, a younger, more vigorous, dare I say, “better” president would have also had the same series of “repeated failures” because the main problem is not the president, it is the legislature. Specifically, it is either members of his own party (on those matters than can be passed via the reconciliation process) or the ability of the minority to filibuster everything else. While one can imagine that a more persuasive, better deal-cutter could exist, imagination does not produce such a reality.
And while I know that as the party in power the Democrats have to “explain away” things like inflation, gas prices, mass shootings, and the like. But it is worth repeating that inflation is a global problem and that the Democrats are willing to attempt some measure against gun violence, but see the above paragraph’s reference to the filibuster.
The media’s ongoing reduction of the American policy process to a combination of great man theory and willpower is maddening and is not helpful in the least.
Yes, we could always use a better president. We could always use a smarter president or a better negotiator, or whatever. But even that would hardly solve the problem (and, indeed, some of these problems are not solvable although they certainly could often use better management).