Replacing Biden in 2024?

From the Cliché File.

Source: The White House

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 decadessurging 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).

FILED UNDER: 2022 Election, 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Remember when Kamala Harris was going to be the one poor old Joe would have to lean on? Whatever happened to her?

    We’re having a run of bad luck leading into the mid-terms, but these cycles rarely last two years.

  2. Scott F. says:

    Yes, we could always use a better president.

    What we need is a more powerful, confident president. A president who can declare unequivocally, ‘I alone can fix it!’ A president with more, shall we say, authority!

    Oh, baby, that’s what we need – like a hole in the head.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    The only legitimate question about Biden is his age, the rest is whining. Biden was tied at the bottom of my preferred candidates with Bernie, the first and foremost reason being their age. Generally I feel he has performed well and in particular his handling of Russian aggression and managing our alliances.

    Regarding the big issue, inflation, no the administration didn’t see it coming, but neither did the Fed and most economists excepting Summers and that could be chalked up to taking a contrarian view.

  4. Ken_L says:

    ‘Will Joe Run Again’ stories have taken longer than I expected to start running. I thought they’d begin early last year. I look forward with confidence to stories soon about Kamala Harris intriguing to replace the president, and Michael Bloomberg planning to spend a trillion dollars on a primary challenge.

    The brutal truth is that Biden was a poor nominee but he was also the best on offer. Far from being the birth of a glorious new era in leftist politics, the Obama presidency proved to be a dead end. Renewal should have begun in 2010 after the disastrous mid-terms, but it didn’t. It’s too late now to fix the problems. There is no plausible alternative to Joe Biden in 2024, and if he were to step down, he’d simply become the lamest of lame ducks while the uninspiring 2020 Democratic primary repeated itself.

    Joe has to run again unless his health prevents it. His party can get behind him, or descend into bickering and blame-shifting for the appallingly dysfunctional performance of Democrats in Congress. Needless to say it ought to do the former, and is almost guaranteed to do the latter.

  5. Michael Cain says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    …and most economists excepting Summers…

    Hasn’t Summers been predicting hyperinflation for decades now?

  6. Just nutha says:

    @Ken_L: You must not have been paying attention. I remember seeing “will he run again” articles starting about a month after his inauguration.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Hasn’t Biden already been replaced with a clone, according to the QAnon folks?

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Cain:

    A stopped clock…

  9. de stijl says:

    I never expected Biden to run in 2024.

    He was a placeholder. An anodyne guy who was not going to fuck things up. A modern day Gerald Ford. A palate cleanser. An orange sorbet after Trump.

    Biden’s best quality is that he is not Donald effing Trump and all that entails.

    Biden is a cessation from random chaos via Twitter.

    Solid dude doing the job. Not inspirational but adequate. In the main, he does not actively suck.

    (He was my third choice after Warren and Buttigieg at the caucus. I gladly voted for him in the general election.)

  10. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: He was probably my second choice after Warren, as I think Buttigieg is too inexperienced. I can’t remember who else was in the field anymore.

    That said, if we had the option of replacing him with a cyborg with a machine gun arm or something like that, I would be all for it. But if the idea is just to replace him with Harris… why bother?

    (Harris really needs to get a higher profile if she wants to be heir apparent. The heir apparent must occasionally appear.)

  11. de stijl says:


    Buttigieg did well and spoke well in the run up to the Iowa caucuses. I thought him impressive, smart, and worthy.

    He won my caucus hands down like 70-30 iirc. A washout first round. And that was in fairly upscale mostly white and straight neighborhood.

    Warren was second. I think Biden placed fifth.

  12. @Ken_L:

    The brutal truth is that Biden was a poor nominee

    While I can certainly understand what he would not be one’s preference, or that one could imagine a better nominee, but it strikes me that a nominee who was able to unify the party and then go on to win is objectively a good nominee.

    And I say that not to defend Biden himself, but just from a process POV.

  13. @de stijl:

    Not inspirational but adequate.

    Should “inspirational” be a metric by which we judge presidents?

    I would argue that such expectations are part of the problem and feed into the great man and willpower issues I noted in the OP.

  14. Ken_L says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I suggest Trump was mainly responsible for Biden’s victory. To use a famous phrase from an Australian election last century, a drover’s dog could have won. While Biden is a “unifier” in the sense he doesn’t provoke negative sentiments from either the left or the centre, he hasn’t been able to unite the party sufficiently to achieve much of the platform he ran on. If and when Republicans take back the House next November, expect the fragile appearance of unity to fracture into bitter recriminations.

  15. @Ken_L: I mean, maybe?

    The best metric is winning, and he won. He won the primary more handily than I expected. He won the popular vote by a healthy margin and he won the EC, including flipping GA. Does opponent matter? Of course, but I am not sure what other metric one can use than winning.

    I would expect there to remain unity after 2022 among the Dems because there is not much to be gained from disunity. Now, if he wins re-election, the factions will emerge as they start to think about 2028.

  16. Ken_L says:

    Metric? Depends what we’re trying to measure. Trump won in 2016 – I guess that made him a “good” candidate for the narrow purposes of winning the 2016 election, but it would be hard to argue he was good in any other sense, either for his party or the nation. Surely the quality of a candidate depends on a more nuanced analysis than any single “metric”, or even a collection of them. Winning election is necessary but far from sufficient.

    Biden was a poor candidate because he was something of a dead end. Far from signalling the party’s renewal, he represented regression to the past. It was significant that the man credited with turning his primary campaign around is James Clyburn, who’s even older than Biden. These are 20th century politicians demonstrating the party’s failure to renew itself. To give Biden credit, he did try to provide a 21st century leader-in-waiting by appointing Kamala Harris as his running mate. Unfortunately she shows no signs of being able to rise to the challenge.

    I repeat that Biden was the best choice in 2020, but being the best of a bad lot doesn’t make someone good. The fact that Bernie Sanders was his only real rival demonstrates the parlous state of the party.

  17. @Ken_L: Trump failed to win the EC twice in a row, which is not an insignificant measurement of the poor quality of his candidacy. He also had a much harder time unifying his party in 2016 than did Biden his in 2020.

    I mean, I understand your point about him being a dead end of a sort, but I still think you are engaging in a bit of great man-ism, so to speak, insofar as you really are expecting a “good” candidate to accomplish an awful lot by him/herself just by some notion of quality.

    I think this is reflective of a deep flaw in American politics that links to several of my posts critiquing political coverage in the US. We are primed to look to the president (and our party’s presidential nominee) as the embodiment of the party and of government. This is not surprising, but it is a key result of presidentialism which leads to an overfocus on the leader and not the collective party.

    And so we end up looking, every four-to-eight years for the candidate who will finally put it all right, like a character in a fantasy novel who was born to bring balance to our politics or somesuch.

    And like I say in the OP: better is always better, and so it is always easy to say that what we have is not as good as some hypothetical other candidate who would have been able to do what the one we got did, plus more!

    But look, yes: Biden has flaws. We can more than agree on that.

  18. Dan O says:

    Bottom line is that regardless of his decision to run in 2024, is that he has already done the most important job of our times by defeating Trump in 2020.

    Since then, I would say he has been adequate. His reponse to the Russia incident has been OK, while the inflation problem is more a problem caused by the Fed, Putin, Covid and the corrupt clown show known as the Trump administration.

    I would say his biggest failure(s) are a. Not having a personality that inspires confidence at all and b. Appointing an absolute do nothing milquetoast in Merrick Garland as his AG to let Trump’s attempted takedown of democracy go unpunished.