President Biden must have enjoyed his holiday weekend in Nantucket, now that much of his party seems to be closing ranks behind a second tour of duty.
The vanishing of the supposed red wave in the midterms and his record of pushing through major spending bills have many Democrats breathing a sigh of relief, confident that their man can again beat Donald Trump.
Trump just came through a horrible week. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against him on Congress getting his tax returns, prompting him to heap “shame” on what’s become a “political body.” An appeals court panel is poised to throw out the special master that was slowing down the Justice Department investigation.
And then there was the dinner. The media uproar is growing louder over Trump sharing a Mar-a-Lago meal with Ye or Kanye West, who’s been spewing anti-Semitism, and Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist, anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. In a series of statements, Trump said he didn’t know Fuentes and didn’t know he was coming. But he chose not to criticize the abhorrent views of the 24-year-old activist (who told Trump he was his hero but he was moving on and backing Ron DeSantis).
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And yet the president has one serious problem that no amount of spinning or strategizing can erase: he just turned 80. And that hangs over his decision. (Yes, Trump is 76, but projects a much more vigorous persona.)
Now I’ve seen Biden (who I’ve covered since his 40s) skate through an hour-long presser with only a few stumbles, and keep up a punishing schedule on his latest foreign trip. There are other times when he makes gaffes or seems a bit confused. But the concern isn’t as much about Biden as it is that he’ll be 86 at the end of a second term.
And voters are going to take it into account no matter what elected Democrats say.
For the moment, his stock is rising. A New York Times piece yesterday said “whatever misgivings some Democrats may harbor about another Biden candidacy, his party is more inclined for now to defer to him than to try to force a frontal clash with a sitting president.”
The paper noted that in a recent USA Today poll, 71% of Democrats said Biden could win in 2024, up from 60% in August.
But the Times did include this nod toward the age factor: “Some Democrats say that the challenges confronting the 80-year-old president and his party should not be glossed over in the party’s relief over the outcome of the elections.”
The generational issue would become dominant if Biden doesn’t wind up running against his 2020 opponent. And that would transform the playing field, as National Review’s Rich Lowry notes in a column declaring it would be “extremely reckless” for the Democrats to nominate the president again:
“If Biden doesn’t get Trump, then he’ll be denied the dynamic of one old guy whose record is terrible running against another old guy who frightens people…
“Ron DeSantis is 44 years old. Ted Cruz is 51. Mike Pompeo is 58. Tim Scott is 47.
“Basically, any Republican nominee besides Trump would instantly be bequeathed a powerful past-vs.-future theme… Whatever edge Democrats imagine Biden would have against Trump disappears against, say, Ron DeSantis, a candidate nearly half Biden’s age who hasn’t repelled the middle of the country and isn’t obsessed with the 2020 election.”
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It’s hard to argue with that. Trump may well win the nomination, but if he doesn’t, the Democrats will be saddled with a generational contrast.
Now there are obvious advantages to running as an incumbent. And Lowry is right to concede that nobody really hates Biden, as they did, say, Hillary Clinton. Even if they can’t stand his politics or think he can’t string two sentences together, he’s a grandfatherly figure who’s been around forever.
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Biden himself benefited from the age contrast in 1972 when, at 29, he narrowly squeezed by popular Republican Sen. Caleb Boggs, who’d been in office for 29 years.
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With Gavin Newsom confirming to Politico that he’s informed Biden he doesn’t plan to challenge him, the cards are falling into a place for the president, who first launched a White House campaign 35 years ago.
But if Trump isn’t in fact the nominee, all bets are off.