Is Joe Biden running for reelection?!
Given the steady drip of pundits and prognosticators debating this, you’d think it was a live, tense question. Following the midterms, CNN’s Chris Cillizza excitedly pointed to exit polling showing that 67 per cent of voters don’t want Biden to run, and suggested that the Democratic Party couldn’t afford to ignore them. On social media, longtime Republican turned Never Trumper Bill Kristol speculated on a scenario in which former President Donald Trump drops out of the Republican nomination race and Biden follows suit on the Democratic side. Harold Meyerson at the American Prospect argues that Biden, at 80, is too old to seek renomination. And so forth.
All of this is silliness. Biden is going to run for a second term.
I’m not a huge admirer of Biden myself – he’s far too centrist, as evidenced by his interference on behalf of bosses in the recent railway union contract negotiations. But Biden doesn’t care what I think, or what Bill Kristol thinks. Unless he develops a serious health problem or is hit by a meteor, he’s going to be the next Democratic nominee for president. Moreover, anyone who actually cares about a Democratic victory, or democracy in general, should want Biden to run.
We know Biden is going to run for a second term because he has said he’s going to run – which effectively means he’s running right now.
Even if that wasn’t the case, though, there would be subtle clues that Biden intends to be the nominee. In the first place, he has been running for president since 1987. That is 35 years, more than half of his (very lengthy) adult life. You do not stop running for president after 35 years just as you are about to enter your second term as president. All the “Joe Biden should stop being president” takes assume that he doesn’t want to be president. That flies in the face of literally decades of evidence that he very much does.
Maybe if Biden were obviously going to lose in 2024 he might be persuaded to step down and give someone else a chance. But Biden is not obviously going to lose. On the contrary, he just won a sweeping, historic midterm victory, rivaled by only two presidents in the past 80 years.
You could argue that Biden wasn’t necessarily the cause of Democrats’ midterm successes. Biden’s approval rating was stuck in the dismally low 40s through the run-up to the election. Democratic voters were arguably not voting for him as much as they were voting against the tyrannical Supreme Court assault on abortion rights.
Democrats were also helped by the fact that the Trumpified Republican Party chose a slate of horrible, incompetent, unvetted, extremist candidates to run for state and national offices. Is it really a great victory to beat Senate candidates like Mehmet Oz, Herschel Walker, and Blake Masters?
These are reasonable points. But look at it from Biden’s perspective. He has now won four elections against Republicans – 2008 and 2012 as a vice-president, 2020 and 2022 as president. No one else alive has won that many national Democratic victories. Not Bill Clinton. Not Barack Obama. Certainly not Jimmy Carter.
There’s a plausible case that Biden is the most successful Democratic politician of the last 50 years or more. You can be sure that Biden, who is, like all presidents, a very ambitious man, recites this plausible case to himself before he goes to sleep, when he wakes up, and probably numerous times throughout his day. Biden is very aware that no one has beaten Republicans the way he has beaten Republicans. Who, Biden has a right to ask himself, is more likely to beat Republicans next time than Joe?
Biden and his potential rivals are also aware that, whatever his other strengths or weaknesses, Biden is the incumbent. And abandoning incumbent presidents before their second term is a risky proposition.
Incumbents don’t have to go through a possibly divisive primary. They have universal recognition, and (unless they’re Trump) they tend to look presidential simply by virtue of having been president. Over the course of US history, 20 presidents won two consecutive terms in office, while only 11 lost their second election. In contrast, when there is no incumbent, parties holding the presidency lost it as often as they won it.
If Biden were to run, he’d have about a two in three chance of victory, all else being equal. If he doesn’t run, Democratic chances drop to 50-50. That’s a significant penalty. Why should Biden risk it? Why should the party?
The answer is they shouldn’t and they know it. Which is why no Democrat has challenged Biden for 2024, even though to defeat him, they’d have already had to have been raising money for months.
Again, if Biden had just been crushed in the midterms, switching horses might seem the better of two bad options. If he were in obviously poor health, then again, there’d be incentive to try someone else.
But Trump and his GOP continue to explicitly call for the termination of the Constitution and to support authoritarian insurrection. Winning the 2024 election is still vital if we want there to be any more elections after that. Biden has every reason to think he’s best positioned to defeat Trump or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or any Republican nominee.
Pundits can wish for a more unusual or exciting Democratic primary. But, again barring a health catastrophe, Joe Biden is the next Democratic candidate for president. If you want chaos and division in 2024, you’ll have to watch the GOP.