There’s no plane of reality in which Democrats admit that the president isn’t up to the job due to his advanced age. “He’s not ready to go” will never escape the lips of an elected official from Team Blue publicly, and not just for reasons of rank partisan loyalty. Admitting that the commander-in-chief can no longer perform his tasks would be a national security crisis in the making. Imagine how that admission might affect, say, China’s calculations about Taiwan.
Of course, the Chinese can and do watch Biden’s public appearances on television like the rest of us. I’m sure they have an inkling that he’s seen better days.
What Jones means here, I think, is that Biden needs to make a decision about 2024 soon. And since the prospect of an 86-year-old Joe Biden governing America in 2028 is surreal to literally everyone, it’s clear what that decision should be.
It seems significant that a well-known Democratic commentator is on TV wondering openly whether there’s “something else” that might explain Biden’s flubs apart from a stutter.
It’s no coincidence that there have been more stories in the media lately citing Democrats whispering that Biden shouldn’t run. It’s not just because he’s irreparably damaged goods due to the inflation horror America is currently suffering through. It’s because his decision about 2024 will need to be made sooner than most people think. Biden and his party won’t breathe a word about him thinking of retirement before the midterms, knowing that early lame-duck status might kill whatever chance he has left to push major legislation through Congress before January. He’s still trying to make a deal with Joe Manchin on a climate and energy bill, remember.
But the second the votes are in on election night in November, Dems will begin twisting his arm behind the scenes to announce his retirement. If Joe Biden were at the top of his game cognitively, he’d probably still be the strongest hand Dems might play in 2024, inflation notwithstanding. That’s what a painfully thin bench (and the advantage of incumbency) has left them with. But if American swing voters are convinced that he’s no longer fit for office, he’s unelectable. As grim as the prospect of nominating Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg or whoever might seem to the left, at least they have their wits about them.
If Democrats are destined to endure a wrenching contested primary in which the first black woman vice president faces a number of white challengers, they’ll want to know and get on with it as soon as possible. The sooner Biden announces he’s a lame duck, the sooner Dem candidates can build their campaign teams and begin fundraising. And inasmuch as there’ll be hard feelings within the left about ambitious Dem politicians seeking to deny Harris her “turn in line,” it’s better for the party that those feelings are dealt with early. That way, maybe they’ll dissipate by November 2024, in time to ensure maximum Democratic turnout in the general election.
The media effort to nudge Biden into retirement continues today with a piece by Mark Leibovich at The Atlantic: “Why Biden Shouldn’t Run in 2024.”
Stepping aside would permit Biden to shed the demands of being a disciplined candidate (never his strong suit). It would be immediately liberating, allowing the president to focus on what he’s extremely well suited to: being a familiar mensch and champion and consoler to a country in dire need of one. He could off-load all of the burdens and suspicions that come with electoral ambitions. Nothing buys goodwill for a politician like self-removal from consideration…
As a point of professional comparison, Biden would be enjoying his 15th year of retirement if he had spent his career as a commercial airline pilot, or his 24th year if he had been an air-traffic controller. There’s a reason the FAA mandates compulsory departure times for these positions (65 for pilots, 56 for controllers). These are life-and-death tasks that demand peak stamina and mental acuity. The pressure can be crushing, burnout is rampant, and no one wants to see grandpop in the damn cockpit…
Aside from reinvigorating the Democrats, Biden could instantly burnish his own legacy by opting out of 2024. He would be praised for knowing when to step aside, for putting the interests of his party and country before himself, and for selflessly turning things over to the next acts. Gratitude would flow, maybe even from some of the Republicans he talked about doing business with. Everyone loves an elder statesman. A historic credit would be due to Joe Biden.
There are other reasons for Biden to quit while he’s ahead. (Well, while he’s behind.) If he runs again, he’s likely to face a primary challenger from the left — not a serious one but one that might force him to slog through two exhausting campaigns in 2024 instead of one. Announcing his retirement would spare him that. It might also defang the new House Republican majority, which is planning to investigate his son, the Afghanistan withdrawal, what the White House knew about inflation before passing the COVID relief bill last year, and all manner of other subjects that will further damage Biden’s chances of reelection. Once he’s a lame duck, the chief motive for Republicans to pursue those matters will melt away. That’s not to say they might not do it anyway — they need a way to pass the time during a period of divided government — but public interest in their findings will lag once it’s known that Biden won’t be back on the ballot.
Democrats will want a firm answer about his intentions by, say, March or April of next year. Buckle up.