Read the room, Joe. What was once being whispered behind his back is now out in public – Joe Biden is too old and unpopular for his job. In the course of a couple of days, both Bret Stephens, a former conservative journalist, and current NYT columnist, and CNN’s Chris Cillizza weighed in with some advice for the president. The message is to skip running for re-election in 2024 and make that decision known right now.
This is really quite amazing. Joe Biden, a career politician who finally won the presidency on his third try, has failed so spectacularly that his voters are begging him to step aside. He’s only eleven months into his first year as president and Cillizza is even offering up some names for consideration in 2024. The quiet part is being said out loud and it’s not from Republicans. It’s coming from his own supporters.
Team Biden is painfully aware of the whispering going on. Jen Psaki even assured the White House press corps this week that Biden fully intends to run for re-election. That has to be the line coming from the White House, though, because otherwise, he’s a lame-duck president. To that Bret Stephens says Biden is worse than a lame duck president at this point. Biden should say he’s not running now and the party would feel liberated. The sun would shine, unicorns and puppies would frolic together, and potential candidates for 2024 would emerge.
But, news flash: Right now he’s worse than a lame duck, because potential Democratic successors are prevented from making calls, finding their lanes and appealing for attention. That goes especially for people in the administration who should be powerful contenders: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu.
And what would that mean for the rest of the Biden presidency? Far from weakening him, it would instantly allow him to be statesmanlike. And it would be liberating. It would put an end to the endless media speculation. It would inject enthusiasm and interest into a listless Democratic Party. It would let him devote himself wholly to addressing the country’s immediate problems without worrying about re-election.
And it needn’t diminish his presidency. George H.W. Bush accomplished more in four years than his successor accomplished in eight. Greatness is often easier to achieve when good policies aren’t encumbered by clever politics. Biden should think on it — and act soon.
Biden’s no statesman, even on his best day, but you get the point. The problem with Stephens’ reasoning is that he assumes that Biden is a politician who can see the bigger picture and do what’s best for the party, even the country. Biden can’t do that. His ego is supersized and he’s in deep denial of his capabilities, both mental and physical. Stephens notes that Biden seems “uneven” in his public appearance and incoherent. He’s right. It is usually impossible to listen to Biden speak and not think, what did he say? It’s not just his stutter or his raspy voice, it’s his mental condition.
It is interesting that Stephens mentions several possible candidates in 2024 that are also on Cillizza’s list. Coincidence? There’s no such thing as coincidence in politics. You can judge for yourself.
The important point that Stephens makes is that this discussion should be out in the open. He reaches back to previous presidents and how they were discussed in the press. Though the White House and its minions in the media laughably think Biden’s press coverage has been worse than Trump’s, the truth is that the press hasn’t dared to expose Biden’s fragility. It’s the same way they treated him during the presidential campaign. They were perfectly content with Biden hiding in his basement, rarely surfacing for an interview. The media was happy to cover for him in order to get him elected. Now they are stuck with him, as are we.
In the 1980s, it was fair game for reputable reporters to ask whether Ronald Reagan was too old for the presidency, at a time when he was several years younger than Biden is today. Donald Trump’s apparent difficulty holding a glass and his constricted vocabulary repeatedly prompted unflattering speculation about his health, mental and otherwise. And Joe Biden’s memory lapses were a source of mirth among his Democratic primary rivals, at least until he won the nomination.
Yet it’s now considered horrible manners to raise concerns about Biden’s age and health. As if doing so can only play into Trump’s hands. As if the president’s well-being is nobody’s business but his own. As if it doesn’t much matter whether he has the fortitude for the world’s most important job, so long as his aides can adroitly fill the gaps. As if accusations of ageism and a giant shushing sound from media elites can keep the issue off the public mind.
Cillizza’s list has eleven names on it. Cillizza points to Biden’s age and low poll numbers as a reason to put a list together for 2024. The media is happy to help Democrats strategize for the next presidential election. CNN should hope that Trump runs in 2024 because his presidency was very good for their ratings. Now that Trump’s out of office, CNN’s ratings are in the basement. Nonetheless, they persist in bringing up Trump at every opportunity. Cillizza references a NYT piece that reports there is no Plan B if Biden doesn’t run in 2024. He lists the names mentioned in the NYT but offers no opinion on how they might fare in the race.
* Kamala Harris: She’s undoubtedly struggled as vice president but she’s still the most likely Democrat not named Biden to wind up as the Democratic nominee in 2024.
* Pete Buttigieg: The most naturally talented candidate in the 2024 field, “Mayor Pete” has also been front and center selling Biden’s infrastructure bill.
* Elizabeth Warren: The Massachusetts senator is still popular among liberals — and wouldn’t be splitting the vote with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders this time around like she did in 2020.
* Amy Klobuchar: Other than Buttigieg, the Minnesota senator was probably the best regarded of the losing candidates in 2020 — and her Midwest roots are always a plus given the electoral map.
* Roy Cooper: Term-limited out of office in 2024, the North Carolina governor has ample time to consider his next step — starting with his service as the vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
* Mitch Landrieu: Being tasked with implementing the infrastructure bill is a big (and high-profile) job that the former New Orleans mayor has taken to with relish.
* Gina Raimondo: She made the leap from Rhode Island governor to Biden administration commerce secretary but doubts remain as to whether she is too moderate to win a Democratic primary in this moment.
What is apparent with this list is how shallow the 2024 bench is for Democrats. There is no star power there. Mayor Pete is often written up as a rising star but he received mixed reviews, at best, as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of 100,000. Primary voters in 2020 soon tired of him. The same holds true with Warren and Klobuchar. No one outside of Louisiana knows who Mitch Landrieu is, besides political junkies, and Gina Raimondo doesn’t have national name recognition. Plus, Raimondo is coming under scrutiny for her husband’s business ties, which should have been a topic for discussion during her confirmation hearing.
Harris is more unpopular and incompetent than Biden. Democrats are stuck with her for now, though, or they will reap the scorn of millions of black women voters if she’s dumped. She’s the only black person on that list of eleven. As Joe Biden’s primary run proved, Democrats can’t get elected without black women voters.
So, there we are. None on that list will beat Trump if he chooses to run again or if Ron DeSantis runs. We’ll see how long it takes for a national discussion among Democrats to surface now that the NYT, CNN, and Stephens are speaking up. In the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy the show.