Reviews | Biden shouldn’t run anymore – and he should say he won’t

Is it a good idea for Joe Biden to run for office in 2024? And, if he runs again and wins, would it be good for the United States to have a president who is 86 – the age Biden would be at the end of a second term?

I ask these questions bluntly because they need to be honestly discussed, not just constantly whispered.

In the 1980s it was fair game for reputable journalists to ask whether Ronald Reagan was too old for the presidency, at a time when he was several years younger than Biden today. Donald Trump’s apparent difficulty holding a drink and his restricted vocabulary prompted him on several occasions unflattering speculation on his health, mental and otherwise. And Joe Biden’s blackouts were a source of joy among his main Democratic rivals, at least until he wins the nomination.

Yet it is now seen as gruesome ways to raise concerns about Biden’s age and health. As if that could only play Trump’s game. As if the president’s well-being was no one’s business but his own. As if it didn’t matter that he had the courage to do the most important job in the world, as long as his assistants knew how to fill in the gaps deftly. As if accusations of ageism and the giant shush of media elites could push the issue out of the public mind.

It’s not okay. From some of his public appearances, Biden seems… spotty. Often convincing, but sometimes alarming incoherent. What is the reason? I have no idea. Do his appearances (including the good ones) inspire strong confidence that the president can go the distance in his current term, let alone the next? No.

And a lot of people seem to know that. On Sunday, my colleagues Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns reported on the not-so-silent whispers from the Democratic Party about what to do if Biden decides not to run. The contenders for the nomination appear in the story as sharks circling a raft, swimming slowly.

This is not healthy. Neither for the president himself, nor for the office he occupies, nor for the Democratic Party, nor for the country.

In 2019, the Biden campaign — aware of the candidate’s age — sold him to primary voters as a “transition figure,“the guy whose primary goal was to dethrone Trump and then pave the way for a fresher Democratic face. Biden never made that explicit promise, but the expectation seems betrayed.

Things might be different if the Biden presidency had gotten off to a good start. It’s not. Blame Joe Manchin or Mitch McConnell or the antivaxxers, but Biden’s poll numbers have been deep underwater since August. The man who once gave hope to his party now hangs over his party’s fortunes like a pair of cement shoes.

Things could also be different if it looked like the administration was about to move on soon. That’s the administration’s hope for the gigantic Build Back Better legislation. But last month’s passage of the infrastructure bill didn’t really move Biden’s political needle, and that bill was definitely popular. Now, BBB looms as another costly progressive distraction in an era of soaring prices, soaring homicides, resurgence of disease, urban decay, border crisis, supply chain crisis and the threat that the Iran crosses the nuclear threshold and Russia crosses the Ukrainian border.

Oh, and Kamala Harris. His supporters might decry the fact, but for an ever-growing number of Americans, the heir seems lighter than air. His poll numbers at this point in his term are the worst of any vice president in recent history, including that of Mike Pence. If she ends up being her party’s default nominee if Biden steps down late, Democrats will have every reason to panic.

So what should the president do? He is expected to announce, much sooner rather than later, that he will not seek a second term.

The argument against that is that it would instantly turn him into a lame president, and that’s undoubtedly true.

But, news flash: Right now, he’s worse than a lame duck, as would-be Democratic successors are prevented from making calls, finding their ways, and getting attention. That goes especially for members of the administration who should be strong 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 a statesman. And that would be liberating. This would put an end to endless media speculation. It would inject enthusiasm and interest into an apathetic Democratic Party. This would allow him to focus entirely on solving the country’s immediate problems without worrying about re-election.

And that should not diminish his presidency. George HW Bush accomplished more in four years than his successor accomplished in eight. Greatness is often easier to achieve when good policies are not encumbered by smart policies. Biden should think about it — and act quickly.

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