President Joe Biden’s age is getting to be like the weather. Everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it.
In the event we do, the turning point will likely have been a Washington Post column written by David Ignatius, titled, “President Biden should not run again in 2024.”
Because of his status as an esteemed journalist—and because of his perch at The Post—Ignatius’ column signals that the age issue is (as he writes) not “just a Fox News trope.”
To be sure, Ignatius’ column comes in the wake of polls showing the public thinks Biden is too old to run for re-election—an opinion echoed by other prominent commentators across the political spectrum.
Earlier this week, for example, Cenk Uygur (the progressive host of The Young Turks) tweeted that “Joe Biden is being intensely selfish by running again. He’s putting his ego above the interests of his party and his country.” The Young Turks also launched a petition urging Biden to drop out.
“Of course, the goal isn’t to sack Biden, but to replace him with someone who isn’t one trip-and-fall away from catastrophe.”
But the calls aren’t just coming from inside the progressive’s house. “[Biden] seemed so old. His eyes were slits, he turned the pages of his very prepared remarks haltingly,” author Joe Klein observed last week (regarding a speech Biden gave after touring hurricane-ravaged Florida). “He slurred his words, slightly. His physical condition overwhelmed the message.”
Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, and creator of the influential blog The Dish, agreed with Klein. “Every time you hear [Biden] speak, he’s also just a little off, eyes now barely visible in the ancient, botoxed, fillered face, words often slurred, a ghostly white mane peeking over his collar in the back, occasionally rallying to the point, or strangely loud-whispering,” Sullivan wrote.
Of course, the goal isn’t to sack Biden, but to replace him with someone who isn’t one trip-and-fall away from catastrophe. Sullivan voted for Biden in 2020 and says that if he’s up against Trump in 2024, he will do so again. But he also believes “A new candidate would immediately shift the dynamic of the race. The Democrat would represent the future; and Trump the polarized past.” Likewise, Klein writes that Biden has been “a solid ‘transitional’ President,” before hastening to add, “but transition requires transit, a second act.”
Speaking of second acts, centrist journalist Josh Barro (an early supporter of Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary) sees “no good way to get Biden off the ticket,” and has, instead, proposed a compromise to mitigate Biden’s age problem: Replacing Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate, in favor of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
While Barro’s arguments for calling a stronger relief pitcher out of the bullpen are compelling, the political realities are such that ditching Harris (either as Biden’s running mate or as his replacement) is an even bigger reach than putting Biden out to pasture.
The first problem with getting rid of Biden is that you can’t beat somebody with nobody. And while prominent opinion leaders are normalizing the idea, it is not being embraced by Democratic politicians who could actually make it happen.
Yes, Biden is currently facing pro forma challenges by the likes of Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. But even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—who was once thought to be some radical revolutionary—has endorsed Biden.
Meanwhile, during his appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press last Sunday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom—thought to be a future presidential candidate himself—vigorously insisted that he’s “all in with President Biden” and that he wouldn’t challenge Harris, in any event.
So what explains the disparity between pundits and pols? I mean, presumably, ambitious politicians have the most to gain from pushing the old guy aside.
While staking out a strong contrarian position can generate clicks and cable TV appearances, I do not question the motives of these opinion leaders. Indeed, moderate or liberal-leaning writers who criticize a sitting Democratic president risk being labeled as “bedwetters.” And if Biden ultimately loses the presidential election to Donald Trump, these same writers could be blamed.
On the other hand, let’s not turn them into Cassandras. The truth is that everyone knows Joe Biden should step aside. Everyone, that is, except Joe Biden, his wife, and his team. And they are the only ones who matter.
Way back in May, I argued that because Biden was a) an incumbent president who b) had already declared his re-election campaign, Democrats might as well embrace the old Boomer anthem: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
Nothing has changed in the interim. Barring some unforeseen event, it is going to be a death match between the old guy and the evil guy. People rooting for Biden can only hope he can run out the clock. And who knows? Maybe he can.
Or maybe he will end up like veteran New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, splayed out on the turf with a season-ending injury. Neither scenario would surprise me. That’s how tenuous this race is.