Tuesday, November 21, 2023
View Larger +
President Joe Biden celebrated his 81st birthday yesterday. With a little more than a year left in his first term and less than a year left until the 2024 Presidential election, Joe Biden can be proud of a consequential presidency with substantial accomplishments at home and abroad-accomplishments that will stand the test of time.
On the home front, these include a landmark law to speed our transition from carbon-producing fossil fuels that are unsustainably heating up our planet to non-carbon producing renewable energy, a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure law, and a large investment in semiconductors and other new technology to boost our economic competitiveness. In foreign policy, President Biden’s skillful and persistent diplomacy has ensured a strong and unified response by NATO and the West to an unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine. The essential military aid and strategic advice provided has enabled the brave Ukrainians to not only prevent Russia’s from achieving its prime objective of taking over Ukraine; it has resulted in the significantly degrading of the authoritarian aggressor’s conventional military capacity.
GET THE LATEST BREAKING NEWS HERE — SIGN UP FOR GOLOCAL FREE DAILY EBLAST
Voters, however, often don’t reward leaders for past accomplishments. The British people famously thanked Winston Churchill for his heroic job during World War 11 by voting him out of office in 1945. Similarly, President George H.W. Bush’s masterful orchestration of the end of the Cold War, including the reunification of Germany, as well as his skillful diplomatic and military leadership that ended Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait were appreciated at the time by the American people, but it did not prevent them from choosing Bill Clinton over him in 1992.
It is more than a cliché to say that elections are mainly about the future. And as the American people look to the future, what gives voters pause–including many who think the president has done a good job– is that he looks and sounds his age. While the president remains lucid and in command, his ability to communicate in a way that inspires confidence has noticeably diminished over the course of his presidency. About 3-in-4 registered voters overall, including most Democrats, now think that Joe Biden is too old to serve another term, according to several recent polls. This percentage has steadily increased over his term of office as has the number of people who mention Biden’s advanced age as the first thing that comes to mind when asked about him.
This concern, which is central to a large percentage of voters’ evaluations of the president, is serving as a brake on any growth in his anemic approval ratings. Despite marked improvement in the performance of the economy over the past year, including continuing low unemployment, steady salary increases and a substantial reduction in inflation, President Biden’s job approval rating—the measure that traditionally correlates most strongly with reelection percentage– remains stuck at about 40%. This is why Donald Trump– who remains as unpopular has ever– has pulled even or a bit ahead of Mr. Biden in recent national and battleground state polling.
This political observer still thinks that if the general election ends up between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, as seems likely today, President Biden will be reelected. It is very far from a sure thing, however. Given that there are many other Democrats, including Governors Newsom and Whitmer, who would be strong favorites to defeat Donald Trump, it is only fair to ask Mr. Biden and his smart political team to take a hard look at political reality, and to do so now, while there is still time to have an open primary process to pick a different nominee. After all, Mr. Biden himself accurately considers Donald Trump a serious threat to the future of our democracy. With the stakes this high, Joe Biden running for another term at his advanced age, may be too much of a “riverboat gamble.” (A phrase famously used by Howard Baker in a different risky context.)
This hard look must dispense with some of the politically threadbare arguments I’ve heard from Joe Scarborough and other pundits who too easily dismiss concerns about the president’s electoral standing. It is the case, for instance, that Donald Trump will turn 78 in June, but as David Axelrod has noted, he comes across in public communications as far more energetic than Mr. Biden. Consequently, age as polling confirms, doesn’t present anywhere nearly the same hurdle to Mr. Trump’s candidacy that it does to Mr. Biden’s. Also, Joe Biden’s defeat of Mr. Trump in 2020 is an important data point, but far from dispositive; nor does it by definition mean he is the strongest possible Democratic candidate, as some have argued. After all, he defeated Mr. Trump before he served as president. Unlike in 2020, in 2024 perceptions of Joe Biden’s job performance– of which right now most voters disapprove– will be a major contributing factor to the electoral choices people make.
The fact that more than half the electorate today say they will not support Donald Trump, if he is the Republican nominee, and this is before his criminal trials begin that will dominate much of the news between now and election day is what makes Joe Biden better than even money to be reelected, assuming Mr. Trump is indeed the nominee. While recognizing that none of us can clearly see or predict the future, however, the hard cold political reality is that if the president decides not to run, a stronger Democratic candidate will likely emerge from a competitive nomination process
What is in the way of the president’s reelection is a far tougher opponent than Donald Trump; it’s Father Time. He will probably be able to temporarily outrun it and get reelected. But given Donald Trump’s manifest unfitness to be president, Mr. Biden is making a risky bet with high costs to the nation he loves and all he has accomplished if he loses it.
Respectfully, Mr. President. please thoroughly reconsider and make a decision with your head-not your heart.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits, businesses, and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.