By Will Allen
It seems like a given rule that presidents are expected to seek re-election. There are just six examples of incumbent presidents who haven’t run for a second term – which makes it a highly unusual exercise to even question whether the incumbent should run again. However, America isn’t sticking to this time-honoured rule with Joe Biden, who is still yet to announce his re-election bid (although it appears imminent). Just about everyone has an opinion, and surprisingly many – even those in his own party – are stating Biden shouldn’t run. Personally, I am not one of those people. I think the debate over Biden and his now impending re-election bid have gotten out of hand. Biden should run again because, well, he’s the president and he’s doing a good job.
There are of course cases where presidents should not run for re-election. The most obvious case to argue against the incumbent’s re-election is if they are deeply unpopular, which of course Biden is not. Tracking Biden in the polls reveals that he is by no means a wildly popular president. But critically neither is Biden wildly unpopular – according to Fivethirtyeight’s aggregate of approval ratings from various pollsters, approval of Biden sits at around 43%. That figure isn’t terrific, it is a lower rating than the last three presidents to get re-elected. But the metric isn’t something we should be running to to discredit the current president’s electability.
Biden’s approval rating currently is higher than Ronald Reagan’s was at this point in time and Reagan went on to win his re-election bid – so why can’t Biden? And we should also acknowledge that Biden’s approval rating has been on the move – with Biden steadily becoming more popular since last summer. His approval gap has narrowed from a +19.0 to +7.8, which should encourage democrats that the president definitely isn’t out of the running.
Critics should also be mindful of what they are asking for – a democrat who isn’t Joe Biden. Let’s say they get what they want, who would they want as a nominee instead of the president? The options are seemingly endless, and a viable candidates simply won’t emerge until the day Biden ever said he wasn’t running – which presents a problem. Do they want his vice president Kamala Harris? How about Pete Buttigieg, Gavin Newsom, or some other centrist? What about a progressive like Elizabeth Warren armed with plans?
In the end it appears the answer would most likely be Kamala Harris, but this only invites the same questions that critics are posing to Biden – her polling isn’t strong. In fact, it’s currently weaker than the man they don’t want to run again in 2024. However, this problem isn’t just specific to Harris, most of the polling shows that the slew of potential democratic candidates are weaker than Biden.
Democrats should also fear a replacement because it means navigating an open primary – an event that would be a disaster. Primaries at the best of times are time consuming, extremely expensive, and exhaustive to the party apparatus. Holding one a mere handful of months out from the 2024 election is not a smart move if you are concerned with winning a gruelling general election, let alone a brutal Senate map. A primary to replace Biden would undoubtedly draw candidates from far and wide into the race, inviting a set of brutal debates that will fracture what is currently a united party under Biden’s leadership. A primary then will divert the party’s attention and money from doing the very thing Biden’s chief critics want – winning the presidency.
Aside from party politics, Biden also has a record to run on in 2024. In his first two years, despite the frequent infuriating actions of some within his party, Biden passed a lot of legislation – and by a lot I mean a heck of a lot. Biden kicked off his presidency with the American Rescue Plan, which laid the groundwork for the country’s strong economic progress since emerging from the pandemic in 2021. In his first two years in office Biden has overseen the creation of 12 million jobs, more than any president created in a full four-year term. Unemployment is at historic lows, job hiring remains persistently strong and the United States has managed, against all odds, to avoid a deeply damaging recession many economists predicted – in large part due to the strength of the ARP that Biden championed. The American Rescue Plan also included provisions like the expanded child tax credit, which slashed child poverty by 30%. We should all give credit where credit is due, and Biden deserves a lot of credit for the economic outlook that presents itself today.
Biden has also passed a lot more than just the American Rescue Plan. He eventually signed a second transformational reconciliation package into law, the Inflation Reduction Act – which pumps billions of dollars into investing in the fight against climate change. The legislation also cut the costs of prescription drugs for those on Medicare. If you need an idea of just how powerful this provision has been, just look to the fact it has since pushed the largest producers of insulin to finally cut costs for every American, not just those on Medicare. Aside from these truly historic bills, Biden has signed bipartisan legislation on infrastructure, gun control reform and science funding to counter the rise of China in strategic sectors.
When held up by congress Biden hasn’t sat idly by, he’s picked up his pen and signed countless executive orders. These orders tackle issues such as gun violence, reproductive rights and of course student debt forgiveness. Despite debt cancelation being held up in litigation, Biden has still managed to do things such as increase the maximum value of Pell Grants. As it stands his legislative record is one of the most transformational in recent history – and as one democratic strategist stated, “If any other president had his record of accomplishments, this wouldn’t even be a question”.
Of course, Biden’s record isn’t perfect, there was Afghanistan, the most recent go-ahead for the ‘Willow’ project in Alaska and other blunders. But critics should again be mindful that no president’s record is perfect, and on balance Biden’s makes him a remarkably successful president.
However, America’s chief concern over whether Biden should run again stems from the fact he’s 80, an octogenarian. This is of course entirely fair to question to level – should the oldest president ever elected (who is only getting older) seek a second term? After all, the presidency is not an easy job, it’s gruelling. It’s a job which demands the president’s full attention every hour of every day for four long years – Biden’s age brings into question whether he can handle such a job.
By the end of a second term Biden would be well into his 80s (86), an age which calls into question a whole range of things such as physical fitness, mental decline, even that of death. Death and mental decline are notattractive things, and it’s not easy to rebut them because they are not trivial things at all. The best we can say is that Biden remains in remarkably good health (according to his White House doctor he has remarkably low levels of cholesterol and shows no signs of mental decline). There are also no signs of earlier brain aneurysms making any reoccurrence, despite what his critics say. As a result, we can only rest on the advice and findings Biden’s doctor gives to the president – which currently make the case he is fit to run.
If signs of mental decline were to set in, which we can only ever speculate about, the line at which intervention occurs is not a clear cut one which presents a difficulty. There is however, the 25th Amendment, which provides a backstop against the overarching danger mental decline presents in a president. As it stands the amendment looks like it won’t ever be needed. Yet it remains there for Kamala Harris, his much younger vice president, to become acting president if such a scenario ever unfolds.
In a perfect world, it might be healthy for democrats to continue airing out questions over whether Biden should run – that time is however up. Democrats need to put this question to rest. If they want to win in 2024, Biden is quite simply the best shot they have at retaining the presidency. Despite qualms about his age, he has a commanding legislative record to sell and a united party to help him – they should let him run.