At 80 years old, Joe Biden is the oldest president in U.S. history, something which, according to a number of polls, has most Democrats skeptical of his chances of being reelected in November of next year.
One of the most recent polls, commissioned by NBC, reveals that only 38% of voters in his party are in favor of his running for reelection. That internal support is well below that registered for Bill Clinton (50%), Barack Obama (76%), and Donald Trump (73%) on the eve of their announcements to run for reelection.
The greatest resistance is from the young. A report last month by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Politics showed that about 30% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 praise Biden’s performance. This kind of data adds fuel to the debate about “ageism,” or the prejudices about age.
“The road ahead will be difficult, but not impossible,” Lawrence Douglas, professor of political science at Amherst University, said in a conversation with this newspaper. “The big question is whether he will be able to convince an electorate that has never been enthusiastic about his presidency that he is a better option than the Republican Party’s future choice. If it is Donald Trump, I think the obvious contrast will benefit him.”*
The announcement of Biden’s candidacy allows us to anticipate a contest with his predecessor, Trump, who confirmed in November that he would be seeking the nomination. The New York magnate will face a primary process that is exhausting by nature, although the advantage over his conservative rivals continues to expand, according to the same opinion polls.
William Howard Taft was the last president to run against a former head of state, in his case Theodore Roosevelt. At that time, in 1912, Roosevelt ran as a third-party candidate, something which paved the way for an eventual victory by Democratic Party candidate Woodrow Wilson. “It isn’t clear that Trump is considering that kind of candidacy, in the event that he doesn’t prevail in the primaries or feels he doesn’t have the party’s support on the judicial front,”* Douglas said, alluding to the various pending judicial cases.
In a press release, Ronna McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee, refused to discuss that possibility, known as the “Roosevelt formula.” Instead, she chose to focus on Biden, criticizing him as a “lousy leader” who is “disconnected from reality.” This newspaper asked his army of aides if they had any comments on her remarks, but they did not respond. The press release focused exclusively on Biden, whom McDaniel insisted has squandered his powers. “Look at inflation, the crime rate, and opioid trafficking,”* she said.
’A Score to Settle’
Biden, however, will have the advantage of being the incumbent candidate. “The problem is that there is no perfect parallel for this moment, and for what Biden hopes to achieve,” Douglas warned. “In this case, it might not be enough. In the past we have had cases that showed just that.”*
When George W. Bush launched his reelection campaign, America oozed confidence with regard to its war on global terrorism. The challenges of the war in Iraq, however, were beginning to emerge. The result was that, in spite of popularity ratings hovering around 80% after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush barely won with 50.4% versus 48.7% for his opponent, John Kerry. Just four years ago, Trump was the most recent White House tenant to realize that incumbency does not guarantee victory.
Trump, however, likes to challenge existing norms, something that endears him to his legion of fans. For that reason, analysts consulted for this piece are of the opinion that a contest with Biden is quite likely.
“In his situation, many would just move on to the next chapter, but Trump feels he has a score to settle,” Joel Aberbach, political science professor at the University of California, pointed out. “A new contest between the two is a heavy burden for the majority of voters, as numerous studies have shown. Americans reject both. One thing is certain: All you need to do is walk down the street to understand that Trump’s negative ratings are higher than Biden’s. In many cases, Trump generates a sense of repugnance, while Biden generates a lack of enthusiasm.”*
Another feature that might ease Biden’s path to the presidential contest in 2024 is the absence of internal opposition. In contrast to Jimmy Carter, for example, who faced a challenge from Sen. Edward Kennedy at the end of the 1970s, the current Democratic leader has the core leadership of the party on his side.
Polls indicate yet another factor that has his camp excited. When asked about his policies, as opposed to his personality, more than two-thirds of those polled, including Republicans, support his decisions.
“He has proven himself to be a pragmatic leader, with enormous empathy. I hope that he holds the course, and doesn’t veer toward the center, as Bill Clinton did in 1996,” Aberbach observed. When questioned by this newspaper on whether that might be a good option, given that Clinton won reelection, Aberbach replied, “Perhaps. But America today is a very different country, even demographically. A plan like that might work in a divided country, but I doubt it will excite the party’s base and lead to the necessary mobilization of the electorate. An aversion to Trump alone will not guarantee victory.”*
*Editor’s Note: These quotes, though accurately translated, could not be independently verified.