Democrats were thrilled last week when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had to shush his fellow Republicans as they screamed at the president of the United States. While delivering his State of the Union address, a nimble and energized Joe Biden grinned through his offense, and welcomed the Marjorie Taylor Greene treatment.
Days before the speech, the media framed the night for the 80-year-old Biden as a high-stakes test of his “vigor” and “stamina,” with warnings that Democrats would be watching to see if he could measure up. While not one Democrat has made even a subtle move to challenge Biden in a Democratic primary next year, there was much conjecture that potential rivals could move swiftly to position themselves should Grandpa whisper through a dull speech or trip and fall while departing the rostrum.
There is no question that the president exceeded these low expectations. Even Donald Trump complimented him in some strangely nice posts on Truth Social. Biden’s takedown of House Republicans, making them “stand for seniors,” was clutch indeed, and ever more impressive as Biden ad-libbed through it, thoroughly enjoying himself.
But why does this mean he should run for a second term? Good Lord, the man had some Red Bull, was driven downtown, and gave a well-crafted speech from a teleprompter. This has nothing to do with Biden campaigning for another election while serving another two years in office and then another four after that – promising he can lead this country until the end of January 2029 when he’d be 86.
The Dark Brandon performance seemed to seal this open question shut – that Biden will, and must, run again. Everyone just pretended that a solid speech, and some adroit jousting with some rude Republicans, was all Biden needed to accomplish.
It was as if what voters have been telling pollsters was instantly forgotten. After all, they will decide whether they are willing to rehire an octogenarian president, not Democrats in Washington. Even fewer Americans watched the annual address than last year, and Politico reported Monday that a new Morning Consult poll found “the electorate’s assessment of Biden across 23 character traits to be largely unchanged from before SOTU.”
Yes, I have argued this before in this space here and here – but the idea of a second Biden run seems more ludicrous now – because the polling doesn’t ever budge. And the likely reason it doesn’t change is because of his age. A recent Associated Press - NORC Center for Public Affairs poll showed only 37% of Democrats want Biden to run again, while 62% do not. Biden’s job approval rating sits at 44.3% in the RealClearPolitics average. Politico has noted that only three post-war presidents have had lower approval at this point in their presidency, and two of them – Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump – went on to lose their reelection bids.
Yet the Biden team has continued to plant stories about how a campaign is ramping up, and columnists like Maureen Dowd and Jonathan Capehart have reaffirmed to us that yes, Joe is running for sure.
Everyone is talking about this as if he will campaign through this summer and face election this fall – as if this is imminent. The man just passed his second year in office less than a month ago and is only halfway through his term. He has a war in Ukraine, rising tensions with China, and stubborn inflation, along with a serious problem with high altitude objects or unknown aerial phenomena, to manage and explain to the American people.
Democrats – or those around Biden – insisting he run again argue that incumbency is powerful and that Biden is the only person who can beat Trump, so he has to run. Yet more bad polling news shows that’s not necessarily the case. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that while most Americans dread the prospect of either Trump or Biden running, Trump actually comes out ahead, faring better with independents than he did in 2020.
This will not be a repeat of the 2020 match up. Democrats must acknowledge that Biden now has a record as president that most Americans don’t know about or care for. His job creation in two years alone tops more than all of jobs created under the last three Republican administrations. He signed into law consequential programs like infrastructure and the CHIPS Act, as well as the codification of same sex marriage, an update of the Electoral Count Act, the PACT Act for veterans health care, and the first gun reforms in three decades – all in less than two years with barely any margin in either chamber of Congress. Yet Americans buried by higher prices, which have crushed their personal finances, are not celebrating any of this. A new Way to Win poll conducted in nine battleground states after the midterm elections found that 78% of all voters responding there could not “name a thing that Biden has done in the past two years that directly helped them in their life,” nor could 78% of independents in the same survey.
Biden always demurs when asked whether he is running again, saying it’s his “intention” but that he hasn’t decided and is a great “respecter of fate.” It’s easy to believe that he knows he cannot, and will not, run again and has been spending this time preparing to position himself and the party for an open primary. It shouldn’t take an act of fate for the president, and his closest family, friends, and advisors, to admit his liability will worsen, not fade. It’s likely that Biden would lose a reelection campaign because Americans think he is too old. If he won it in another close race, there would be a strong chance he couldn’t finish his term. It’s hard to believe that’s what Biden wants.