Joe Biden 2024 is a bad idea whose time has come.
If Democrats had gotten the shellacking that seemed to be coming their way in the midterms, Biden might have been wounded enough for elements of the Democratic establishment to begin to try to shoulder him into retirement.
Instead, the Democratic overperformance has Biden looking revitalized. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California told the president on election night that he’s not running against him (not that Biden was ever likely to face a direct primary challenge). Press coverage has emphasized Biden’s vindication. The shot in the arm is understandable given what his party was able to pull off, yet it doesn’t make Biden a day younger — in fact, he just turned 80 and every day of his presidency is an experiment in whether an unprecedentedly aged president can perform at the level demanded of the office.
Democrats consider Biden the safe choice in 2024, since he’s the incumbent and surrounded by flawed alternatives, yet he is actually an enormous risk. Nominating him again would be extremely reckless, both for the party and for the country.
It may well be that Biden, even in his enfeebled state, is the best matchup against Donald Trump. He beat him once before, after all, and used him as an effective foil during the midterms. It is to Biden’s advantage that it has proven difficult for anyone to work up a passionate hatred of him, rather than a low-intensity sense of pity or contempt. And he still has a relatively moderate affect and profile — there are limits to how “woke” an 80-something, silver-haired creature of the Democratic establishment can appear, no matter how far left his policies are.
There’s no guarantee, though, that Biden will get the former president as his opponent. If he doesn’t, then he’ll be denied the dynamic of one old guy whose record is terrible running against another old guy who frightens people.
If Trump can’t secure the GOP nomination, everything changes. Ron DeSantis is 44. Ted Cruz is 51. Mike Pompeo is 58. Tim Scott is 47. Basically, any Republican nominee besides Trump would instantly be bequeathed a powerful past-vs.-future theme (age aside, Trump will unavoidably and perhaps explicitly be running a campaign of restoration).
There’s another risk for Democrats, as well — namely that Biden will experience some age-related meltdown in public during a general-election campaign that will make his struggles undeniable even to well-wishers determined to look the other way.
Aging is a progressive condition. Biden isn’t getting any younger or more capable. The good news is that today, right now, he is as fit as he’ll ever be to perform his duties; the bad news is that there are a lot of days between now and 2024 when he’ll be less fit, whether by a tiny increment or by a lot.
The public is already unsettled. According to the exit polls, 58% of voters said Biden does not have the acuity to serve effectively as president.
If Democrats get their way, this is just the beginning. They propose to reelect a man who will be 82 on Inauguration Day, and 86 by the end of his second term.
The actuarial tables and the realities of aging being what they are, this creates considerable risk of putting the country through the trauma of having a president who is incapable of carrying out his entire term. If you think our politics are deranged now, just wait until we face a genuine, inevitably wrenching 25th Amendment crisis, or we have to deal with the legitimacy issues around an unelected president.
Why even consider going down this route? In part, because Biden made an identity politics choice for vice president, and not a good one. It is understandable that the prospect of Vice President Kamala Harris makes Democrats want to cling to their nurse for fear of something worse. But the country deserves a better idea.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.