Perhaps the best decision Joe Biden could make as president is to stand down.
It would be a welcome act of statesmanship and self-awareness if the 79-year-old president dropped the insistence that he’s running for a second term, and instead announced sometime after the November midterms that he isn’t running again.
He was too old to run in 2020 but made his way into the office he had coveted for decades by default.
In two and a half years, Biden won’t be any younger and the chances of something going catastrophically wrong only increase with time.
The country’s experience with a 78- and 79-year-old president hasn’t been pretty. Just wait until Biden is 82 (at the time of his theoretical second inauguration), or 84 (after the second midterms), or 86 (at the end of his second term).
A New York Times report confirms about what you’d expect of White House aides. They fear that Biden, who increasingly shuffles when he walks, will trip over a wire. They hold their breath hoping he can get to the end of remarks without making a gaffe. They generally don’t have events for him at night and try to keep the weekends free.
In an office that requires vigor and forcefulness, he’s mumbly and bleached out. In a position that makes young men suddenly look much older, he’s already quite aged. In a job where words matter, he can’t keep his straight.
Yes, there have been elderly leaders of nations who have been unquestioned giants — Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Ariel Sharon. No one is mistaking Biden for a statesman of such caliber, though. He’s more like President Jimmy Carter with a quarter century more on the odometer.
Even if in the unlikely event Biden’s age isn’t affecting how he can do his job now, it will at some point.
Then, there are the disaster scenarios. We should all hope that Biden lives to be a 100 but were he to die in office of natural causes, it would be a significant national trauma. We haven’t had a president die in office in half a century and it would create comparisons to the gerontocracy of the late Soviet Union.
If anyone thinks American politics is poisonous now, just wait till there’s an unelected president (the vice president would succeed Biden in this scenario) and an unelected vice president appointed by the unelected president. All this would be the process set out by the 25th Amendment; it would generate legitimacy concerns all the same.
If a health event prevented Biden from performing his duties, meanwhile, it would create a crisis at the top of our government. The natural tendency of politicians and their loyalists is to be less than forthcoming about health problems. What Edith Wilson did when Woodrow Wilson had an incapacitating stroke — hide it as much as possible and carry on regardless — wouldn’t be possible in the current media age. That doesn’t mean there’d be transparency.
The process for sidelining a debilitated president under the 25th Amendment is a mess, especially if the president doesn’t think he’s incapable of discharging his duties — such a scenario would make an impeachment look neat and clean by comparison.
Perhaps none of this would ever come to pass and a reelected Biden would make it to the finish line with ease, proving that 85 is the new 75. It’s also true that anything could happen to anyone of any age — even a 45-year-old president could fall ill. But the longer Biden serves, the higher the risks.
And for what? Biden isn’t uniquely gifted, ideologically compelling, irresistibly likable, or very good at being president. His claim to be the only Democrat who can beat Donald Trump in 2024 looks more attenuated by the day.
In short, there’s no good reason for Biden not to make the best call of his presidency and prepare for retirement.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.