There are numerous reasons why former vice president Joe Biden’s dominance of the polls for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination seems phonier than a three dollar bill. The renowned penchant for gaffes, the entrenched Swamp connections, and his status as a two-time loser when he had strong financial backing in previous runs all immediately come to mind.
But nothing jumps out more in the particular political climate of today than the age factor. Biden is 76 years old and running in a party that thirsts for generational change. A Pew Research poll found that only 3% of Democratic voters surveyed want a president in his 70s. A very strong 47% of Democrats polled say the ideal age for a president is “in their 50s.”
Too Old or Too Young
This doesn’t just portend future distress for a creaky Biden campaign. The mere fact that he immediately jumped to such a gargantuan lead amid the oversized field points to just how underwhelming the younger Dem candidates are. Even more telling is the yawning age gap between Biden and fellow septuagenarian leading figure Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who at age 37 is the only other candidate besides that doddering duo to make any kind of lasting splash leading up to the debate season. Aging party lifers and young, radical progressives seem to have all the sway in the Democratic Party today. Where are the Generation X leading lights who should be right around that 50-year-old sweet spot who can offer the promised stability of a Biden while still attracting the support of younger Dems eager for generational change?
It’s not a coincidence that two of the most inept campaigns in the Dem field to this point belong to Generation Xers. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) at age 52 has made herself the undisputed Taffy Queen of the race. She is willing to say anything, no matter how much it contradicts her previous record, to attract left-leaning Dem primary voters. Her flexibility, to put it charitably, has done nothing to elevate her standing, revealing only weakness and an air of desperation that should not be present before the first debate is even held.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) at age 50 is the other Gen Xer who has floundered out of the gates. The man who wanted to run as a dynamic urban mayor has been stuck in the starting blocks as the younger Buttigieg gets the very attention his campaign so dearly desired. That key campaign supporters actually admit as much is a sad reflection of how little else Booker has to offer to differentiate himself from the rest of the pack. “I’m the young black mayor. You’re supposed to be fawning over me, not the young gay mayor,” is not a good look to sport for what was supposed to be a serious contender.
The age factor was one of the biggest things Beto O’Rourke, 46, had going for him, along with his alleged Kennedy-esque charms. But as soon as voters got to know O’Rourke more than just from seeing him on the cover of Vanity Fair, his campaign began to sink like a stone. The lack of substance O’Rourke embodies seems more in keeping with an unpolished twentysomething such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). But O’Rourke is almost two decades older. Yet by all appearances he is just as shallow, if not more, than feckless AOC has shown herself to be so often in her short congressional career.
All this should set the stage nicely for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Though technically a Boomer in that she was born in 1964, right at the cutoff from Generation X, Harris at age 54 should be able to nicely position herself as the candidate who can bring both strong professional experience and youthful vigor to the table. So why has she been so underwhelming so far? The simplest explanation would be that she was overhyped to begin with. While Harris hopes to tout her years as a prosecutor in a Chris Christie 2016 type of way and much has been made of her supposed charisma and ability to win over a crowd, the evidence for this is rather scant.
Several favorable left-leaning media profiles portray Harris as the progressive who wants to fix things from the inside. This is the spin being employed to explain her decades-long attempts to be part of the establishment, albeit a leftist California establishment. Even so, her name recognition is woeful for someone who has been in public service as long as Harris has. A 2018 Morning Consult poll found that 28% of Californians surveyed either didn’t know or had no opinion of Harris. This after she had been a sitting U.S. senator for over a year. That damning figure put her in the bottom ten in name recognition for senators in their home states, Politico reported.
This dearth of middle age candidates with real clout can be best attributed to a deliberate failure on the part of older ruling Dems to cultivate the next generation of party leaders to follow them. With a 79-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) thinking only of keeping hold of power for as long as she can, and party hacks like former Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) doing much the same for decades, it should be no surprise that the Dems find themselves stuck in a 45-60 age void today.
Imagine how formidable a seasoned and accomplished, yet still youthful, 49-year-old Democratic challenger to President Trump could have been. Alas, we shall never know. And the party may be forced to choose between old warhorses like Biden and Sanders or hope a younger dark horse emerges who is not too radical for a general election. Either way, Democrats will be at a disadvantage against an incumbent president still strongly supported by his base.
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