Let’s begin with a bow to the season that has now kicked into gear and a line from the iconic movie Christmas Vacation. It’s when Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, announces to the kids from the head of the Christmas Eve dinner table that Santa’s sleigh has been spotted by pilots flying over New York. The response of the dim-witted adult, Cousin Eddie, was one for the ages: “You serious, Clark?”
Well, would it not be fair to say a similar back-and-forth could take place around the announcement, if you can call it that, of Joe Biden planning to run for a second term? Only the simple-minded could possibly take such a declaration seriously.
Nevertheless, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed a report in a prominent Washington newspaper with deep ties to the left that “Biden and members of his inner circle have reassured allies in recent days that he plans to run for re-election in 2024.” But the story goes on to say that “the assurances have not stopped the internal debate over whether Biden will appear on the ticket.” Another unnamed, top-ranking Democrat cited in the article said he “hears this question get asked every day,” but “couldn’t think of a single person (he) had spoken to in the last month who considers the possibility of Biden running again to be a real one … No one ever asked that question about Barack Obama or Donald Trump.”
Biden’s non-announcement announcement does one important thing to avoid open chaos. It freezes the field until such time as this president makes an official announcement about his intentions – likely following the 2022 midterms. It seems clear that if he does somehow choose to seek a second term, Biden will have the full, unequivocal support of the Democratic Party establishment. After all, he now controls the party and can effectively undermine any challengers who have a mind to emerge. But what if Biden is as unpopular then as he is now, or even more so? No matter his condition, physically, mentally, or politically, there would still be no practical way to separate him from control of the party.
Of course, there is still the thorny issue of the vice president. We were led to believe that Kamala Harris would take care of the problem of succession, with the second-in-command selected for her race and gender ready to take the baton and complete the establishment of a new progressive era – 12 years of Biden and Harris to bookend the dozen years of Reagan and Bush our current administration seeks to relegate to the ash heap of history.
Apparently, in the rush to satisfy the progressives’ demand for a woman of color, no matter what, as a running mate, Biden and his handlers overlooked or ignored the rank unpopularity of the woman they selected. She had entered the stage herself in an initial burst of glory and fallen flat on her face, withdrawing from a race in which she was thought a serious contender before the first votes were even cast.
But the good news for Kamala is that only Pete Buttigieg – and maybe the twice-defeated, 80-year-old Bernie Sanders – remains a viable contender from the overcrowded field of primary candidates in 2020; the rest – Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker et al. – like Harris either embarrassed themselves or at best significantly devalued their political currency during the primary. If Biden does ultimately decide not to seek a second term, don’t be surprised if California Governor Gavin Newsom jumps in with both feet, emboldened both by beating back a recall effort over the summer and an obvious lack of quality alternatives.
But there is a larger issue at play than the fate of one candidate or another. Exactly what message would it send to the nation if the best the Democratic Party can send forth to steer us into the future is a doddering 82-year-old career politician in obvious, irreversible decline, long past his prime – with a weak record in office to boot? The years of party disintegration during the Barack Obama era, when he won the presidency twice but let his party crumble around him, dropping more than a thousand legislative seats across the land, are coming back to haunt Democrats in the form of a dangerously thin bench.
Given the historic spate of luck, a once-in-a-century pandemic, it took to land him in the White House in the first place, could Joe Biden possibly win a second term when it will require him to conduct an actual, typically exhausting presidential campaign instead of ensconcing himself in his basement? Credible reports, largely quelled by Biden-friendly media, of issues with the president’s bodily functions on top of his visible, irreversible cognitive decline, do not present a rosy outlook.
Joe Biden has been increasingly unpopular from the moment he had to make his first serious decision beyond reversing everything Trump did. In the words of a famous old commercial, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And from the moment Biden stunned the nation and world with the first pivot point of his administration, his shameful surrender in Afghanistan, the ground has been collapsing beneath him. His freefall remains unbroken. It is reversible simply because of the remaining time in his administration, 38 months, a veritable eternity in politics. The ground could shift several times between now and the 2024 election. But leftists in open panic about the collapsing approval of this administration are reaching for straws, now trying to compare Biden to Ronald Reagan. Seriously. They point to Reagan’s approval falling to levels comparable to Biden around the midterm elections in his first term – before he bounced back to win a landslide re-election two years later.
But the possibility of a Biden bounce back must rest on the premise that he, like Reagan, is actually capable of reversing the impressions of him that are becoming more locked-in by the day: a step slow at best, get-off-my-lawn angry, argumentative, unpersuasive, tone-deaf. Not nearly as competent or compassionate as he claimed to be. Bowing to the most radical elements in his party. Gratuitously and weakly surrendering not just in Afghanistan but at the southern border. Willing, anxious even, to exacerbate racial divisions by characterizing his opponents as white supremacists, a label once reserved for only the tiniest handful of extremists, but which he now attaches to anyone who supports Donald Trump, or any other conservative.
Yes, the thought of three more years of Joe Biden is overwhelming enough without considering what seven more would look like. Is a second term for this 46th president really in the cards? Perhaps, in the end, we should parse the language of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in confirming that her man will seek to stay on in the Oval Office. Saying “that’s his intention” as she did in response to a question of whether he will run again is different than just saying “yes.” Perhaps what she really means is, “if he is somehow still up to it.”
~ Read more from Tim Donner.