President Joe Biden should announce now that he will not run for re-election in 2024. He should not ask the Democratic Party, or America, to assume the risk of a second four-year term that would begin after he reached the age of 82.
The conventional calculus argues that a president would be a fool to reveal such a plan before he has to, because it would instantly undercut his ability to get anything of real significance accomplished.
But in Biden’s case the argument is exactly wrong. Here’s why the decision not to run should come promptly. First, and most important, the midterm elections this November would become about key issues and the quality of individual candidates rather than the merits of Biden’s presidency and whether voters feel he should run again.
No more self-conscious manoeuvring by Biden and his staff, nor whispers and unattributed quotes about what the president should or will do. Once the expense of spirit, dollars, actions and arguments to keep alive the possibility of a second term is ended, the need for Biden to posture will be gone too.
That new freedom would permit him to say with absolute conviction that every ounce of his energy, focus and political capital will be devoted to addressing the nation’s immediate needs.
The plotting and the politicking of Democrats aspiring to the presidency have already begun. Unless Biden announces he is not running for re-election, this quiet campaign against him will intensify – whether it comes from people who intend to challenge Biden in the primaries in 2024 or just to flex their muscles to discourage him from running again. This is fuelled by his low standing in the polls on job performance and on desirability as the party’s 2024 nominee.
Biden might be playing for time to avoid the consequences of being a lame duck, but that is a canard. It might be hurtful and unfair, but Biden is already seen by some as lame and lacking intensity – older, more frail, less persuasive – even when he says the right things. All understandable in age (I am 81), but why stir those concerns and doubts unnecessarily by retaining the prospect of a second term?
It’s true that if Donald Trump
were to run for the presidency again, and won, he would assume the office at 78. Age, however, is far down the list of attributes that argue against his re-election.
Biden, on the other hand, has been a stronger president than the polls suggest. His convictions on guns, abortion, the Supreme Court, China and inflation have been made with candour. His attainments in judicial appointments, and aspirations for physical and social infrastructure, as well as climate change, form a serious agenda. He has been strong and firm enough to lead the West’s response to Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and used his time and presence by travelling to further his foreign policy on the world stage.
He would bolster this agenda, and silence the unnecessary polling questions and their unsettling results, which sap his hold on voters’ patience and confidence, by making a one-term decision and announcement before the midterms.
Why not direct all Biden’s strength to moving public opinion and Congress toward comity and achievement over the next two years? Biden stands a better chance of a favourable congressional result for the Democrats in November’s election, and of being able to pass legislation during the rest of his term, if the focus is on the House and Senate candidates and their positions on the issues. His age, and his presidency, would be greatly reduced as an issue this fall.
He would avoid questions about who his running mate might be, or who should be in his next Cabinet. He would not have to resist appraising challengers from his own party or the GOP. Perhaps he had all this inherently in mind when he called himself “a transitional president”.
If so, he should not wait to share his decision with the rest of us. Biden’s power and dignity can be strengthened by framing the next two years with clarity and without electoral distractions.
He would become entirely a man for the urgent present.
Steven L Isenberg is a former publisher of New York Newsday and was chief of staff to New York Mayor John V Lindsay.
© Washington Post