Editorial: Biden faces uphill battle to get re-elected, but he can negotiate the road ahead
In November 2020, the US presidential election was decided by voters who did not dislike Joe Biden – and by the many who loathed Donald Trump. Next time, though, the most Irish US president since John F Kennedy faces a tougher challenge, with a preponderance of middle-of-the-road voters disliking both candidates.
True, President Biden’s administration merits high marks for stabilising the US economy following the pandemic shutdowns with a $1.9trn Covid recovery package and a $1trn infrastructure package. The last one got cross-party backing for huge investment in neglected facilities such as America’s roads and bridges.
Mr Biden also delivered on nominating Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African American woman to the Supreme Court. He has also stoutly attacked Republicans’ attempts to interfere in laws governing women’s health and ongoing developments which make it harder for minorities and poorer people to get on the electoral register.
After half a decade in US public life, the veteran old-school Democrat cannot be painted as part of the upper middle-class, east-coast elite. His origins in Pennsylvania, and his decades of work in Delaware, make nonsense of any such claims. But efforts by Mr Biden and his campaign team to project the image of a spry commander in chief will struggle. Questions about his age will be his opponents’ refrain along with reminders that, were he re-elected, he would be 86 at the end of another four-year term. Stumbles and misspeaks will be logged and endlessly replayed.
Mr Biden’s supporters certainly have grounds for crying “ageism” here. The energy and vigour he displayed over four days in Ireland earlier this month will get Irish support for such calls.
Then there is the issue of Vice President Kamala Harris, who has not enjoyed good press for a long time. Detractors will be trying to slide in the point that, were anything to happen to the ageing president, she could be left in charge of the nation. Here again, supporters would be entitled to cry “sexism”.
But such defensive strategies still smack of being driven on to the backfoot.
The reality is that a poll for NBC News last weekend showed 71pc of Americans believed Mr Biden too old to run, and that included 51pc of Democrat supporters.
Still, as a veteran of many campaigns, Mr Biden knows a lot can happen over the course of the coming 18 months. There are perils in relying unduly on ageism and sexism when assessing his candidature.
He is the oldest ever potential president, but medical experts suggest he is in better shape than some presidents who had a younger chronological age in recent times.
Nor is he, like his potential opponent, Donald Trump, facing a growing list of serious criminal charges.
Joe Biden has taken his first steps on the long road back to “four more years” and US voters who got over his age last time could well do so again.