scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Biden offers America a choice he doubts we can refuse

When political push comes to electoral shove, the president thinks America will choose him over the alternative.

President Biden’s big problem is not what’s known about his past but what’s unknown about his future. That is, how he will age in his eighties.Samuel Corum/Bloomberg

Joe Biden has made it official. He’s wagering that Americans will reelect him in 2024, like it or not.

Right now, they largely don’t; 70 percent say he shouldn’t seek a second term, according to a new NBC News poll. That’s true even among Democrats, slightly more than half of whom don’t want him to run.

Indeed, those surveyed said they would opt for a generic Republican over Biden, 47 percent to 41 percent. Many cited age as a major concern about Biden, who is 80 now and would be 86 by the end of a second term.


At first glance that looks daunting.

But not to Biden-world. Knowledgeable sources say denizens of that closely kept council believe a majority of Americans will vote for him if he’s up against someone they view even more skeptically. That is, Donald Trump or a Trump-like MAGA Republican. And with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s candidacy crashing back on its campaign launching pad and no other putative Republican candidate near achieving escape velocity, Trump remains the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Most surveys show Biden beating Trump in hypothetical 2024 head-to-heads — and to Biden-world, those are the only polls that matter.

Meanwhile, the Democratic incumbent has every reason to be happy with the state of affairs in his own party. Although two gadflies — staff-terrorizing new-age rage sage Marianne Williamson and vaxadoodle conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy — have declared, a serious Democratic challenger has not. Even if one does emerge, history suggests the incumbent almost inevitably wins those intraparty contests.

Thus Biden’s bet: Whatever their beginning misgivings, mainstream Americans will eventually reembrace him, driven by the danger Trump and Trumpism present to our democracy.

Biden’s Tuesday announcement video made that calculation all but explicit, starting with footage of the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol and warning that “around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up” to reverse “bedrock” American freedoms. Against that threat, Biden styled himself as the protector of Social Security, abortion rights, gay equality, and the right to vote.


If most Americans don’t want a Trump return, the former president’s Make America Great Again movement does — and that’s the GOP’s big problem. No porous border there. Trump’s lies have built a virtual wall that keeps truth from crossing into MAGA-land. And though MAGA is far from an American majority, Trump’s supporters remain a powerful plurality inside the Republican Party — one strong enough to deliver him the nomination in a multicandidate field.

Provided, that is, other events don’t intervene. Most seriously, Trump faces criminal charges in Manhattan for allegedly filing false business records to hide hush money payments to a porn star. A special federal counsel is investigating his administration’s efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election results. A Georgia county prosecutor is probing the skulduggery there. The New York attorney general is suing him in civil court for supposed business fraud. He also faces a civil suit for alleged rape.

But whatever the outcome of any or all that, it seems unlikely to faze most of MAGA.

Unlike Trump, Biden’s big problem is not what’s known about his past but what’s unknown about his future. That is, how he will age in his 80s.


Republicans have been portraying him as lost in a senescent fog even before he took up residence in the White House. A conceptual quandary for the GOP: If Biden is indeed senile, then a man in his dotage beat Trump in both of their 2020 debates and outfoxed congressional Republicans in the impromptu sparring over Social Security and Medicare during his February State of the Union speech.

But what lies ahead? As several senior readers told me a few months back when I asked for their thoughts about Biden running again, health-wise, not much good happens after 80. During his first term, we have watched Biden go from a candidate who mock-jogged onto the stage to one who moves with a stiff elderly gait.

Worries about his age are compounded by a lack of confidence in Vice President Kamala Harris. (Imagine what they’d be saying about Harris if her performance had been as bad as Ron DeSantis’s as he has auditioned on the national stage.) But Biden’s announcement video featured Harris prominently, all but declaring that she will remain his political partner in the 2024 campaign.

Biden’s road is hardly without risk. If a reasonable Republican were to emerge as the GOP nominee, a deft political magician who is acceptable both to MAGA and the American middle, all bets would be off.

But Biden-world doesn’t see that happening.

If electioneering slogans encompassed a campaign’s real calculations, Biden’s banners and buttons would be embossed with this take-your-medicine message: Mainstream America, we’re calling your bluff. Like it or not, you have to vote Biden.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.