US President Joe Biden has announced his campaign for a second term, 18 months before the 2004 election. His announcement follows that of former President Donald Trump in mid-November. This puts us on track for a predictable train wreck as both candidates are viewed by many in the voting public and in their own parties as too old to campaign or serve until 2028. Biden will be 82 on election day, and Trump will be 77 (Sullivan 2023; Leonhardt 2023). Can the winner manage four more years? Maybe not.
At the same time, across the US and worldwide, there is concern over whether either candidate is the best placed to be an effective president over the coming term. In fact, large proportions (up to 70%) don’t want Biden to run again. A sizeable majority of the US public think that neither Trump or Biden should run for President in 2024.
This support for candidates that should not run seems incomprehensible, but there is a logic. As we are repeatedly reminded, Trump has such a strong base that he can win the Republican Party primary, but not a general election. Several respected and prominent Republican prospects have tested Trump’s hold on his base and have failed yet to strike a chord with a significant proportion of their party. Trump himself is testing himself in the courts and apparently not yet losing support and potentially improving his standing in the party.
Democrats not only refuse to simply let themselves believe that Trump cannot win a general election in 2024. He beat Hilary Clinton in 2016, when forecasters thought it impossible for Trump to prevail, and was competitive with Biden in 2020. Biden is the ‘Trump-slayer’ (Sullivan 2023). On top of this, no Democratic candidate has risen in the polls as a contender, although many prospective candidates have been viewed as viable candidates.
Supporters of both parties appear wedded to their leading candidate, both with the advantage of having held the office and both leading in early polls within their party. Ironically, they support them while a major proportion of their partisans do not believe either should run given their age.
Ronald Regan is cited as a counterexample of an older president that managed well. I recall people writing books on management based on how Regan learned to delegate responsibility so effectively. But this perception collapsed with the Iran-Contra Affair, caused in part by a lack of effective oversight. No more management books based on President Regan.
We are on a course to elect a President that has a clear likelihood, even before he is elected, of losing his grip on the office. Where is the wisdom of crowds when we need it? Has polarization of US politics locked each party into a least bad scenario?
I can only assume that people expect something to change before the 2024 election that will seriously stop the candidacy of one or the other candidate, leaving both parties in a more competitive search for a nominee. This house of cards will collapse. That is too optimistic of a scenario to really entertain. We are headed for a train wreck unless both political parties come to their collective senses.
Since I wrote this blog, there have been polls reinforcing the age issue for Trump and Biden in particular. NORC polls indicate that three-quarters of the public think Biden is too old to effectively serve another 4-year term, but nevertheless, most Democrats would probably support Joe Biden if he were the party’s nominee. The primary season should be far more interesting than people are expecting and one would hope that alternative candidates for both parties are being lined up.
As the Financial Times on 18 September 2023 read: ‘Alarm groups over the rise of US gerontocracy’, p. 9. Biden, Trump, McConnell, Feinstein, Pelosi, etc. I’m not sure if it is age as it is more likely an unintended consequence of the growing significance of being an incumbant combined with seniority and all the resources, and favours that can be done for other politicians. That said, a gerontocracy is not a good idea.
David Leonhardt (2023), ‘Biden’s Quiet Election Strategy’, New York Times, 26 April: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/26/briefing/biden-reelection-campaign.html
Maragaret Sullivan (2023), ‘Biden is too old and not especially popular, but he is the Trump-slayer. That’s why he is right to run in 2024’, The Guardian, 14 April: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/apr/14/joe-biden-old-popular-donald-trump-run-2024-presidential-election-democrats
NORC (2023), ‘Biden’s age is a signficant concern for voters’, online at: https://apnorc.org/projects/bidens-age-is-a-significant-concern-for-voters/