Will Biden Run in 2024?
Spoiler: There is no alternative.
1. Plan B
I’ve been saying since November 2020 that, barring a health event, Biden will run for re-election in 2024 for one simple reason: There is no other option.
The Democratic coalition is currently made up of a giant mass of factions, some of which are in tension. They cannot win the presidency without getting close to 52 percent of the popular vote and even that margin gives them only about a 50-50 shot of winning the Electoral College.
Democrats need to hold together (and turn out) progressives, African Americans, young voters, women, Hispanics, and college-educated suburban voters. They need to do this without losing even more ground to white, high-school-educated men.
Joe Biden is the only Democrat even theoretically capable of shouldering this burden.1
Are there negatives to another Biden run? Yes! He is very old! He is quite unpopular!
But on the other hand: He has a fairly successful legislative agenda to run on. He did return American political life to something like normal. His administration has been scandal-free. He is completely and totally vetted. He will campaign with all the benefits of an incumbent president. He starts with 81.2 million Americans who have already voted for him. His weaknesses—age and unpopularity—also apply to his likely challenger, Donald Trump.
All of which is to say that—again, barring a health event—I still think that it’s about a 95 percent likelihood that Biden is the Democratic nominee.
But there is that skinny 5 percent and health events do happen. So what’s Plan B?
That’s what Gabriel Debenedetti asks in this big New York magazine piece.
Debenedetti’s reporting focuses on Democratic governors: Roy Cooper from North Carolina, Jared Polis from Colorado, Gavin Newsom from California.
That’s because, as Debenedetti explains, the entire sense of instability is a byproduct of Kamala Harris’s failure as vice president.
Now maybe this isn’t fair to Harris. Maybe she’s been set up to fail. Maybe she hasn’t gotten a fair shake. I’m not judging. But just as an objective political matter, it’s clear that she’s a dead end. She is unpopular; she has no independent base of support. As a political commodity, she is less the smooth operator she was as a senator and more the flat-footed bumbler she was as a presidential candidate. She has failed to launch.
But she hasn’t failed so spectacularly that she couldn’t win an open primary in 2024:
[I]f Biden did step aside, Harris would start the succession contest as the clear front-runner. A Politico newsletter recently pointed out that 27 surveys have tested the prospect of a Biden-free primary in the past year, and Harris has led 21 of them. (The remaining six were led by Michelle Obama, who is perhaps less likely to run than her constitutionally ineligible husband.) Underwater or not at the national level, Harris’s popularity among Black voters in particular may make her impossible to beat in a primary. . .
Most think Harris would win the nomination if Biden backed her, and no one thinks he would ever actively endorse anyone else. But to her doubters, that itself is reason to think that “Biden has to run again, because he desperately has to keep Trump out of the White House and defend our democracy,” as one Capitol Hill supporter puts it. “And I have no doubts Kamala Harris can’t win.”
And this has created a problem because part of the Biden pitch was that he would be a transitional figure. Here’s Debenedetti:
“Look, I view myself as a bridge,” Biden said that day. “Not as anything else.” He was onstage in Detroit, on an exhilarating high, less than a week after a shock Super Tuesday romp that supercharged his once-flagging primary campaign and made it almost impossible for Sanders to catch up. One by one, younger competitors had dropped out and endorsed him, consolidating his power and momentum. Biden had appeared triumphantly with Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke in Dallas; now he was in Michigan with Harris, Whitmer, and Cory Booker. A strange new virus was days away from effectively shutting down the nominating contest. As Biden made his closing argument, more attention was focused solely on him than at any point since he left the vice-presidency. Gesturing at Harris, Whitmer, and Booker, he said, “There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.” Biden didn’t intend his remarks to be a one-term pledge, but the notion had been in the air; . . . this appearance in Detroit was replayed frequently and promoted enough in the ensuing months to become a symbol of Biden’s promise to defeat Trumpism and then let the country move on, ushering in a new era of leadership.
He did get Trump out of D.C. and away from the nuclear football. But after the immediate crisis slunk away to Palm Beach, Biden’s presidency passed from early success into torpor. . . . It became clear that Biden’s bridge, to consider his analogy on its terms, wasn’t built to completion at the far side. For liberal and progressive voters, the cognitive dissonance has been significant. It is possible for Democrats to feel profound gratitude to Biden for vanquishing Trump and even to love some of his work as president (Ukraine, vaccines, Ketanji Brown Jackson) and at the same time to retain an intense feeling of unease about a visibly aging 79-year-old whose Republican opponents are only growing more extremist.
You hear a lot of complaining about how the Democrats have no bench, but this isn’t really true. Mayor Pete, Cory Booker, Polis, Cooper, Stacey Abrams—JOHN FETTERMAN—are all interesting and formidable commodities. The problem is that they are mismatched with the moment. The ones who could be ready for 2024 don’t match up well with Trump. The ones who match up well with Trump might not be ready in 2024.
Which leaves us back at the start: Biden will run because he has to. For 2024, against Donald Trump, there is no workable alternative.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject in the comments. Try to be as cold-eyed as possible. We’re not talking about what we want to happen, or what should happen, but what will happen.
Pretend you’ve got $100 riding on this question and analyze from there.
2. Do People Change?
One of my dearest friends used to say, “People don’t change. They just become more-so.”
I think this is generally true of most of us and particularly true of public figures.
Example #500,723: Naomi Wolf.
The one-time feminist icon who personally advised Al Gore is now . . .
Doing an interview on Charlie Kirk’s show from her car . . .