There’s a growing notion among some Democrats that Joe Biden’s age warrants a challenge to his renomination. But what would be the consequences of such a move?
Lately, there’s been talk of President Joe Biden’s advanced age. While this speculation has circulated in political circles for a while, it’s now gaining more attention. Some Democrats, including Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota, believe that this implies Biden should step aside. Phillips recently stated, “We’re at grave risk of another Trump presidency. I’m doing this to prevent a return of Donald Trump to the White House.”
Phillips is advocating for airing these concerns publicly and possibly running against Biden. However, considering Phillips isn’t a top-tier contender, this doesn’t pose a significant threat. Nonetheless, his remarks bring to light what some Democrats have been privately pondering.
Despite this, the concerns seem perplexing, given that Biden has demonstrated considerable vigor during his presidency. Based on performance, he seems less deserving of a challenger for the nomination than previous presidents, like Jimmy Carter in 1980. Carter faced crises both at home and abroad. The Soviets were asserting dominance during his time, whereas Biden has rallied NATO against Russia. Carter contended with stagflation, a term now obsolete, while Biden has overseen a relatively smooth economic recovery from the pandemic’s impact.
Yet, it’s true that Biden’s poll numbers are currently worrisome. A health scare during primaries or the general election could prove disastrous. However, as someone in my sixties, I can attest that health issues are a possibility for anyone beyond a certain age. Notably, Trump, at 77, has eating habits that consist mainly of junk food and charred steaks. His emotional challenges arguably overshadow Biden’s occasional missteps.
Setting aside age and lifestyle considerations, who ultimately runs in each party will be determined by the respective Republican and Democratic voters. However, for those concerned about the wellbeing of American democracy and the future of a healthy Republican Party, the pivotal question is whether a Republican challenger could defeat Trump in the GOP primaries. Some Republicans are more dedicated to democratic principles than others, but any contender winning the nomination would restore a semblance of normalcy to presidential elections—a necessity for the nation.
Nevertheless, at this juncture, Trump seems almost certain to secure the GOP nomination. It’s disheartening that an individual facing numerous criminal charges could become the standard-bearer for a major American political party. Nonetheless, as this reality is highly likely, the question arises: What if Biden heeds advice to preserve his legacy and steps aside? Could Democrats unite behind a candidate primarily focused on thwarting Donald Trump?
The challenge with this Democratic scenario is that it disregards the party’s nature. In the past, party bosses and donors might have convened behind closed doors, engaged in tense deliberations fueled by Irish whiskey, and emerged with a chosen nominee. But these days, such a process is unrealistic. Even the typically more disciplined Republicans are currently struggling with this—no one would yield if Trump were to suddenly vanish. I’d pay to witness a meeting of current GOP candidates to select a replacement for Trump. It would be amusing to see someone like Vivek Ramaswamy or Francis Suarez vying to outshine DeSantis or Mike Pence.
Similarly, an open Democratic primary would result in comparable turmoil. While Vice President Kamala Harris appears to be the logical choice to succeed Biden on the ticket, her approval ratings are lower than Biden’s, ranking among the vice presidents with the least approval. While some might argue this is due to racism and misogyny, the immediate circumstance trumps these factors. Replacing Biden with someone with even lower approval ratings doesn’t make much sense.
Furthermore, if dissatisfied Democrats seek a genuine primary contest, they can’t simply anoint Harris. Modern American primaries involve a scramble for votes, money, and endorsements. Other candidates would have the right to present their case. This process, while normal, could be chaotic in a year when a candidate with sociopathic tendencies and a history of inciting violence pledges revenge against opponents.
Ironically, the concern over Biden overlooks Trump’s own unpopularity—a recent poll showed that almost two-thirds of Americans wouldn’t support Trump in 2024. However, if Democrats, in essence accepting the GOP assertion that Biden should step down, plunge into a raucous primary, the media would turn it into a spectacle. This would be seen as a miraculous boon by Republicans. A more disciplined party could mitigate this damage, but today’s Democrats don’t fit that description.
It’s plausible that both Biden and Trump could face health scares before 2024. The same holds true for many of us. However, if the goal of pro-democracy forces in the next election is to prevent Trump’s return to power, the assertion that “Joe Biden is old” isn’t a compelling reason to invite chaos.