Biden’s 80th birthday raises questions about 2024 political viability

President Joe Biden‘s 80th birthday Sunday coincides with his looming decision, as the country’s oldest commander in chief, to seek reelection in 2024.

But despite Democrats outperforming expectations in the midterm elections, some members, particularly younger, more liberal, or ambitious lawmakers, have already unsheathed their political knives and called for change after Biden pledged to be a “bridge” to the next generation of leaders two years ago.

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Former first lady Michelle Obama, whose husband, former President Barack Obama, declined to endorse Biden until after the 2020 primary had concluded, did not encourage Biden to run this week, insisting it is “a personal decision.” Days earlier, it was reported second gentleman Douglas Emhoff has implored Democrats to back wife Vice President Kamala Harris should Biden bow out of contention.

“The presidency is a monstrously taxing job and the stark reality is the president would be closer to 90 than 80 at the end of a second term, and that would be a major issue,” Obama senior adviser David Axelrod told the New York Times last summer.

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Axelrod’s comments amplified primary campaign dynamics in which Democrats in competitive races were trying to differentiate themselves from their opponents by distancing themselves from Biden. Defeated Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) is one example.

“The country would be well-served by a new generation of compelling, well-prepared, dynamic Democrats who step up,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), the first sitting congressman to cross Biden, said in July. “It’s time for a generational change. … Most of my colleagues agree with that.”

But there is currently no polling momentum behind any other Democrat and no recent public reminders about Biden’s age, stamina, or commitment to advancing policy, according to Suffolk University’s Political Research Center director, David Paleologos.

“President Biden is seen as one of the winners of the midterms, and when your quarterback is winning, it is hard to make the case to take your starting QB off the field,” he said.

Joking that first lady Jill Biden is “a hell of a lot more popular” than him, Joe Biden dismissed exit polls conducted last week that indicate two-thirds of the public does not believe he should seek reelection. During a rare White House press conference, the president reiterated post-midterm elections that it is his “intention” to announce, but he is “a great respecter of fate,” and it will “ultimately” be “a family decision” that will likely be made “early next year.”

When asked what his message is to voters who hope he will pass on the proverbial baton, the president responded with two words: “Watch me.”

For presidential historian David Pietrusza, a lackluster economy has tended to be the impetus behind an ousted incumbent, from Martin Van Buren to Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, and Jimmy Carter, in addition to, arguably, Gerald Ford, though economic headwinds did not prevent Joe Biden from notching a Democratic standard-bearer’s best midterm cycle in 24 years.

“Outright party splits hurt as well, say Theodore Roosevelt-William Howard Taft, Ford-Ronald Reagan, Carter-Ted Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush-Pat Buchanan,” Pietrusza said. “I don’t think that will happen in 2024. Harry Truman, of course, survived a split in 1948, and so did Calvin Coolidge in 1924.”

Pietrusza could not cite a president “done in by age,” considering Franklin Delano Roosevelt “looked like death warmed over” in 1944 and won “fairly” easily. Dwight Eisenhower “probably” would have emerged victorious in 1960 if the Constitution permitted third terms, he added.

“History does favor incumbency, but an awful lot of incumbents have lost: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Donald Trump,” Pietrusza said. “And that doesn’t count the incumbents who couldn’t even get renominated, such as John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Chester Arthur, and Truman.”

But Democrats in Florida, who will be denied statewide representation for the first time since Reconstruction after the midterm elections, seemed undeterred by the president becoming an octogenarian.

Nassau County retiree Elizebeth Ponce, 62, conceded Joe Biden is older, but she believed he understands the institution of Congress is different from the one he dealt with for 36 years as one of Delaware’s senators and eight years as vice president.

“Now he has to step up and do the things that he needs to do,” she said. “I don’t think he is as mentally delayed as people want to make him out to be.”

Debra Val, 55, a communications specialist from Clay County, provided a more strident endorsement: “I don’t care if you’re 80 or 21. He’s getting what he says he was gonna do done, and that’s most important. Eighty? That might be up there, but his mind is sound, and he’s running the hell out of this country.”

Democrats’ surprising midterm performance has mitigated much of the criticism that would have been directed at the president if the party required a scapegoat after the elections. Former President Donald Trump launching his third White House bid at the age of 76 has also countered some of the complaints.

At the same time, Trump is poised to encounter similar problems to Joe Biden since voters like Monroe County IT consultant Tim Kollars, 40, told the Washington Examiner after a Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) Key Largo campaign stop that he did not support “80-year-old people running the country,” including the previous president.

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“It’s enough with these 70-, 80-year-old people running things,” he said. “You’re in Congress for a while, you’re in the Senate for a while, get out. You have no more new ideas. All you’re doing is padding your pockets from special interests. It’s not right.”

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