WB YEATS SHOULD have lived in the time of Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Here are two old men, neither reputedly possessing an “eagle mind” but both steadfastly refusing to be paltry things. Biden’s announcement that he would seek re-election as US president has made it very likely that 2024 will be a re-run of the 2020 election.
Here’s the rub. According to a recent NBC poll, only 5 per cent of Americans want both Biden and Trump to contest again while 38 per cent want neither to run. And according to an analysis from the Associated Press, 47 per cent Americans don’t want either to run. At 82 in November 2024, Biden would be breaking his own record as the oldest president in US history. Midway between 77 and 78 then, Trump wouldn’t be far behind. A “gaffe machine” by his own admission (and frequent demonstration) trying to keep the gates closed on an institutional wrecking ball (who’s getting more and more incomprehensible when he opens his mouth).
Unsurprisingly, the video via which Biden announced his decision to stand for re-election has set the aesthetic and argument for 2024 in the negative. It’s not so much about how Biden has governed since January 2021 but the alternative should he be gone. ‘January 6’ looms large over the presidency, as it will over November 2024. A clear insight on the obvious came from Peter Baker in the New York Times that Biden is not only running on his record but also away from it. The fact that he hasn’t accomplished much is precisely the reason why he must be voted back: “Let’s finish the job.”
Analysts can be forgiven for thinking this could be the most boring primaries ever. The reason is the near-certainty that Democrats will fall in line behind keep-Trump-and-MAGA-out. Anti-vaxxer Robert F Kennedy Jr, JFK’s nephew, and self-help author-cum-spiritual advisor Marianne Williamson aren’t competition for Biden.
But is the man who got Trump out still the best candidate to keep Trump out? A Wall Street Journal poll shows that although Biden’s favourability is much lower than in 2020, more than 50 per cent of voters who dislike both candidates would end up backing him against Trump. Because the one thing the Biden presidency has achieved is the restoration of normalcy to the White House. And yet, the very argument about protecting America from political extremism will be turned against Biden by Republicans who see Democrats as the bigger threat to individual liberty, guns and Second Amendment included. Nevertheless, “Sleepy Joe” has shown Republicans that their traditional stance on abortion will not be a vote-catcher anymore. On some things, America had moved on and did not appreciate the turning back of the clock.
For Biden though, Vice President Kamala Harris’ approval ratings, even lower than his own poor numbers, are a worry. The White House is reportedly intervening to overhaul her staff and image since she will be needed to do much of the cross-country travel. Unlike 2020, Biden can’t campaign from the seclusion of his Delaware ‘bunker’. But he can’t do giant rallies either—notwithstanding videos of him running, it’s the image of him stumbling on the stairs of Air Force One that sticks. As for gaffes, in Ireland recently, he mistook New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team for the notorious unionist “Black and Tans” paramilitary of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
In the end, it’s the Republican primaries that would be more interesting to watch even if Trump bullied his way to the nomination. The same NBC poll showed Republican voter support at 70 per cent for him, soaring since his indictment. He will share pizza but not his base. That directs the question of age back to Biden, a question that bothers most Democratic voters except his staunchest supporters. Is he mentally, let alone physically, fit to continue beyond 2024? In a CNN poll, 67 per cent Americans said no. But the correct answer is likely to be less an affirmation of one man’s tenacity than another’s incapacity, neither enjoying the benefit of doubt anymore. If there is a country for old men, the young United States of America is it.