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The New York Times said the quiet part out loud – and that has issued a permission slip for other media folks to start complaining about President Biden’s age and whether he should be a one-termer.
That Biden would be 82 at the next inauguration is not exactly a state secret, and his conservative detractors constantly complain he’s not able to handle the job. This is fueled by the lowest poll numbers of his tenure, and the sense that things are spiraling out of control. And some critics make far worse – and unsupported – accusations about his mental acuity.
All this has been the subject of chatter in media and political circles and at the office water cooler (to the extent that people still go to offices). But the significance of the Times piece is that now it’s officially kosher to challenge the idea of Biden running for reelection – and that’s coming from his own party.
“To nearly all the Democrats interviewed, the president’s age — 79 now, 82 by the time the winner of the 2024 election is inaugurated — is a deep concern about his political viability. They have watched as a commander in chief who built a reputation for gaffes has repeatedly rattled global diplomacy with unexpected remarks that were later walked back by his White House staff, and as he has sat for fewer interviews than any of his recent predecessors.” An important point, in my view, because Biden’s surrender of the media megaphone – except to chat up Jimmy Kimmel – means he’s always playing catchup rather than driving the news agenda.
WHY THE WHITE HOUSE CONTRADICTS BIDEN OVER HIS STANCE ON TAIWAN
The killer quote comes from former Obama White House and campaign official David Axelrod, now a CNN analyst, even if he does couch it in diplomatic terms:
“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.”
Then Axelrod tries to soften it:
“Biden doesn’t get the credit he deserves for steering the country through the worst of the pandemic, passing historic legislation, pulling the NATO alliance together against Russian aggression and restoring decency and decorum to the White House. And part of the reason he doesn’t is performative. He looks his age and isn’t as agile in front of a camera as he once was, and this has fed a narrative about competence that isn’t rooted in reality.”
He looks his age. Not as agile in front of a camera. True, but it’s not a perception problem. On the substance, Biden is presiding over soaring gas prices, a tanking stock market, the Ukraine war, the mess at the border, a Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and the baby-formula crisis he was way late in learning about. Some of this is his fault, some involve global factors, but presidents always get more credit and blame than they deserve. The buck stops here.
Texas Democratic House candidate Jasmine Crockett told the paper, “Democrats are like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ Our country is completely falling apart. And so I think we’re lacking in the excitement.” Which sounds like a euphemism.
After the Times piece hit, Fox’s Peter Doocy asked Karine-Jean Pierre: “Is the president running for reelection?”
She replied: “The president, as you know, has been asked that question many times, and he has answered it. His answer has been pretty simple, which is: Yes, he’s running for reelection.”
She also did an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, who asked: “Does the president have the stamina physically and mentally, do you think, to continue on even after 2024?”
Her first response was sarcasm: “Don, you’re asking me this question? Oh my gosh!”
And then: “He’s the President of the United States, I can’t even keep up with him. We just got back from New Mexico, we just got back from California. That is not a question that we should be even asking. Just look at the work that he does. Look how he’s delivering for the American public. Look, that article that we’re talking about is hearsay, it’s salacious.”
Actually, it’s not hearsay, it’s reporting. There’s nothing salacious about it. The paper has people on the record talking about the president’s political prospects and whether he should seek a second term. They may be wrong, but these are their political judgments. And the Times is not exactly unsympathetic to Biden.
That the White House took the piece seriously is clear from the availability of Anita Dunn, the highly influential senior adviser who just returned to the White House and rarely gives interviews. “Only one person steered a transition past Trump’s lies and court challenges and insurrection to take office on Jan. 20: Joe Biden,” she said.
Other Biden allies pointed to his accomplishments, and noted that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama won second terms after losing one or both houses of Congress to the Republicans – a shellacking that nearly everyone expects in November.
“In a sense, this is old news,” writes Daily Beast conservative columnist Matt Lewis. “But the Times report makes it clear that Democrats are no longer willing to ignore the elephant in the room and hope Biden’s presidency will fix itself.”
BIDEN, OFTEN STYMIED BY AIDES, PUSHES GUN MEAUSRES UNLIKELY TO PASS
The Times story, like the media conversation, eventually gets to if-not-Joe-who? Almost no one expects the party to defer to Kamala Harris, given her own political problems, though the vice president would definitely run.
But then you get to the problem of the thin bench: Nearly all the names being touted are the Dems who ran last time and flamed out: Bernie. Elizabeth. Amy Klobuchar. Pete Buttigieg, who did win the Iowa caucus but couldn’t attract much Black support. Even Beto, who crashed and burned early and is making his second run as Texas governor.
One name not mentioned by the Times, but who is being touted by the California press, is Gavin Newsom, a governor who’d bring a bit more pizazz to the ticket.
If, despite the Jan. 6 hearings, Donald Trump is the nominee – and he all but declared his candidacy in saying the House panel is trying to stop him from running – then Biden’s chances improve slightly.
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But if the Republicans nominate, say, Ron DeSantis, the Democratic pressure for a younger nominee will really ratchet up.
Even those who don’t like or trust the New York Times must recognize its clout when it comes to shaping the news agenda, or pushing a controversial story through Customs. And now the conversation has clearly changed.