Biden gears up for Trump rematch with age and approval front and center | Joe Biden

Legend has it that when the artist Benjamin West told King George III that George Washington, the first US president, had decided to resign, the king replied: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Some urged Joe Biden, the 46th president, to follow suit and, at the age of 80, hand power to a new generation. Who were they kidding? The worst-kept secret in Washington is out: Biden is running for re-election next year.

There was an air of inevitability around the announcement. Biden coveted the job for decades, mounting failed campaigns in 1988 and 2008 then succeeding in 2020, motivated by a need to rescue “the soul of America” from Donald Trump. He relishes the most powerful office in the world. He is having too much fun.

But is his announcement good for Democrats and America?

On the pessimistic side, Biden is already the oldest president in US history and would be 86 at the end of a second term. Whereas the coronavirus lockdown allowed Biden to campaign with limited public appearances, this time he will face a gruelling schedule.

Expect rightwing media to make much of what would happen if Biden were incapacitated or died: President Kamala Harris. Republicans who have struggled to turn Biden into a bogeyman as they did Hillary Clinton might feel they have a better chance with his deputy.

Another problem: there is a dangerous gap between Democratic officials and public sentiment. The party has failed to offer a credible alternative: Harris is too unpopular, Pete Buttigieg too young, Bernie Sanders too old, Gavin Newsom too California and the declared challengers, vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Jr and self-help guru Marianne Williamson, too fringe.

“The dynamics that made Biden the nominee in the first place, his moderate branding and just-left-enough positioning, still protect him from a consolidated opposition on either flank,” the columnist Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times. “And he’s benefited from the way that polarization and anti-Trumpism has delivered a more unified liberalism, suffused by a trust-the-establishment spirit that makes the idea of a primary challenge seem not just dangerous but disreputable.”

Yet seven in 10 Americans, including 51% Democrats, do not want Biden to run, nearly half citing his age, according to an NBC poll. That survey found Biden’s overall job-approval rating had fallen to 41%. He trailed a generic Republican by six points.

Joe Biden confirms 2024 re-election bid in video announcement – video

The level of dissatisfaction implies turnout trouble. There have been disappointments over abortion rights, gun safety, immigration reform, racial justice and voting rights. Some progressives are tired and might stay home.

Norman Solomon, national director of, sponsor of the Don’t Run Joe campaign, says: “Disaster is foreseeable if Biden is the Democratic nominee. In 2024, he would represent the status quo at a time when polling shows discontent in the US is now more widespread than at any other time in the last several decades. Biden’s approval numbers are notably low – now more than 10 points underwater – yet the arrogance quotient at the White House is exceedingly high.

“Biden’s recent policy decisions, grimly affecting climate for example, have seemed calculated to ingratiate himself with the corporate establishment while undermining enthusiasm from large numbers of grassroots Democrats, particularly young voters. This is no way to defeat the neofascist Republican party, and this is no way to advance a progressive agenda.”

Now the good news. Biden supporters can argue he is one of the most underrated presidents, Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama’s John F Kennedy: less elegant or eloquent but more substantially productive.

In 2020, he met the moment. As the nation grieved the Covid dead, his personal losses gave him empathy Trump lacked. When Vladimir Putin waged war on Ukraine, Biden’s devotion to alliances and institutions was the right approach at the right time.

At home, with a narrow majority in Congress, Biden achieved big legislative wins: coronavirus relief, a bipartisan infrastructure law, legislation boosting computer-chip production and a historic climate, healthcare and tax plan.

In January, Ron Klain, the outgoing chief of staff, wrote to the president: “You passed the most significant economic recovery legislation since FDR; managed the largest land war in Europe since the Truman era; enacted the most sweeping infrastructure law since Eisenhower; named more judges in your first year than any president since JFK; passed the second-largest healthcare bill since LBJ; signed the most significant gun safety bill since Clinton; and enacted the largest climate change law in history.

“You did it all in the middle of the worst public health crisis since the Wilson era, with the smallest legislative majority of any newly elected Democratic president in a century.”

While these accomplishments have not translated to polling, they did appear to help Democrats in last year’s midterm elections, a campaign Biden closed with speeches about abortion and democracy. The party defied historical trends to retain the Senate and narrowly surrendered the House. This is another argument for Biden: proven electoral success.

He beat Trump by 7 million votes. Trump is the Republican frontrunner. Democrats’ instinct to play safe with a proven winner, rather than gambling everything, is understandable.

Biden is fond of saying: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.” Trump, 76 and weighed down by legal baggage, is even more unpopular. The NBC poll found that just 35% believe he should run again while 60% oppose it. This time, Biden has the advantage of incumbency.

But the octogenarian also personifies the nation in its fragility. Republican brinkmanship over the debt limit could lead to economic calamity. The war in Ukraine could take a turn for the worse, raising fresh questions after the Afghanistan debacle. A campaign Trump has dubbed “the final battle” is sure to throw up challenges.

Biden knows depending on anti-Trump sentiment may not be enough. To retain the soul of America, he has to prove he is more than the least worst option.

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