President Biden is telling everyone he plans to run for a second term, but with about 50 days to the midterms, most Democrats aren’t sure he will follow through on that plan.
Cedric Richmond, the former Democratic lawmaker and Biden White House official, said definitively this week that it’s on when it comes to Biden and 2024.
“He’s running and we’re building an infrastructure for him to run and win,” Richmond told NBC. “Right now, it’s all an early investment in 2024 while we’re helping 2022.”
Despite such statements, a lot of Democrats have their doubts even as their overall optimism for the fall midterms rises as Biden’s approval ratings inch up and polls and voter registration numbers offer evidence of voter anger with the Supreme Court’s abortion decision.
If Democrats lose the House, as most still expect, but keep the Senate majority, will Biden decide to stick with his stated plans and be the party’s nominee?
If things go more poorly and Democrats lose the House and the now evenly divided Senate, will it be the kind of political blow that changes Biden’s mind about running for president?
Despite his insistence, will age ultimately end up being a factor? Biden will turn 81 in November 2023.
And if former President Trump runs again and looks like an odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination, will Biden put everything aside to run again?
Behind the scenes, Democrats are talking, and talking about the possibilities, debating the pros and cons of a Biden run.
“I think a lot of the mystery is we’re all beholden to the never-ending political news cycle, and Trump announced for reelection like three minutes after taking office, but it’s not unusual for a president to be waiting until after the midterms to announce,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale, urging Democrats to stay calm.
“I think a lot of people who were speculating about him not running were bed wetting because of insanely far out poll numbers and/or have a different preferred candidate, but every indication seems to me he’s running,” he said.
Biden has repeatedly said he intends to launch another presidential bid for 2024. As recently as June, he said he “would not be disappointed” to face Trump in a rematch. Last week, Vice President Harris — largely considered the front-runner if Biden should step aside — also reiterated that view.
“The president has been very clear that he intends to run again,” she told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And if he does, I will be running with him proudly.”
Sources say Biden has also begun to quietly examine what a 2024 campaign might look like, while testing out messages during the midterms.
Beltway pundits have parsed every cue and nuance — however slight— to solidify their views. When first lady Jill Biden said this week on NBC’s “Today” that she and her husband had “not yet” discussed another run, some took that as a sign that it isn’t happening.
Age is a major reason for doubts about Biden.
“I love the guy. I think he’s done a good job as president, but I also can’t see the likelihood of a guy in his 80s running again,” one strategist said. “Like it or not, he’s old.”
It is rare for a sitting president to not run for reelection. The last time that happened was with Lyndon Johnson at the height of the Vietnam war.
But the nation has never had a president as old as Biden.
The president is also the only Democrat to actually defeat Trump in the Electoral College race. That will be a factor; few Democrats see another candidate in their ranks who is widely seen as having a stronger change against Trump.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, noted that Biden faces questions beyond his age — including his handling of the economy.
As Biden took a victory lap this week for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, he had to contend with a split screen on cable news showing a falling stock market reacting to the news that consumer prices rose in August.
Biden has said he feels he is the only one in the Democratic Party who can defeat Trump, who turned 76 in June.
But if Trump doesn’t run, Biden could face an opponent like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who Democrats fear could put up a good fight. Age would be a contrast and possibly a factor in a Biden match-up with DeSantis, who is 44.
“Every presidential election is high stakes but after four years of the Trump presidency this feels more real than ever before. Combine all of these [factors] and the questions don’t go away,” Zelizer said.
Those questions continued to loom around the Biden presidency earlier this year as his poll numbers fell sharply and survey after survey showed that voters largely said the country was heading in the wrong direction.
More recently, after scoring a few legislative wins, Biden has rebounded.
A New York Times-Siena College survey, published Friday, showed Biden with a 42 percent approval rating, up from 33 percent in the last poll in July.
The president’s numbers were boosted largely by Democrats who are more optimistic about his leadership, as he faced major crises in recent months including the Russian war in Ukraine, soaring gas prices and record-high inflation.
“There was always a path for the president to get back to a politically strong position and it’s because a lot of the loss of support was from some Democrats,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “He has clearly been able to rebuild that over the summer and that bodes well for him going into a 2024 reelection campaign.”
At the same time, others are more skeptical that Biden will be able to pull off another victory.
“He’s had an amazing run, probably one of the best stories in the modern political era,” said one Democratic donor. “But you have to know when it’s time to hang up your hat, even for your own legacy.”
Other Democrats scoff at the naysayers.
“I find it interesting that all of these so called ‘experts’ won’t go on the record,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau. “It’s likely because when he does run and wins, they’re going to look foolish.”
Mollineau added: “I suspect these are the same people who didn’t think he was going to win the first time.”