Presidents are not kings. Remember that, Democrats.
A side note: Please, please, please don’t base your choice of presidential candidate on who you think would do well in campaign debates. Campaigns are less important than people think, and debate performances are only minor parts of campaigns. Base your support on who you think is more eligible, or as an effort to push the party in your direction on politics, or on the candidate you think has the skills to be effective in office. Not on who could get better media coverage for 24 hours during the campaign before everyone’s attention turns to what’s next.
Second point: I highly recommend a blog post on the limits of the presidency by political scientist Steven Taylor. He’s absolutely right that most of the things that have upset liberals against President Joe Biden are a function of the grassroots political context, not Biden himself, White House staff, or Democratic leaders in the Congress.
That’s not to say they’re all doing everything perfectly, just that any difference between what Biden is doing and what plausible Democratic alternatives would be is marginal. No White House strategy can change the makeup of the Supreme Court or the narrow margin Democrats hold in the House of Representatives or shatter the Senate tie that forces Democrats to depend on Joe Manchin of West Virginia to achieve 50 votes. Biden has to work in that world — with all the other normal constraints presidents face, even when they have a friendlier Congress and a less adversarial court.
Again, this hardly means that Biden has been perfect or that people shouldn’t criticize him. Don’t fall for the absurdity that presidents can do anything as long as they want it badly enough.
Point Three: A Sunday New York Times article raised the issue of Biden’s advanced age. There’s a lot of babble about it – lots of false claims that he’s cognitively declined sharply – but that aside, there are two ways to look at the fact that he’ll turn 80 in November. The first is that as long as Biden is unpopular, everything about him will be interpreted as negative, including his age. If he was at 60% approval instead of falling just below 40%, the story of the age would be that he challenges him and thrives.
But yes, Biden is very old for the presidency, and while that doesn’t seriously affect him right now, there’s no guarantee it won’t next month or next year. Not to mention the four years that a second term would give him. And the truth is that not only was Biden’s 2020 nomination a risk for Democrats, but so was Hillary Clinton’s 2016 nomination – she will turn 75 this fall, in what would have been the second year of her second term. — just as it was a bad risk for Republicans to nominate Donald Trump, who just turned 76, in 2016 and 2020. Once those nominees are nominated, party voters have no choice but to to vote for them, but the parties should not.
And while Biden as president has strong incentives to claim he will run for re-election at least until the midterm elections this fall, shortly thereafter he will either have to pledge to run for a second term that would be even riskier for the nation, or announcing that he will not run.
(Corrects year of Joe Biden and Donald Trump presidential nominations in penultimate paragraph)
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and politics. A former political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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