The question has hovered over the final weeks of the midterm elections as Biden warned that democracy is at stake, a campaign theme he has returned to again and again as his party fights to keep control of Congress.
In speeches, Biden has attempted to cast the race not as a referendum on his two years in office but as a choice between himself and so-called MAGA forces — a reminder to those wondering about the president’s future how he prevailed against former President Donald Trump in 2020, his once and potential future rival.
Biden leveraged the dynamic to win the election in 2020, with a former aide framing in similar terms the prospect of another presidential bid.
Biden was “the only person who beat Donald Trump,” former White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a group of MSNBC interns who asked if she believed he was the best person to run again, according to a profile in Vanity Fair.
But at 79 years old, Biden faces increasing skepticism over his plans, including from members of his party. Some have called for a new generation of leadership.
Trouble for Democrats on Tuesday could spur calls for Biden to step aside.
“Part of me has this feeling we may get clobbered — which will immediately lead to calls to change the leadership across the board,” from the White House through Congress to the Democratic Party apparatus, said a longtime Biden supporter and former Democratic Party chair of a battleground state. “And they won’t be wrong.”
On Nov. 2, less than one week before the midterm elections, Washington Post columnist George Will offered a cutting assessment of the president’s prospects.
“Biden is not just past his prime; even adequacy is in his past,” said Will, who backed Biden in 2020.
To nominate Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris again would “insult and imperil the nation,” he wrote.
Biden has not announced a formal decision to run, but the president has said he intends to, pushing back against the suggestion that age should factor into his choice and cited the support of a crucial determinant: his wife, first lady Jill Biden.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart, Biden was recently asked how the president’s late son, Beau, who pushed him to run in 2016, might respond to people who say he should not seek reelection because of his age.
“The only reason to be involved in public life is: Can you make life better for other people?” Biden said in response. “And depending on who the opponent is, if they have a view that is so the antithesis of what I believe democracy [is], and I believe is good for average Americans, then, his argument was, ‘Dad, you have an obligation to do something.’”
Current and former Democratic insiders told the Washington Examiner last month that they would “get right in behind” Biden if he announced a run for reelection, saying he had “earned the right” to do so.
And in private comments, Biden recently told Rev. Al Sharpton, an early confidant in 2020, that he was “going to do it again” in 2024.
Close advisers have begun laying the groundwork eyeing a possible announcement early next year, though no decision has been made, according to the Washington Post.
Sources told the Washington Post that they feared the prospect of a slow rollout, including “two or three months with essentially one hand tied behind our back, because even if we are running at full speed, we still will not have a candidate.”
One Republican strategist and Trump White House official told the Washington Examiner that Biden would need to announce his plans before Christmas, lest donors start to “scatter.”
Facing Democrats now is the possibility of a bruising electoral landscape that could prompt sharper scrutiny of the president’s record as the party awaits a formal announcement.
On the campaign trail, Biden has touted his presidency’s successes, dwelling little on the deep economic concerns weighing on the electorate. Instead, the president last week warned in remarks near the Capitol that voters this year confront “questions [over whether] the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk.”
It’s a message Biden is at pains to reinforce as he draws the contrast with Trump and other prominent Republicans. But on issues from the economy to crime, voters indicate they are unhappy with Biden’s leadership.
Polls show Republicans tilting the balance with suburban women and making inroads with black and Latino voters, a shift that Biden’s lead 2020 campaign pollster said could bode a “paradigm shift” if the analysis holds.
While the president’s party historically loses seats in Congress in their first midterm election, the forecast would scramble the party’s long-standing advantage with minority voters.
Biden’s victory in 2020 hinged on these groups, and too strong a drift could prompt new questions about his ability to rouse the same voters again in a possible rematch against Trump.
On the eve of the election, Biden said he was “optimistic” about his party’s chances. Asked whether Democrats could win the House, the president responded: “I think it’s going to be tough, but I think we can. I think we’ll win the Senate. I think the House is tougher.”
He said a “more difficult” landscape would await him if Republicans took control.