Is Biden the inevitable 2024 Democratic nominee?

Joe Biden
FILE – President Joe Biden participates in a briefing on winter storms across the United States in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 22, 2022, in Washington. Biden on Thursday, Dec. 29, signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill that will keep the federal government operating through the end of the federal budget year in September 2023, and provide tens of billions of dollars in new aid to Ukraine for its fight against the Russian military. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) Patrick Semansky/AP

Is Biden the inevitable 2024 Democratic nominee?

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President Joe Biden should take his time to announce his intentions for 2024, Democrats say.

Democratic strategists told the Washington Examiner there was no rush for Biden to make a decision on a reelection campaign, even at age 80, especially in response to former President Donald Trump’s announcement last month. “Sometime next year is fine either way for an incumbent president,” one said.

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“A decision by early March is completely appropriate and in line with most modern incumbents,” Aggressive Progressive podcast host Christopher Hahn told the Washington Examiner’s Naomi Lim. “Should he choose not to run, others have all the time they need to mount a campaign.”

Biden is an unusual position as he contemplates seeking a second term. Polls show many Democrats still have major trepidation about him running again, but potential rivals are cutting him a wide berth.

The practical result could be to make it difficult to dislodge Biden for any reason other than sudden age-related decline, especially if signs continue to point toward him going forward with another campaign for the White House.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) had positioned himself as his party’s alternative to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), the main GOP center of gravity opposite Trump. Newsom’s machinations were seen as a sort of shadow campaign for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, even as he continually implied otherwise.

When Newsom took himself out of the running, telling everyone in the White House, including the president himself, that he would not be a candidate, it sent a signal to other Democrats. It looked like a clearing of the field, especially with many other leading possibilities, like Vice President Kamala Harris and travel-troubled Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, stuck inside the Biden administration.

Biden came out of the midterm elections in a stronger position than many Democrats expected going in. And while the party may want to hedge its bets, the longer Biden is the only likely candidate, the closer he comes to becoming inevitable.

Democrats don’t have a good experience with primary challenges against sitting presidents. It last worked when Eugene McCarthy nudged aside former President Lyndon B. Johnson after the 1968 New Hampshire primary, leading to former Vice President Hubert Humphrey becoming the nominee. Republican Richard Nixon, left for dead after a narrow loss eight years earlier, won the general election.

President Jimmy Carter faced the liberal lion of the Senate in Ted Kennedy in 1980. Carter held on to the nomination, but went on to lose in November in a 44-state landslide to Ronald Reagan, previously thought to be too old and too conservative to be president. Democrats wouldn’t sniff the White House for a dozen years.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama saw disastrous midterm elections for Democrats on their watch, far worse than the relatively modest House losses under Biden. But neither faced serious opposition in the Democratic primaries two years later and both were reelected.

Republicans don’t have a much better history with overcoming primary challenges to incumbent presidents, dating back to Theodore Roosevelt’s defection against William Howard Taft in 1912. Gerald Ford lost in 1976 after a strong primary challenge from Reagan. George H.W. Bush did the same after a more modestly successful bid by Pat Buchanan.

The conventional wisdom is that the incumbents were weakened by their challengers, who drew first blood in the primaries. But it is possible that this simply reflects the reality that these incumbents drew challengers because they were already weak in the first place.

Biden has some weaknesses of his own. Even as Democrats beat expectations in the midterms, exit polls showed two-thirds didn’t want him to run for reelection. The CNBC All-America Economic Survey earlier this month found that 57% of Democrats don’t want Biden in 2024 and 66% of independents agree. In July, a New York Times/Siena College poll found 94% of Democrats under 30 preferred a different nominee.

Yet no one is positioning themselves to run against Biden if he goes through with his fourth presidential run since the 1988 cycle, before those Democrats were born. Newsom didn’t make a Sherman statement and many could take the plunge if Biden retired.

If Biden wants to remain in the Oval Office, however, there doesn’t seem to be a long line of challengers who would stand in his way. Perhaps a recession or some other development could change that, or it could make the Democratic nomination even less attractive to candidates other than Biden.

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Some of the Democratic dynamics still seem predicated on Trump being the Republican nominee. But everything from Trump’s legal troubles to his lackluster announcement make a rematch uncertain.

Biden isn’t as certain as death and taxes himself, but he’s getting there.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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