GELFAND’S WORLD - As of the 2024 inauguration, Joe Biden would be 82 years old, and Donald Trump would be 77. Personally, I think Joe Biden has done a terrific job as president, in spite of the mud that the opposition has thrown at him. They like to suggest that he is losing some of his cognitive ability, when it is quite obvious that Donald Trump is the one who has -- and always had -- pretty severe cognitive deficits. That is obviously why the right wing feels they have to tear down Biden's thinking, knowing that Trump looks sillier each day. Biden has presided over an improving economy, the reassertion of American power in Europe, and the passage of a couple of major bills in the congress.
Still, 82 is a lot of years to carry around if you want to do the job of president effectively. In the event that Biden would pull the plug much as LBJ did before the 1968 election, there would be plenty of Democrats available to run. I'm not assuming that Kamala Harris would be the automatic choice. I suspect that she would be far better than any of the current group of Republican wannabe's, but she doesn't have a huge following as best I can tell.
But given a year or so to campaign, there are several qualified Democrats who could make a decent run in 2024. One current long shot, but apparently a decent campaigner, is Jared Polis, the Governor of Colorado, who receives a positive review in the same op ed which says Biden is getting to be too old.
Saying goodbye to conventional wisdom
That old term conventional wisdom, sometimes abbreviated as "the CW," is what you get if you talk to a campaign strategist. They are generally pretty good at pointing out known trends. Everybody knows that midterm elections are hard on the party that holds the presidency, but the Democratic Party bloodbath that was being predicted in the spring of 2022 didn't come to pass. Conventional Wisdom has its moment but can be upstaged surprisingly quickly. Is anybody old enough to remember when being divorced was considered to be a massive impediment to getting elected? It didn't seem to hinder Ronald Reagan. It didn't stop Donald Trump. The CW can get upstaged by the right circumstances and by the right candidate.
If you talk to any campaign strategist, you are going to be told that it's insane to try to replace an incumbent president after one term. It didn't work for Hubert Humphrey after LBJ retired, although the circumstances were unusual. The CW tells us that any Democratic candidate would be severely hobbled and would miss the powerful pro-incumbent sentiment that most presidents have.
Still, we've seen a couple of one-term presidents in our lifetimes, including George Bush (the senior) and Donald Trump. Incumbents aren't guaranteed public adulation, and it is possible that this country could "change horses in midstream," to borrow the Lincoln phraseology. It is possible that in the post-Trump era, many of the old rules have gone out the window. It's also likely that if Trump or DeSantis is the Republican candidate, it will be pretty much the equivalent of a Trump candidacy as far as the voters are concerned. And the strong majority of voters wanted the not-Trump candidate in 2020, as history shows.
As one colleague of mine points out, Biden has till maybe September of this year to tell the voters that he won't be running for reelection. After that, the sorts of problems that the conventional wisdom predicts become more and more likely to be at play. For example, it becomes harder and harder to develop a following among the voters, the less time you have. My view is that the campaign is way too long right now, and a one year campaign would be just fine. So September is the deadline.
And one last thought. The Trump monopoly is starting to break down, what with the obvious DeSantis candidacy and now the expected announcement from Nikki Haley, herself a former governor. This suggests that we may be in for a wide open 2024 campaign at the primary level. The more the Republicans fight it out among themselves, the more room the Democrats have for a robust primary election season.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch and can be reached at [email protected].)