(The Hill) — President Joe Biden can’t escape questions about his age, a fact of life that’s causing uneasy Democrats to assess whether he can realistically run for reelection in 2024, when he will be 81 years old.
Conversations that were once whispered in private are spilling out into the public amid angst over a potential drubbing for the party in this fall’s midterm elections and existential questions about its future two years later.
Biden’s approval ratings haven’t recovered from a swoon late last summer, inflation is now sky high and worries are growing about a recession.
It’s left some Democrats questioning out loud whether the party needs a different and younger leader in the next presidential race.
“I think that Joe will run again, and his age will be a legitimate issue for many voters,” entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who competed against Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2020 before switching to be an independent, told The Hill.
“Joe is already the oldest president we’ve had even before his potential second term,” he said.
Polls offer more evidence of a fixation on age.
A Harvard-Harris Poll survey out this month revealed that 62 percent of respondents said Biden is “showing he is too old to be president.”
The Atlantic’s Mark Leibovich launched his piece last week with this opener: “Let me put this bluntly: Joe Biden should not run for reelection in 2024. He is too old.”
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board followed up with a stinging appraisal: “The truth is that the President demonstrated he had lost a verbal, and maybe mental, step in the first Democratic candidate debate in 2019. He hasn’t improved.”
Other surveys don’t focus on the president’s age but offer similarly bad news for Team Biden. A poll by YouGov and Yahoo out this week found that 64 percent of those sampled said they did not want Biden to seek the highest office another time.
“Look, it’s a problem,” one Democratic strategist acknowledged, speaking without attribution in order to discuss a sensitive topic.
“He’s f—— old and everyone knows it, but no one wants to talk about it for fear of offending him or anyone around him.”
One Biden ally who speaks to aides in the White House frequently said that Biden “looks old and seems old and that’s not a great look for the White House.”
In this person’s estimation, the issue that’s more important than age is stamina.
“It all comes back to endurance and can he handle the job,” the ally said. “I still think that the answer is yes. But ask me how I feel a couple of years from now.”
The White House did not provide comment when reached on Tuesday.
Plenty of Democrats don’t see Biden’s age as a problem and speak in interviews of his wisdom and experienced hand in government.
The president gets applause from most supporters for how he has handled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic. On inflation and high gas prices, the two issues causing Democrats the greatest harm, there’s a widely shared sense that fate has delivered an unkind political hand to Biden.
Biden’s steady hand was seen as a net positive less than two years ago when he won the Democratic primary and presidential election over former President Donald Trump, these voices note.
“Joe Biden’s only a couple of years older than when he won,” said former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “It’s not as if this is breaking news that two years after he won he’s two years older than he was.”
“This is the man who won the primary; he won it decisively, he won the White House decisively, and he’s dealing with problems that are enormous, mainly that he inherited,” he said. “The chatter about his age is not at all helpful when we’ve got major problems to deal with.”
Democrats have a few younger alternatives if they want to go in a different direction, though it’s an open question on whether any would be stronger general election candidates than Biden. They include Vice President Harris, 57; Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, 40; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), 62.
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said age should be irrelevant in a discussion on Biden’s presidency.
“Presidents should be evaluated on performance, not on age,” he said. “He deserves more time to fix the country before he makes a decision on running in 2024. If the situation isn’t any better a year from now, then he should seriously consider his plans to run for reelection. Any decision now would be way too premature.”
One prominent House lawmaker expressed a strong desire for Biden to run again, with the hope there will be more accomplishments to brag about to voters.
But other Democrats feel like it’s fair game to have an open dialogue about Biden soon entering his 80s.
“I think we are entering the period of time where if you are a presidential hopeful on the Democratic side, it’s important to know the president’s intentions,” said a second Democratic operative who has served on recent presidential campaigns.
The GOP has made it clear it will make Biden’s age a line of attack, even though its own leading contender for the White House, Trump, just turned 76.
Biden has always said he ran for the White House in 2020 to put a stop to the Trump presidency. It is somewhat difficult to see him stepping aside if he thinks Trump might be the GOP nominee again in 2024.
Publicly, Biden has said he will be running if his health is in good order. He’s offered the same message to former President Obama in private, as The Hill has reported.
“The argument is that it’ll be him or Trump,” Yang said of Biden. “There isn’t a clear savior for the Democrats to turn to. Who emerges from a fractious and competitive primary? No one knows. I think Democrats will opt for incumbency and unity after Trump declares.”