There’s a new report from NBC News that President Joe Biden has told a confidant — the Rev. Al Sharpton, of all people — that he will run for reelection in 2024. It’s not terribly well-sourced, attributing the information to “an official of Sharpton’s National Action Network” who told NBC what Sharpton had told him. In any event, the story says Biden told Sharpton, as the two posed for pictures after a White House meeting with civil rights leaders on Sept. 2: “I’m going to do it again. I’m going.”
According to the NBC report, Biden told Sharpton that he, Sharpton, was among the first people Biden told when Biden decided to run for president in 2020. “Then he told Sharpton he was going to ‘do it again,’ Sharpton told aides,” the NBC report says.
A couple of weeks later, in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” — the president’s first one-on-one interview with a news organization in months — Biden would not say that he is running again. “Look, if I were to say to you, I’m running again, a whole range of things come into play that I have — requirements I have to change and move and do.” That was slightly garbled, but what Biden apparently meant was that a formal declaration of candidacy would mean that Biden would have to obey a number of election laws, with their requirements for fundraising disclosure, that kick in once a candidate has officially declared.
“And it’s much too early to make that kind of decision,” Biden continued. “I’m a great respecter of fate. And so, what I’m doing is I’m doing my job. I’m gonna do that job. And within the time frame that makes sense after this next election cycle here, going into next year, make a judgment on what to do.”
CBS’s Scott Pelley asked: “You say that it’s much too early to make that decision. I take it the decision has not been made in your own head?” Biden answered: “Look, my intention as I said to begin with is that I would run again. But it’s just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.”
If the NBC report is correct, Biden had, a week or two earlier, told Sharpton that he was definitely running again. Then he waffled with CBS. Who knows what the real story is? But here are a few things to consider.
First, the NBC report might be wrong. Biden might be at exactly the stage in the decision-making progress that he described to “60 Minutes.”
Second, even if Biden has decided to run again, he is right about the disclosure requirements of the campaign finance laws. It would not be to his advantage to announce now.
Third, even if Biden has decided not to run again, politically, he can’t say so. The moment Biden announces that he will not seek a second term is the moment the entire political conversation turns to his successor, on the Democratic ticket and in the White House. Will it be Vice President Kamala Harris? Will it be another one of the 2020 Democratic primary field? Will it be someone else? The conversation will go on as if Biden did not exist.
Fourth, and most important, is that Biden is simply too old to run again. He was too old to run in 2020, and he is definitely too old now.
Biden will be 82 at the end of his term. If he runs again, he will be asking American voters to put him in office until he is 86. That is totally unheard of in American history. And Biden has already shown plenty of signs that age has slowed him down, and that there is reason for the public to be concerned about his mental acuity.
First, the history. No president had ever turned 70 in office until Dwight Eisenhower, who turned 70 in October 1960, three months before he left office. Then, in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected at age 69. He turned 70 early in his first year in office and thereafter was the oldest president ever. He won reelection at age 73 and served until age 77 amid an ongoing conversation over whether he was too old to be president. Reagan’s second term was filled with much public debate about whether he was senile. A few years after leaving office, the former president announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Then Donald Trump was elected at age 70, serving until he was 74. While some resistance types, NeverTrumpers and adversaries in the media questioned Trump’s mental state, he was clearly able and energetic. His problems, and there were many, were not age-related.
From a voter’s perspective, the 2016 election effectively established 70 as an acceptable age for presidents. Had she won, Hillary Clinton would have turned 70 in her first year in office and would assuredly have run for reelection, which, had she won,would have meant serving until she was 77.
The question now is whether Biden can establish 80 as an acceptable age for presidents. It’s not going well. Many observers were concerned recently by the president’s “Where’s Jackie?” moment, when at a Sept. 28 White House event he called out to recognize Rep. Jackie Walorski, a Republican congresswoman from Indiana who was killed in an auto accident on Aug. 3. Biden, who had issued a statement when Walorski died, seemed completely unaware that she was gone. Later, in response to repeated press questioning, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to admit Biden made a mistake, saying instead that Biden had Walorski “top of mind” during the event.
It was a disconcerting episode that probably would have been dismissed had it not come after reams of evidence, many many examples, that suggest Biden has memory and cognitive issues. After the “Where’s Jackie?” episode, the writer Mark Hemingway tweeted a video of then-Sen. Biden speaking in a rapid, sharp and focused way in 1997 and asked, “Watch this clip from 25 years ago and tell me he’s not suffering from dramatic age-related mental decline.”
So now Biden may or may not have decided to run again. Polls show a large majority of Democrats — nearly two-thirds of his own party — would prefer to have another candidate on the presidential ticket in 2024. Some of that opposition comes from the growing belief that Biden is just too old for the job.
Still, Biden might insist on trying for a second term, especially if it becomes clear that Trump, who will turn 78 in 2024, decides to run again. A second term would mean Trump would serve to age 82, meaning that a Biden-Trump matchup in 2024 would be a campaign in which both candidates are too old to be president.
At some point, American voters will have to stand up and say no, there is no reason to test the limits of aging over and over again -- it’s time for someone else.