President Joe Biden delivers remarks at St. Muredach’s Cathedral, April 14, 2023, in Abbeyhalfquarter, Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz
It appears a Biden-Trump rematch is inevitable.
Former President Donald Trump announced in November he’s running for president a third time, and at the moment no potential GOP challenger comes anywhere close to him in the polls. Ever since President Joe Biden said last month that he’s running for reelection, most of the discussion about potential Democratic primary contenders has subsided, excluding the no-shot Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson campaigns.
That would leave us with a presidential election that pits an unpopular incumbent against an insurrection leader.
America can do better.
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Incumbents have a natural advantage, and Biden proved in 2020 he can beat Trump. But he is hardly the best possible Democratic candidate for president, and, for the good of the country’s future and in the spirit of true democracy, he should be made to run a competitive primary race.
The Biden administration had a rocky start, but overall it has accomplished much. The Inflation Reduction Act — the Democrats’ signature climate, health care and tax package — alone was a historic achievement, with its biggest-ever investment in climate action. Biden’s stalwart posture in defense of Ukraine against a murderous Russian aggressor is also a highlight of his tenure.
But no amount of success or popularity should insulate any American officeholder from regular accountability at the polls, and even Democrats have plenty of cause for doubt about Biden.
Every office-seeker every election ought to prove their worth in the crucible of political challenge.
The most obvious problem with Biden’s candidacy — the one behind so much uncertainty about whether he would run again — is his age. He is already the oldest-ever president, and he would be 82 on inauguration day in 2025. More important than the number is his performance. He is not just an old man — he seems like an old man, and Americans have serious reservations about his mental acuity. He’s not getting any younger, and the disturbing case of the 89-year-old Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, who appears literally not to grasp where she is, serves as a stark argument against politicians overstaying their welcome.
That’s only one factor behind hope for a Biden primary challenge. Here’s another: Most Democratic voters didn’t want him to run again.
“Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the Post-ABC poll finds 58 percent say they would prefer someone other than Biden as their nominee in 2024 — almost double the 31 percent who support Biden,” The Washington Post reported in February. That kind of lack of enthusiasm is unusual in modern presidential politics, as FiveThirtyEight noted.
But there are even more pressing reasons to urge a Democratic presidential primary. Biden’s triumph in 2020 rescued the country from the catastrophe of a second Trump term, and that service to the U.S. will be perhaps the pinnacle of Biden’s legacy. But his presidency always felt like a placeholder. A resurgent Trump, who leads a vast and potent movement of racism, lies and sedition, is the greatest insider threat the nation has ever known. Effective resistance demands a counterweight of equal mass, and Biden doesn’t fit the bill.
Biden was a useful and reassuring emissary from a gentler time in American politics. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972, an era when a president resigned after being exposed as a crook rather than lead an attempted coup. But the scale of the MAGA menace must be matched if it is to be vanquished. Biden beat Trump. He might do it again. But he is not the only leader in America who can win an election against Trump, and the survival of the U.S. could depend on a president not just winning the office but also exhibiting enough vigor and character to obliterate Trumpism. The need for such a leader in the executive branch is especially urgent, since the Supreme Court is corrupted by ideology and cash, and on most days Congress is non-functioning.
Even if the country weren’t facing an autocratic threat like Trump, this simple principle is central to American leadership: No one is entitled to any public office. Every office-seeker every election ought to prove their worth in the crucible of political challenge. Americans should treat as repellent any claim to power that resembles a coronation, and any hint of entitlement is properly met with hostility. Want a reminder of what entitlement looks like? See Jan. 6, 2021. The attack on the Capitol was extreme, but it demonstrates why entitlement is best checked early — an imperative a Democratic primary challenge would help uphold.
So who’s it going to be?
But the identity of Democratic presidential primary candidates is secondary to the point that the race should feature them. And if Biden survives a competitive primary, his reelection would be all the more worthy of admiration.
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