From the Right



Thinking About Biden's Age

Mona Charen on

In late 2019, Politico asked a high-ranking Biden aide about the candidate's age. "If Biden is elected," the anonymous adviser said, "he's going to be 82 years old in four years and he won't be running for reelection."

That was then. Though Joe Biden never did forswear a second term, thus avoiding Teddy Roosevelt's 1904 mistake, which made him an instant lame duck, it was widely assumed at the start of this term that he would be a "transitional" president. No longer. Today, all of the signs are pointing toward another run.

Traveling in Africa last month, Jill Biden was asked whether the decision about seeking reelection had been made and whether all that remained to be done was to choose a time and place for the announcement. "Pretty much," replied the first lady.

The structure of the president's state of the union address, with its refrain of "Let's finish the job," suggests a candidate, not a valedictory by a retiring president. Most of all, the president's pivots on two matters that could be political vulnerabilities -- crime and immigration -- point to a campaign mindset.

Voters, even specifically Democratic voters, have delivered messages about the importance of crime in the past couple of years. They elected former police officer Eric Adams to the mayoralty of New York, ousted progressives Chesa Boudin and Marilyn Mosby from prosecutors' offices in San Francisco and Baltimore, and denied Chicago's Lori Lightfoot renomination for mayor. The mayors of Atlanta and Seattle also decided against seeking reelection due to public concerns about high crime rates. So it was noteworthy that just days after Lightfoot's toppling, Biden announced that he would not veto congressional action to nullify the District of Columbia's proposed criminal code changes.

After two years of brutal headlines and low polling numbers about the crush of asylum seekers at the border, Biden has toughened rules for would-be immigrants, requiring them to ask for asylum in the first country they reach rather than electing to make their application only in the United States. The administration has paired this with increasing humanitarian parole from four especially troubled neighbors -- Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The result has been a 38% decline in the number of encounters at the border since the policy was adopted in January. Deportations are up -- but so are legal admissions. And while immigration will remain a divisive issue in national politics, the reduction of chaos at border crossings is clearly in Biden's political interest.

So he's showing some savvy. What he has not been able to do is alter the actuarial tables. If reelected, Biden will be 86 in 2028.


Perhaps 86 is the new 76. People are living longer and better than ever. Clint Eastwood's latest film, "Cry Macho," debuted in 2021, when he was 90. Rupert Murdoch continues to preside over a malign media empire at the age of 91. Warren Buffett, the world's fifth-wealthiest individual, runs Berkshire Hathaway at the age of 92, and takes advice from 99-year-old board member Charlie Munger.

And yet, it's not crazy for voters to be concerned about the possibility of the man they elect dying in office, which is far more likely with an 83- or 85-year-old than with a younger person. And then there's the question of vigor and mental acuity. Biden has not shown any signs of dementia, and he probably never will (90% of elderly people do not), but that doesn't mean he's as sharp as he used to be. One recent poll showed that 68% of voters think Biden is too old for another term. Another found that even among Democrats, only 37% would like to see him seek a second term.

Biden made one unwise decision when he was younger that haunts him now -- the pledge to name an African American woman as vice president. That promise limited his options drastically and saddled him with a vice president who has proved deeply disappointing, to say nothing of unpopular. It may not be justified. Perhaps she's simply had a few stumbles that were blown out of proportion. But negative views appear to have hardened, and because of the racial dynamics of the party and the country, he cannot replace her on the ticket -- which only adds to people's anxieties about a second term.

Biden cannot dump Harris, but she could withdraw. People rarely put the good of the country before their own ambitions, but it really does seem that if Harris were to step aside in favor of a more acceptable alternative for vice president in 2024, she would be a heroine. With the GOP still careening into crazy, the Democrats are the only hope for rationality in the near future. And a Biden/Klobuchar or Biden/Whitmer or Biden/Booker ticket would be a much safer bet.


Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast.

Copyright 2023 Creators Syndicate Inc.




Bill Day Randy Enos Kirk Walters John Cole Bill Bramhall Mike Smith