The Memo: Democrats size up Biden with eye on 2024
Democrats are sizing up President Biden’s chances of winning reelection in 2024 — and prominent figures are weighing their own prospects too.
It’s in no one’s interest to scorn Biden’s chances of reelection just yet. Open disloyalty to an incumbent president is almost sure to backfire.
But the smoke signals are being sent coast to coast.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ran TV commercials over July 4 in Florida — roughly 2,500 miles from Sacramento — hitting the Sunshine State’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis is widely seen as a possible GOP presidential contender, and Newsom’s unusual move made sure his name would be in the 2024 frame as Democrats mull Biden’s strengths and weaknesses.
Newsom had previously criticized his own party — and Biden, by implication — for being too timid in defense of abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Last month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) journeyed to New Hampshire — traditionally the second state to vote in the primary process. There, Pritzker excoriated the Republican Party as “seeking to shame and criminalize” women’s autonomy. He also characterized the GOP as “naked and afraid.”
Pritzker’s fiery response to the mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., on Monday also seemed much more in step with liberal America’s sentiments that Biden’s milder reaction.
“I’m here to tell you to be angry,” Pritzker said. “I’m furious.”
Other figures have sent their own messages, too.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), whom Biden reportedly considered for his running mate in 2020, told NBC News last month that she was “not going to weigh in on whether he should run” for a second term.
She did say she would support Biden if he ran, however.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), asked by CNN early last month whether she would endorse Biden for reelection, responded, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
The New York congresswoman made the lukewarm remark before the Supreme Court handed down its seismic ruling on abortion.
Last week, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted to her 13 million followers screenshots of two stories — one saying Biden was unlikely to take “bold steps” to protect abortion rights, the other noting that White House aides were “irked” by questions from Democrats about his plans to seek reelection — accompanied by a quizzical emoji.
Ocasio-Cortez, now 32, is old enough to be eligible for the White House in 2024, which was not the case in 2020.
Meanwhile, a key aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) emphasized in a memo back in April that the Vermonter had “not ruled out another run for president” — but would only be interested if Biden decided not to go forward.
There are, to be sure, formidable obstacles facing anyone within the Democratic Party who entertains serious hopes of ousting Biden.
Primary challenges to a sitting president are almost never successful. In living memory, they have almost always resulted in losses for the party involved.
Right-wing populist Pat Buchanan challenged President George H.W. Bush for the GOP nomination in 1992. Buchanan lost, but a damaged Bush was defeated in the fall by Democrat Bill Clinton.
In 1980, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) challenged President Carter for the Democratic nomination. Kennedy got less traction than expected in a bitter contest, but Carter lost to Republican Ronald Reagan that November.
Above all, there is no sign at all that Biden is willing to step aside.
The president is a proud man who often displays irritation if he feels he is not being accorded sufficient respect. His experience in 2016, when he was the sitting vice president but President Obama preferred Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, still rankles.
Just last week, Biden was asked at a news conference in Madrid if he was “the best messenger” for his party on abortion.
“Yeah, I am,” came the prickly response. “I’m the president of the United States of America. That makes me the best messenger.”
White House officials feel a predictable exasperation at the continued speculation over Biden’s plans.
“To be clear, as the president has said repeatedly, he plans to run in 2024,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted last month.
Even if Biden were to surprise by stepping aside, there is an additional complication for outside Democrats who have their eyes on the top job: Vice President Harris.
Harris’s approval ratings are not much better than Biden’s. But she would still be the heir apparent if he dropped out, and anyone running against her would have to navigate the complicated currents of her position as a “double first” — the first woman and the first Black person to serve as vice president.
Still, some stark realities remain:
The president’s approval ratings are below 40 percent in the main polling averages.
Inflation is at its highest point in more than 40 years.
A GOP takeover of the House, at least, in November’s midterm elections is seen in Washington as a near-certainty.
And Biden will turn 80 a few weeks later.
It’s no surprise that other big names in his party are casting a wistful eye toward Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.