Democrats question whether Biden will actually run in 2024
A number of Democrats are privately questioning whether President Biden will run for reelection amid anemic approval ratings and rising worries about next year’s midterm elections.
Biden insists that he will seek another term, and some see him as the best bet to defeat former President Trump if he runs again and becomes the GOP nominee.
“Electability was the No. 1 issue in the last election — it was why Joe Biden won the primary. There’s going to be a contingent out there that believes that, ‘Oh, it’s Trump again this time around, we have to have Biden again,’ ” said one Democratic aide who worked on a presidential campaign in the last cycle.
“But if Biden’s approval rating stays where it is, if we have a rough midterm cycle, if he can’t deliver on his entire agenda — is he still considered the most electable candidate?” said the aide, who like a number of other Democrats who spoke to The Hill for this story did not want to speak on the record about the sensitive issue.
Biden ran in 2020 as a party statesman who argued he would bring back a sense of normalcy and stability to Washington after the tumultuous Trump years.
Partly because of the rationale for his candidacy, there have as a result always been questions about whether he would serve more than one term.
His age is another factor — and another reason Democrats do not like talking about Biden’s political future on the record. Biden will be 81 in January 2024 and is already the oldest person to serve as president.
Many do see Biden as someone who could defeat Trump again in three years, and there are deep fears that the likely heir apparent to the president — Vice President Harris — could lose.
Yet despite Biden’s insistence that he will run, speculation he may not is slowly growing in Democratic circles as the White House struggles to rebound from a difficult political summer and fall.
While the White House did not comment for this story, other Democrats close to Biden officials say the president is deadly serious about mounting another bid in 2024 and that it is not just talk to keep himself from being a lame duck.
“He has told people privately that he plans to run. We’ll be ready for that. And his disregard for the chattering class is well-known,” said someone who worked on the Biden campaign and is knowledgeable about his thinking on 2024.
Some also say that Biden and the party could be poised for a rebound as the House moves toward passing the $1.75 trillion climate and social spending bill. Biden on Monday signed a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law.
One prominent donor said there are Democrats who would compete for the nomination if Biden decides not to but that they are frozen in place for now.
“He’s running again, at least that’s what he’s told people, and it has stopped everyone else in their tracks,” the donor said. “You don’t hear a peep out of anyone when it comes to the 2024 race. They’re all locked down and waiting to see what Biden does.”
A fair number of Democrats say the chatter within the party is typically overly negative.
“Bed-wetting is what my side does,” said Steve Schale, who ran the pro-Biden Unite the Country PAC in 2020.
“The vast majority of observers were absolutely wrong about Joe Biden in 2019 and 2020,” he said. “I remember people said, ‘Joe Biden’s best day will be the first day he’s in the race.’ … The history of counting out Joe Biden is littered with a fairly significant pool of people who live on Twitter.”
Biden’s official travel schedule appears to be geared toward a future bid, as the president has sought to sell his domestic agenda in places that mirror a campaign itinerary.
On Monday, he was in New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary, to tout the passage of his long awaited infrastructure plan.
He flew to Michigan on Wednesday — one of five trips he has made to the critical swing state that he narrowly won last year. He’s also touched down in Pennsylvania several times and has visited Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio.
It is mostly poll numbers and a disappointing outcome in November’s off-year elections that are elevating the discussion.
More than half of registered voters — 53 percent — disapprove of the job Biden is doing in office, according to survey aggregates, with only 42 percent who say they are in favor of it.
Sixty-one percent of respondents in a new Hill-HarrisX survey said they want Biden to step aside to allow another candidate to run for the White House. Just 24 percent said he should definitely run for reelection, with 15 percent unsure about what Biden should do in the next presidential cycle.
“There’s a lot of people who would work for prospective Democratic candidates who are keeping a close eye on these things,” the former campaign staffer said.
Biden won the 2020 nomination largely on the support of Black voters, who are a critical part of his power base. Some Democrats are now beginning to factor that into the equation of a future bid.
“I cannot imagine many, if any of the would-be 2024 Democratic contenders wanting to get out over the skis,” said Joel Payne, a Democratic operative. “The politics of the Democratic Party, which runs through the heart of Black America, would not be kind to somebody being perceived to cut the line ahead of the president or vice president.”
Besides Harris, multiple Democrats who talked to The Hill mentioned Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as another possible successor to Biden.
When asked about Biden running again, a second former campaign staffer to a presidential candidate said: “He shouldn’t, Pete should.”
“I’m not a Pete person,” the source added. “But Pete[’s] only chance is 2024.”
Others mentioned that Buttigieg, who has seen his own profile rise in recent weeks during the infrastructure discussions, has enjoyed a positive perception after suspending his own presidential campaign and helping Biden from within the administration.
“He’s the only who started the 2020 race and ended in an elevated position than the day he started,” said another Democratic strategist, who wanted to speak candidly without attribution about the prior slate of contenders. “He did it in the race and he’s doing it now. He’s the only Democrat who has elevated his stature.”