Should Biden win, why do some assume he'll only serve one term?

Should Biden win, why do some assume he'll only serve one term?
© Getty Images

The media loves process more than anything else, so every vice presidential selection garners an overwhelming amount of attention. But the coming choice by presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE is being treated with an extra sense of anticipation, largely because, the reasoning goes, “Given Biden’s age, the VP will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee in four years.” Whether it's Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden says family will avoid business conflicts Biden says China must play by 'international norms' MORE (D-Calif), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration Disney chair says he would consider job in Biden administration if asked Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (D-Mass.) or Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Ill.), or any of the dozen contenders being ranked and chronicled daily by the political press, there’s a strong assumption that Biden’s choice will be handed frontrunner status in 2024. That may be logical, but is it accurate?

People tend to not walk away from power. Kings and dictators usually try to hang on for life. Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinEnforcing the Presidential Records Act is essential for preserving our democracy's transparency, history Putin says doctors and teachers will get first COVID-19 vaccines in new immunization campaign Scarborough says he'll never return to Republican Party after GOP supported Trump MORE in Russia and Xi Jinping in China have managed to install themselves for lifelong terms (or something close to it). Boxers almost always overstay their welcome: In fact, in September, 54-year-old Mike Tyson is scheduled to fight 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr., likely because both want the attention, money and stardom that comes with being relevant. The Rolling Stones still tour. Founders of successful startups usually hang around until they get kicked out by the board. Longtime CEOs, like Meg Whitman or Tim Armstrong, are always looking for a second or third or fourth act. 

Joe Biden has waited his entire life to become president. He’s run for the top job three different times and spent eight years under Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHarris: 'Of course I will' take COVID-19 vaccine Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter encourage people to take COVID-19 vaccine George Clooney says Amal beat him and Obama in a free throw contest MORE. Assuming the polls hold, it looks like he’s finally there. The president of the United States. Leader of the free world. Even with all of its recent flaws and faults, it is still the most powerful job in the world. Sure, it’s a stressful job and, yes, Biden is incredibly old to first begin serving in the Oval Office. But the allure is also overwhelming. The world almost literally revolves around you. Let’s say Biden’s term goes reasonably well, we’ve recovered from the pandemic within a few years and the voters are generally happy. Is he really going to walk away from all of that power and validation? Maybe he’s truly unique and selfless. But almost all of human history suggests no. 


Let’s say Biden does retire after one term. Do we really think that all of the power hungry Democrats across the country are just going to cede the 2024 nomination to Biden’s VP? Kamala Harris tried to take Biden’s head off in the debates; she may end up being his running mate. But if she’s not, is she really going to set aside her ambitions? Does Elizabeth Warren seem like the kind of person who defers to others? New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoHundreds protest over NY bar owners arrested for coronavirus violations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs MORE (D) sees himself as a hero of the pandemic; is he really going to abandon his dream of being president — and topping his father’s record — simply out of deference to the vice president? Keep going down the list of governors, senators, members of the House and others — these people are ambitious. That’s why they’re contenders for the presidency in the first place.

Hopefully, for the Democrats, Biden will make a brilliant choice. Hopefully he’ll decide that one term is enough and the entire party will automatically rally around his VP in four years. All that requires is a full repudiation of human nature from both the new president and everyone else who wants to be president. 

Whomever Biden picks next week, take it with a grain of salt. The vice president has no real impact on the election itself. It’s possible that, again, given Biden’s age, his running mate will win the presidency in 2024, or assume it even sooner. But it’s equally possible — arguably even probable — that Biden’s choice will follow a long tradition of running mates with no real political future. So whether you like the choice or not, don’t fall for the bold declarations from pundits and columnists who we now know will likely be running the country all the way through 2032. All we’ll know is whose name is appearing alongside Biden’s on the ballot this November. Everything else is pure speculation. 

Bradley Tusk is Mayor Bloomberg's former campaign manager and the founder of Tusk Strategies and Tusk Ventures, a New York City-based political consulting firm and venture capital fund. Follow him on Twitter @bradleytusk.