Majority of Americans think President Biden 'too old for another term'

A new poll shows that 68 percent of Americans think President Biden is “too old for another term,” with 48 percent of self-identified Democrats agreeing. Elite Democrats are recognizing that their desired scenario still ends with an 86-year-old president in the Oval Office in 2028. An anecdote about Patrick Stewart’s filming schedule gives us a hint about the workload an octogenarian can reasonably handle.

Joe Biden and the Age-Old Old-Age Question

It probably makes a survey sound less useful and reliable if you call it “the Yahoo poll,” but Yahoo News published another round of eye-popping numbers about Americans’ views about the president’s age:

Nearly 7 in 10 registered voters (68 percent) now say President Biden is “too old for another term,” according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and more Democrats agree (48 percent) than disagree (34 percent) with that assessment.

The survey of 1,516 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Feb. 23 to 27, underscores the central challenge facing the oldest president in American history as he gears up for a likely reelection bid — and the difficult position his age is putting his party in.

For Democrats, the problem is not Biden’s performance in office; they overwhelmingly approve (77 percent) rather than disapprove (20 percent) of how the 80-year-old is handling the job.

There is a quiet struggle in Democratic circles to grapple with the fact that their desired scenario, the one they’re all working so hard to bring to fruition, ends with an 86-year-old president in the Oval Office in 2028. Eighty-six!

Every signal from President Biden and the first lady is that Biden will run for another term. No major Democratic elected official has announced a primary challenge — we’ll get to Marianne Williamson in a bit.

But a week ago, Politico offered a long feature story — with six reporters in the byline! — indicating that Democrats thought Biden would have announced his reelection by now, and wondering if there’s some chance Biden decides against it at the last minute:

Joe Biden’s closest advisers have spent months preparing for him to formally announce his reelection campaign. But with the president still not ready to make the plunge, a sense of doubt is creeping into conversations around 2024: What if he decides not to?

Biden’s past decisions around seeking the presidency have been protracted, painstaking affairs. This time, he has slipped past his most ambitious timetable, as previously outlined by advisers, to launch in February. Now they are coalescing around April. . . .

While the belief among nearly everyone in Biden’s orbit is that he’ll ultimately give the all-clear, his indecision has resulted in an awkward deep-freeze across the party — in which some potential presidential aspirants and scores of major donors are strategizing and even developing a Plan B while trying to remain respectful and publicly supportive of the 80-year-old president.

Then there are the voices that gently remind Democrats that the modern reluctance to see a primary challenge to a sitting president is usually wrapped up in confidence that the president could ably serve out a full second term. Over in The Atlantic, Mark Leibovich — who last summer acknowledged the likelihood of Biden having serious age-related performance problems in his second term — begged some other Democrat to run against Biden so that the age and health issues could be discussed openly:

In private, of course, many elected Democrats say Biden is too old to run again and that they wish he’d step away — which aligns with what large majorities of Democrats and independents have been telling pollsters for months. The public silence around the president’s predicament has become tiresome and potentially catastrophic for the Democratic Party. Somebody should make a refreshing nuisance of themselves and involve the voters in this decision.

(Notice the supposition that Biden’s age and health issues can only be legitimately discussed in the context of a Democratic primary.)

Greg Craig is a lawyer who served in the White House under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and he recognizes the core issue of why Democrats are so nervous: They have little or no faith in Kamala Harris — as either a presidential candidate or potential president. A few days ago in the New York Times, Craig wrote:

When considering who should be his running mate in 2024, Mr. Biden would do well to follow what Franklin D. Roosevelt did in 1944: He expressed a preference for certain candidates but turned the choice of his running mate over to the delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. . . .

If the party were to give Democratic voters a role in picking the vice-presidential nominee, it would have to rely on the primaries and caucuses to make the decision. As a practical matter, one way of structuring an open race for the nomination would involve creating a way for voters in Democratic primaries and caucuses to select delegates who support specific tickets. The race could take place among Biden-Harris delegates and — to cite some possible contenders — Biden-Amy Klobuchar delegates and Biden-Cory Booker delegates.

This would take the Democratic Party’s ticket-selection process back to the methods of the days of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, which had all kinds of messy consequences. And yes, the vice president shooting a former Treasury secretary in Weehauken, N.J., probably ranks among the worst-case scenarios.

The fact that Democrats had a better-than-expected midterm election doesn’t change Biden’s health or age. And I can’t help but wonder if the ongoing difficult experience of Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman is forcing Democrats to recognize that you can only spin the public about an elected official’s health for so long. (Also note that 89-year-old California senator Dianne Feinstein has been away from Washington this week, dealing with what her office will only describe as “a health matter.” So far, she’s missed eleven votes this week.)

I ran across this recent Michael Rosenbaum interview with Jonathan Frakes, the longtime actor and director of many Star Trek episodes and movies (and a lot more). Frakes talked about directing and working with 82-year-old Patrick Stewart on the most recent series:

Patrick is an early riser. He goes to bed having known his lines, he gets driven to work, so he’s working on it on the way in. He gets made up, and so we start early with Patrick. And we get Patrick’s work done, with any luck, by lunch or just a little out — an hour or so after lunch. So we give him, the producers and the directors, the first half, two-thirds of the day. And then somebody else will finish up. So he doesn’t do it have to do 13 straight [hours] anymore.

Now, Patrick Stewart looks and sounds like he’s in terrific shape for a man who turns 83 in July. But even he needs, as the National Basketball Association would put it, “load management.” Men in their 80s cannot manage a punishing schedule of long hours indefinitely.

Remember, according to the New York Times, “White House officials insist they make no special accommodations” for Biden’s age. I don’t believe them, and I think the fact that they can’t acknowledge making any special accommodations for Biden’s age means that they fear how the public would react to whatever special accommodations are being made.

The typical Democratic primary voter likes Joe Biden, almost certainly voted for him in 2020, and is extremely likely to vote for him in a 2024 general-election matchup against Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, or almost any other Republican. But they probably aren’t happy about being forced to pretend that Biden’s age isn’t a legitimate concern, or to pretend that they don’t see the mumbling, the shuffling walk, or when Biden goes on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and starts rambling about how many commercials feature interracial couples. Most Americans love their grandparents, but they barely trust them with the television remote, never mind the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Which brings us to Biden’s declared challenger, Marianne Williamson, whom you probably remember warning in one of the 2020 Democratic-primary debates:

This is part of the dark underbelly of American society, the rainfall, the bigotry, and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight, if you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

Williamson has lived a, er, colorful life, and to many people, she comes across as a nut. But she’s an amiable nut, and it wasn’t that hard to find conservatives nodding in agreement with her assessment that something had gone wrong with the soul of America, that we had gotten too enraged, too nasty, too vindictive, and that we needed more demonstrations of love and compassion for our fellow citizens.

If the Democratic presidential primary of 2024 only consists of the options of Biden and Williamson, then voting for Williamson becomes the only way of expressing disapproval, frustration, or disappointment with the status quo. That’s not going to be enough to win the nomination, but notice in that Yahoo poll that 20 percent of Democrats don’t approve of the job Biden is doing. You could see 10, 20, maybe even 30 percent of Democrats who bother to show up for the primary marking the box for Williamson to say, “I’m not happy with the way things are going, and I want better options.”

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