The Morning Jolt


Will Biden Promise to Be a One-Term President?

Joe Biden participates in a televised townhall on dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, Calif., October 10, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A report of Joe Biden contemplating a pledge to serve only one term and a deep dive into the ramifications; wondering which potential running mates would reinforce his strengths; a reminder that Bob Dole wasn’t that old in 1996 when seen through the lens of today; and an epic edition of the pop-culture podcast.

Would a One-Term Pledge Help Joe Biden or Hurt Him?

Ryan Lizza: “Former Vice President Joe Biden’s top advisers and prominent Democrats outside the Biden campaign have recently revived a long-running debate whether Biden should publicly pledge to serve only one term, with Biden himself signaling to aides that he will serve only a single term.”

Lizza reports: “according to four people who regularly talk to Biden, all of whom asked for anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters, it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for re-election in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president.”

“Joe Biden 2020: Worst-Case Scenario, He’s a Short-Term Problem.”

Would people be more likely to vote for Biden if they knew he wouldn’t run for reelection in 2024? This is not a small question or one of fleeting relevance. Three new national Democratic presidential primary polls came out Tuesday. Monmouth has Joe Biden ahead by 5 percentage points, Politico/Morning Consult has him ahead by 8 percentage points, and Quinnipiac has him ahead by 12 points. The only thing moving slower and shakier than Biden these days is that Biden polling collapse that so many other Democrats are expecting. Sure, Biden could well flop with a fourth-place finish in Iowa and then we might see his national numbers take a sudden tumble, but for all of his flaws, he remains a remarkably durable frontrunner. Some of my colleagues think I’m nuts, but I still think he’s the man most likely to be the Democratic nominee next year.

There are a lot of Americans who have endured ups and downs the past few decades, particularly the past few years, and they don’t want a revolution; they just want things to settle down for a while. There are masses of older Americans out there who might be romanticizing the past, but they can think of a time in America before white nationalists marched through college campuses with tiki torches, before Wal-Marts started getting shot up by young men with rage-filled manifestos, before every movie, television show and celebrity had to be checked for thoughtcrimes by angry woke social media mobs, before Americans started getting social media memes created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, before members of Congress started shouting “impeach the mother******” to cheers at parties, before the President of the United States regularly denounced his critics as “scum” and before the days before Thanksgiving were filled with advice columns of how to deal with relatives with intolerable political viewpoints. They remember — perhaps not entirely accurately — a time when public life was less divided and politicized, when people weren’t so angry all the time, when they didn’t greet the morning news with a little trepidation wondering what the heck the government was doing wrong now. They remember slow news days. Note that Monday brought genuinely shocking revelations about the U.S. war in Afghanistan and it simply never registered with most of the public.

Joe Biden genuinely believes that if he beats Donald Trump, the thinking of most of America’s Republicans will change. “The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke,” Biden told reporters at a diner in Concord, New Hampshire in May. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

It’s easy to forget, but during the Obama years, Republicans said they preferred negotiating with Biden. Then-House majority leader Eric Cantor described him:

He is able to size up where the opposition is. He’s firmly rooted in his direction, what he needs to accomplish in the negotiations, and then understands how far you can push and not lose a result or a deal. If one does not agree with the President’s view of what you want, there’s very little prospect for a result. Joe Biden has a real sensitivity, not only to human reaction, but also partisan and political sensitivities. He understands how far you can push before you just blow up the prospects for a deal.

One Congressional Republican said to me that negotiating with President Obama meant spending a lot of time listening to him explain that he understood your interests better than you did.

Biden is old enough to remember the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill and a time when the minority party’s strategy was more than just “block everything you can at all costs and hope that the public gets frustrated that the majority party hasn’t accomplished enough.” It is easy to forget O’Neill publicly lambasted Reagan’s policies but also didn’t block them from passing the House; he let Reagan enjoy legislative victory after legislative victory . . . and then take the blame for a recession in 1982. Reagan couldn’t claim Democrats had blocked his agenda; the responsibility was his. In 1982, Democrats picked up 26 House seats.

Biden also remembers a time when Democratic and Republican leaders didn’t detest each other down to the bone marrow, either out of genuine animosity or because they’ve determined that’s the public stance most likely to generate grassroots enthusiasm and donations.

Most progressives think Biden’s view of Republicans and Washington is laughably naïve, and contradicted as we speak by the way Republicans are treating him and his son Hunter. No doubt, both sides of the aisle have built their own communications infrastructure telling you why the opposition is the worst group of people in human history and threaten everything you hold dear. (This is one of the reasons why appeals to moderation and bipartisan compromise may not be as effective anymore. Grassroots Republicans see the treatment of George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney and concluded any GOP figure will be demonized, so they might as well get the competitive advantages of being led by a demon, so to speak. Many grassroots Democrats genuinely believe Obama was a moderate or even conservative figure — a mostly soft-spoken family man, scolding at times to the African-American community, increasingly publicly irritated with woke culture. Progressives believe the conservative response to Obama demonstrates the futility of any outreach or good-faith efforts at compromise.)

If Biden does make a one-term pledge, it will make his selection of running mate of extraordinary, perhaps even race-deciding importance. (Let’s face it, many voters will wonder if Biden will be healthy enough to serve a whole term.) Lizza says one Biden adviser “argued that public acknowledgment of that reality could help Biden assuage younger voters, especially on the left, who are unexcited by his candidacy and fear that his nomination would serve as an eight-year roadblock to the next generation of Democrats.”

But if Democrats had a, say, Joe Biden-Stacey Abrams ticket, a younger and more progressive running mate partially nullifies the advantages of electing a relatively-centrist, old-school, non-revolutionary president. Anyone who wanted Biden’s relative centrism and doesn’t want a harder shift further to the left would be rolling the dice that Biden’s health would hold out.

The idea of balancing a ticket in this manner doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. This is essentially declaring, “here are my traits, which I believe make me the best choice to be president, and here’s someone really different from me to take over in case I die.” I’m not sure who best represents a reassuring younger-but-not-too-young moderate figure in today’s Democratic party; if that figure existed, he or she would be running for president and winning by now. Maybe Virginia Sen. Mark Warner? Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf or Sen. Bob Casey?

(You know who might make a great pick for Biden, even though it might cost Democrats a Senate seat if they win? Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Once an outspoken grassroots progressive but serving like a Blue Dog Democrat in the House and Senate, openly bisexual, the kind of Democrat who the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can support, probably carries Arizona’s 11 electoral votes. She’s 43 but looks younger.)

Either way, Biden is probably going to have to address his age and health at some point in some degree of length and detail. Back in 1996, I thought Bob Dole had a terrific speech accepting the nomination, where he confronted the idea that he was too old directly: “Age has its advantages. Let me be the bridge to an America than only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action. And to those who say it was never so, that America’s not been better, I say you’re wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.”

(In 1996, Bob Dole was 73 years old and was endlessly mocked for being ancient. On Election Day in 2020, Bernie Sanders will be 79, Mike Bloomberg will be 78 years, Biden will be 77 years, 11 months, President Trump wil be 74, and Elizabeth Warren will be 71.)

It’s possible the Biden brain trust hasn’t thought all of this through. Right now, they’re effectively arguing, “it’s time to end the era of wild gaffes, offensive statements from the Oval Office and embarrassing presidential offspring . . . next year, vote Joe Biden.”

ADDENDUM: One of the longest editions of the pop-culture podcast ever is here. Mickey and I cover The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s complaints about the Marvel movies; the podcast Broken Harts and a disturbing tale of true crime that the national media may have ignored for ideological reasons; an utterly bizarre paranormal investigation series called Hellier; new trailers for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Marvel’s Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984, and the Bond film No Time to Die; we discuss why the Charlie’s Angels reboot failed (hint, many women can enjoy silly cheesecake too); the inexplicably enduring appeal of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and whether her market crosses over into that of the Peloton Wife, and of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Hallmark Christmas movies.


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