What does Biden 2024 mean for US politics?

It was never specified, but it was widely assumed by all those who kept a close eye on US politics, that Joe Biden would be a one term President, likely to hand the reins to Kamala Harris come 2024. He never specifically said this, but his team briefed a 2024 run would be “almost inconceivable” and he himself encouraged the rumours with talk of being a “transitional President”. This makes Biden’s assertion he intends to run for a second term in the future fascinating, and it upends American politics, in the incumbent party’s favour.

Is Biden bluffing? That’s how many have taken it, and this could well be the case, but we might as well examine the political calculus in case this is what’ll happen, since we’ve already combed over the other scenario where Harris runs. So let’s really think about how American politics would change, and how the next decade might look, if Biden and Harris serve all the way to 2028.

There are two ways to read this, the slightly more likely one is that Biden is simply saying this so he isn’t a lame duck; there’s a hell of a lot to do and to say “yeah, I’m one term” would doom his efforts legislatively; what he said was just a politician doing smart politics. The other (and totally probable) reading of this is that now Biden’s in office he feel he doesn’t want to let go of the prize he’s sought all his life, and he thinks he holds the best shot of keeping his party in power come 2024 (inclined to agree there).

Kamala Harris will absolutely be on the ticket in 2024. She’ll either be running as Biden’s VP again, as the Democratic candidate to carry forward her party’s run in the White House, or as a consolation VP pick in the eventuality that somehow she’s beaten in the primaries (would love that to be the case but can’t see it). If Biden is actually running again, not much changes for her, she’ll continue as VP, and then have an open field to run in 2028, much as we assumed she would in 2024, and as she so clearly wants to do.

Biden’s age is a tricky one here. An octogenarian President is a funny one, but the actual number is far less important than the sharpness; if a 101 year old is much sharper than most people their age, and has the mental agility of a 65 year old, who’s to deny them the Presidency in theory? So the question is will Biden be mentally agile enough to run in 2024, and govern into 2029, as an 86 year old. Seen as he’s clearly already mentally deteriorated from when he was VP, I doubt he’ll be in a fit state to govern come 2027/29, as two terms close. Surely not?

Physically, Biden seems to be much fitter than average. But having an 85 year old in such a strenuous job is a big test, and the odds of Biden dying in office (something speculated about for one term) become deadly serious and very real if we talk about two terms, because the odds of death in office shoot up dramatically. This doesn’t mean it’ll happen, and certainly no one wants it to, but the odds of a woman POTUS before 2029 have got much greater with Biden declaring two term ambitions.

Biden’s political prospects in 2024 are pretty good, as long as he’s as outwardly coherent as he was in 2020 (if it gets any worse it will cost him a tonne of votes and flip the election) but if anything I think he’s become a little more polished, focused, and coherent since he took office (still massively gaffe prone and rambles), so maybe that won’t be anymore of an issue than it was last time, potentially even less since people will have been governed by him for four years and nothing horrendous will have happened.

Biden would be an incumbent running for reelection, and they have a stellar record of maintaining control. Unless the place is literally burning (as in 2020) or the economy is in the doldrums (1980 and 1992) then the sitting President cruses to another 4 years in office. It’s really hard to loose reelection, and coming off the back of massive legislative packages to rebuild the economy, and having steered the nation out of COVID, Biden would almost certainly secure another term; the question is the margin, not the result and the margin would depend on the campaign and strength of the opposition.

The Democrats’ political prospects actually brighten a whole lot if Biden runs again, at least in terms of control of the White House and the executive branch. See, in 2024 if it’s Harris up against a strong populist Republican, I’d give it 50/50 which way it might flip, but if it’s the incumbent, I’m saying 60/40 for Biden on a bad day for the administration, 80/20 to win on a good day. In other words, if Biden does run again (provided the current direction of bold action continues), he all but guarantees a Democrat in the White House until 2029.

Now as for congress, an entirely different matter I’m afraid. Congress has in inbuilt structural bias towards Republicans guaranteeing them an easy run for the medium term, unless some unlikely, monumental democratic reforms take place. So Democrats have little to zero prospect of prolonged congressional control, weakening them politically since they’ll struggle to get anything done (although this can be used as a weapon to run against Republicans now, “look what Biden did with full control, give it to us and we can get stuff done” is a more potent line than “sorry, Obama decided to shit the bed so we wasted the time you gave us, please give us more”).

But in terms of the Presidency, there is an emerging inbuilt bias towards Democrats in terms of key swing states in the longer term, as voter demographics shift, and the tables will turn on a electoral system that has favoured Republicans since the 2000s, and which neither party seems willing to get rid of. And if Biden can cling on until 2028, a Republican winning the White House becomes a prospect that looks far less likely, as the electoral winds change. As I say, congress is different, and without the electoral collage a populist Republican in future could easily amass 50% with a strong run, but in terms of the electoral collage, from 2028 onwards Democrats may have it locked for the foreseeable, which would be highly ironic considering what a nightmare the electoral collage has been for progressives, and how profoundly undemocratic it has been, and always will be.

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Toby Lipatti-Mesme

Toby Lipatti-Mesme

Insightful and innovative UK journalism and commentary, from Toby Lipatti-Mesme.