The Impervious Joe Biden
It sometimes seems as though Joe Biden is one of the most resilient figures in American politics.
The 46th president has been particularly successful over the past year. He has passed several substantial bills with bipartisan support. He has enacted a watered-down version of his social agenda through the Inflation Reduction Act. More recently, Biden had a historic performance in the midterm elections and gave a successful State of the Union address. He has even garnered positive press just this week for a strong showing in his visit to Kyiv.
These steps have all but ended talk of a potential primary challenger or alternative candidate in 2024. Some pundits are still calling for Biden to step aside due to his advanced age and perceived desire to make opportunities for the next generation. But serious discussion on the issue has stalled. Potential Democratic hopefuls are not headed to New Hampshire or South Carolina. They are keeping their jobs in the Cabinet and continuing to sing the president’s praises to the media. Biden will likely go into 2024 with a totally united party, a difficult feat for a president whose approval ratings are still less than 45%.
This strength against political narrative and his own party has extended to a resilience towards the opposing party. After two years in power, Republicans are still not entirely set on how to attack the sitting president. Their criticisms are mostly aimed at his allies in Congress and in the greater culture. Biden has mostly avoided the gaffes that led to snide remarks about his age and fitness for office. Attacks on fiscal mismanagement have abated somewhat as inflation has slowed and gas prices have dropped. Now, Republicans have returned to the early 2021 playbook of focusing more on Kamala Harris and wokeness than they do on the most powerful person in the opposition party.
Biden’s success reflects an astute political strategy. Ezra Klein in the New York Times described it as a combination of old and new. Biden, according to Klein, has combined many of the ideas of younger advisors with the tactics and strategy of the older generation. The result is “a policy agenda that reflects today’s Democratic Party married to a political style that is more of a throwback.” This throwback political style allows Biden to propose a number of bold, adventurous policies that excite young voters while also avoiding the Twitter-based traps that have doomed many of his younger opponents.
The president’s strength also represents one theory about why voters chose him in the first place. In 2020, Democratic voters had withstood twelve years of onslaughts against their past two presidential candidates. They remember the years of vitriol slung at President Barack Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton. They saw, in early attacks on Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, a return to the noxious misogyny and prejudice that doomed the party in 2016.
For better or worse, they wanted someone mostly immune from the first line of identity-based attacks, and they found that figure in Joe Biden. As a result, Biden has disproved one element of common political wisdom, the idea that the Republican Party would never again work with a Democratic president. In fact, the party would not work with a president that they hated. They do not hate Joe Biden. As a result, the country has gotten numerous bipartisan laws enacted and may be able to head off a debt ceiling disaster this year.
In addition to tacit acceptance from Republicans, current discourse will likely continue to benefit Joe Biden and his political strength, particularly among independents and liberals. The president’s online critics often hate Republicans more than they disapprove of the president. While they attack Biden’s age or centrist outlook, they focus much more on the threat posed by the Republican candidate. The more Democrats believe that the next Republican president will end democracy and the rule of law, the more they will want the safest possible alternative. That alternative at this point is Biden.
Joe Biden is certainly a vulnerable candidate at the age of 80. He is susceptible to a wide variety of potential health problems and accidents. There is always the possibility of his self-implosion, as evidenced by the debacles that ended his 1988 campaign. But more than likely, Biden will go on to capture the nomination and become the frontrunner for the 2024 presidential race. At that point, time and the intricacies of the national economy will determine his political fate more than any online posts or political pundits.