When President Biden announced his reelection bid this week, some Democrats privately expressed worry that some of the president’s flaws could haunt him throughout the campaign.
While they acknowledge Biden has had a successful couple of years — particularly on the legislative front — they also have some trepidation about whether Biden can ultimately pull off another victory in 2024.
“Every Democrat is a little freaked out, but no one wants to say it publicly,” one Democratic consultant conceded this week. “We’re in uncharted waters.”
Here are five of the worries Democrats mention when it comes to Biden.
President Biden speaks during an event to honor the National Education Association 2023 Teacher of the Year award recipient in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Greg Nash)
The biggest worry Democrats have is the president’s age. Biden will turn 81 in November and would be 86 at the end of a second term.
He’s already the oldest president in U.S. history, a record he breaks every day in office.
Strategists in the Democratic Party see it as the main reason for a contradiction in polling: Most Democrats approve of Biden’s first term, but more than half of those surveyed say the president shouldn’t run again.
Biden’s age is a source of attacks from his would-be rivals.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, this week predicted Biden wouldn’t live until the end of his second term if elected, and “if you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President Harris.”
Former President Trump, who is 76, also frequently lashes out at Biden over his age.
Biden admitted on Wednesday he also “took a hard look” at his age when he considered running for reelection. “And I feel good,” he told reporters at a press conference. “I feel excited about the prospects.”
Still, some Democratic strategists wonder whether Biden can compete effectively. “Campaigns aren’t made for 81-year-olds,” one operative acknowledged.
In 2020, Biden largely stayed off the campaign trail because of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he was choosing to follow the science. He built a television studio in his Wilmington, Del., home and sought to speak directly to the public from there. But in this cycle, he’ll need to crisscross the country, traveling from swing state to swing state.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” the strategist said.
Lack of interviews
President Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Greg Nash)
Biden had a press conference this week when he welcomed South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to the White House.
But the president has had fewer news conferences than any of his recent predecessors, a fact some Democrats see as a sign the White House wants to keep him out of situations where he might make an unforced public error.
Mark Knoller, the veteran journalist who covered the White House for decades and keeps detailed records of presidential pressers, said Biden has held 24 news conferences since he took office, 12 of which were joint news conferences with foreign leaders.
Former President Bill Clinton, by comparison, did 83 news conferences in his first two years in office.
Compared to his predecessors, Biden also has sat down for the fewest number of interviews with journalists. Knoller said Biden has done 38 interviews since taking office. Earlier this month, he did an interview with “Today” show host Al Roker at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Knoller noted the president hasn’t done any interviews with Fox News, which frequently rails against his policies and politics.
“The few interviews Biden has done with news anchors have been a festival of softball questions with no follow-up to elicit substantive answers,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a communications professor emeritus at Boston University who worked as a political media consultant.
But Biden’s reluctance to take questions isn’t just from journalists. He also has done few town halls with voters since taking office.
“He needs to spend more time interacting with voters,” one strategist said. “That’s a Biden staple: He performs at his best when he’s interacting with regular folks, and we haven’t seen much of it in recent years.”
The strategist predicted Biden would have smaller, more controlled events throughout the campaign, something that ultimately doesn’t behoove him.
President Biden gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Feb. 7. (Associated Press)
To win a modern-day campaign, strategists say a presidential candidate needs to be flexible.
During the 2016 cycle, for example, Trump frequently called in to radio and television shows to do impromptu interviews while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her team deliberated for hours over a tweet. Some Democrats feel the Biden operation is similar in its inability to move the ship in real time.
“They can be really slow and too methodical,” the Democratic consultant said.
Biden, however, showed he can respond quickly and off-the-cuff during the State of the Union address earlier this year when he went off-script to spar with Freedom Caucus members in real time over social programs.
After Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called him a “liar” for saying Republicans wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare, he continued the back and forth without missing a beat.
“He does know how to throw punches,” said Susan Del Percio, a longtime Republican consultant who supported Biden over Trump in 2020.
Proneness to gaffes
President Biden gives remarks at the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 17. (Annabelle Gordon)
Biden has largely been a stick-to-the-script kind of president, a major departure from his time as a senator when he regularly spoke off the cuff.
Aides have been particularly stringent about keeping Biden on message throughout his presidency. He often quips he’s going to “be in trouble” with his aides for veering off message and speaking his mind.
But the campaign trail can be prime for unscripted moments, and even the staunchest Biden supporters worry about his ability to step in it.
“My biggest fear is that he’ll say something and it’ll be tough for him to recover,” one donor said.
“Biden’s weakest link is his tradition of placing his foot in his mouth,” Berkovitz added. “He has always been a gaffe machine, and his diminishing cognitive abilities have exacerbated this problem.”
Handling of the economy
President Joe Biden speaks about the economy in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Jobs numbers are the best they’ve been in decades, and consumer spending is robust.
But Democrats worry one of Biden’s biggest flaws won’t be a personality trait, but rather his handling of the top issue to voters: the economy.
Biden this week touted an economy that “remains strong,” but many economists suggest otherwise as the Federal Reserve keeps upping interest rates and big banks predict little growth, if any.
Others hint that a recession is looming as major corporations slash jobs.
“I’m worried that the economy will turn, and [the Biden administration] didn’t handle it so well the first time,” Del Percio said, pointing to earlier in the presidency as the price of gas, groceries and other goods soared. “They got it all wrong.”
“That’s where he really falls behind,” she added. “He seems like he’s behind on a lot of kitchen table issues. And if it happens again, a serious dip in the economy will hurt him, no doubt.”