WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s advisers have been studying a spring 2023 reelection announcement that would echo the timetable of former president Barack Obama. They have flooded 2024 battleground states with millions of dollars to build up Democratic operations in advance of the next presidential campaign.
And under the Biden team’s leadership, the Democratic National Committee has decided against preparing a debate schedule for a contested nomination fight.
The goal of his advisers is to send every possible message that Biden, 79, is ready, able and determined to carry the party banner into another presidential election, especially if the opponent is his nemesis, Donald Trump, 76.
With Biden’s approval ratings continuing to slide and the odds of a recession next year rising, the planning is in part an effort, though not entirely successful, to dampen broad concern in the party about his ability to mount a conventional campaign due to his age and energy level.
“If Trump is going to run, there is no question Biden is running, and he would probably run regardless,” said Greg Schultz, who worked as the first Biden campaign manager during the 2020 primary race.
Former Democratic senator Chris Dodd, a close Biden ally and friend, said there is no reason to think the president will not run again. “The one thing I guarantee you is he is no quitter,” Dodd said. “There is always some speculation in every administration, but from my conversations, he is a guy who is running again.”
In public and private, Biden himself has emphasized that he is running, effectively shutting down any discussion of the topic between the president and his close advisers, according to interviews with more than a dozen Democrats close to the White House, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Biden remains consumed by inflation, the war in Ukraine and the other daily crises that arrive at his desk, and even as aides have had to publicly and repeatedly reiterate that he is running in 2024, there are no plans to expedite the official launch of a reelection campaign, to the frustration of some Democrats trying to finalize their own plans.
Several prominent Democrats are maneuvering in case Biden changes his mind as donors, lawmakers and strategists fret about his age and ability to run a grueling campaign. If reelected, Biden would be 86 by the end of his second term.
The discussions over the political future of Bide come at a time of deep concern inside the Democratic Party about its ability to define its Republican opponents and assuage voter anxieties about high prices and rising crime. For months, there has been broad concern about the White House struggling to communicate a clear message as his approval ratings continue to be low.
Republicans assail Biden and Democrats daily for failing to curb increasing prices, a surge in crime and an influx of migrants at the southern border, while hammering at social issues related to racial justice, school curriculums and transgender rights.
The White House, in contrast, has yet to put forward a clear argument for why voters should choose Democrats over Republicans in the fall, many party strategists said, alternating between attacks on corporate greed and denunciations of “Ultra MAGA” Republicans.
There is also widespread concern in the party about the ability of Biden to perform vigorously in another election, especially after the last campaign was largely conducted virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic. While Biden can claim that he has already shown he can beat Trump, if the former president opts not to run, some Democratic operatives said Biden will face pressure to step aside.
“I think people watch him with a clenched jaw and a lot of tension in their body, hoping he doesn’t make a mistake at any moment,” said a senior Democratic election strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters. “It is obviously hard to do that as president, and it is really hard to do that as president running for reelection.” Asked whether it would be good for Democrats if Biden ran again, the person said, “I think it is a coin flip.”
Biden’s reelection plans do not entirely hinge on what Trump does, but aides and allies agree the president would almost certainly not change his mind about running again if Trump is the Republican nominee and he is healthy enough for a campaign, a fact Biden has acknowledged. Biden considers his defeat of Trump, whom he sees as disrupter of American democratic traditions, central to his legacy.
“Why would I not run against Donald Trump if he were the nominee?” he told ABC News in December. “That’d increase the prospect of running.” In March, Biden seemed to relish the prospect of a rematch. “The next election, I’d be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me,” he said at a news conference in Brussels.
Biden’s supporters argue that he has shown political acumen and governing skill in recent years, and that there is no evidence anyone else in the party would do better.
“He has beaten this guy Trump once, and I think he beats him again if Trump is a candidate,” Dodd said. “A lot of the problems he faces has nothing to do with his doing. Who would have anticipated Ukraine? He has handled that with a great deal of sophistication.”
Dodd spent last week with the president in Los Angeles at the Summit of the Americas, and praised Biden’s diplomatic skills and grasp of the thorny issues on the agenda. “We had a private luncheon with all the heads of state,” Dodd said. “Everyone got to ask questions. He was terrific. We forget how good he can be and how good he really is in those settings.”
While Biden’s boosters dismiss the chatter as typical Democratic anxiety, his aides have felt the need to continually reiterate his intentions. “To be clear, as the President has said repeatedly, he plans to run in 2024,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted on Monday after receiving a barrage of questions about his political future.
But a subset of the Democratic Party remains convinced there is a good chance Biden will not ultimately go through with another campaign, and many do not see Vice President Kamala Harris as a suitable successor, especially given the way her 2020 presidential primary campaign collapsed. That has resulted in some not-so-quiet jockeying among Democratic leaders, who vow not to run against Biden but see an opening should he bow out.
Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker is speaking in New Hampshire on Saturday at the state Democratic Party’s annual convention. Aides to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote in a memo to allies that Sanders “has not ruled out another run for president” if Biden does not run (though the 80-year-old senator said this week, “I think Biden will probably run again, and if he runs again I will support him”).
And many of the 2020 Democratic candidates – including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey – could be in the mix as well.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty about when Biden will formally announce, and memories of his drawn-out decision-making process in the last campaign, is keeping Democrats antsy.
Biden’s own advisers were frustrated in early 2019 when Biden repeatedly delayed a presidential announcement, making it harder to compete for top-level staff in early nominating states. He announced his campaign at the end of April of that year, months after most of his competitors.
Some Democrats are now hoping Biden officially declares his candidacy for another term right after the Nov. 8 congressional midterms, but aides say that is unlikely at this point. That timing might be awkward if Democrats suffer devastating losses as expected.
Shortly after he took office, the president’s advisers ruled out a repeat of Trump’s 2020 approach to reelection, which involved setting up a committee to raise money on the day of his inauguration in 2017.
Instead, Biden’s team has focused his fundraising efforts on the Democratic National Committee, allowing wealthy individuals to write larger checks. The committee, in turn, has been spending the money earlier in 2024 battleground states that also have contested Senate and House races.
Biden’s family members, who played a major role in pushing him into the 2020 race, could also play an important role this time around. Biden often recounts the story of his grandchildren calling a family meeting and urging him to run, and Jill Biden has said she was moved by strangers who pleaded for her husband to jump into that campaign.
Valerie Biden, the president’s sister, who had been intimately involved in his campaigns before backing away in 2020, has told others she is frustrated that her brother’s top aides are not reaching out more to the family, according to one person familiar with the dynamic, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private matters.
Although Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaking recently on CNN, declined to explicitly endorse Biden’s reelection, there are no visible signs in the party of an active effort to push the president aside if he wants to run.
But concerns persist about his prospects, especially as Trump signals he is strongly considering a run while House committee hearings provide startling reminders of Trump’s apparent disregard for democratic norms.
Biden ran for president in 2020 promising “strong, steady, stable leadership,” but Democrats admit that his standing has taken a hit through the first year-and-a-half of his administration, which included a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and a failure to unite Democrats around his legislative agenda. A Wall Street Journal poll in March found 57% of Americans disapproved of the job Biden was doing in “being a strong leader.”
Biden’s own strategists have been heartened by continued support for Biden’s character, which they hope would contrast well with Trump in a rematch. The same poll found that Americans believe Biden “tries to do the right thing” by a margin of 50 to 48%.
Democrats also note that despite historically high inflation, the economy under Biden has been booming in many ways, with strong job growth and plummeting unemployment.
“In his first year he has given Democrats a strong record to run on in November: a historically low 3.6% unemployment rate and over 8 million jobs added to the economy, including over half a million manufacturing jobs,” Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement. “I can tell you firsthand that, across the board, Democrats are united behind the president.”