Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump really this the best this country can come up with?
President Biden’s flaws are increasingly apparent. Inflation approaching 9%, crime and homelessness overtaking American cities, gasoline at $5 a gallon, supply-chain-related shortages, the embarrassing American retreat from Afghanistan, an ongoing genocide in China, the failure to prevent or to win the war with Russia in Ukraine — they all weigh on the American mood.
Sunday’s New York Times featured a front-page news article full of Democrats “worrying about Mr. Biden’s leadership” and “viewing him as an anchor that should be cut loose in 2024.”
As for President Trump, his formidable accomplishments — tax cuts, the Abraham Accords, exiting the Iran nuclear deal, the pardons and criminal justice reform, the Operation Warp Speed that speeded the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, some excellent judicial nominations and confirmations — are marred by the violent Capitol Hill riot that was an expression of Trump’s refusal to accept the reality of his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
No amount of caviling about the unusual pandemic-altered election procedures, about the precise details of Trump’s pre-riot language, or about the approach taken by the House Select Committee on the January 6 attack, however technically correct, will change that history.
Biden would be 81 on Election Day 2024, and Trump would be 78. They both take good care of themselves, and plenty of talented people are choosing to stay in the workforce rather than retire. The presidency, though, is an unusually demanding job, and while experience is valuable, so is energy.
For both, the temptation to try again is understandable.
Biden may figure, as he did the last time around, that he has a better shot at defeating Trump than anyone else the Democrats will serve up. A second term, with the Fed having beat back inflation and with the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, might finally allow Biden some successes.
Trump may figure that polls show him leading the Republican field, and that winning fair and square in 2024 would be his ultimate vindication. Trump may hope victory in 2024 would ensure he is remembered as a winner, not a delusional sore loser.
Realistically, though, second presidential terms more frequently bring lame-duck drift than redemptive success.
Voters unhappy with these choices can console themselves, somewhat, by remembering that truly excellent presidents are rare. Most presidents are mediocre. None is perfect.
Even the most popular presidents have significant, costly misjudgments. Presidents that rank highly in surveys — Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, JFK — all had lots of people at the time who disagreed with them.
The standard political playbook involves demonizing the opponent as a dangerous extremist, so it’s worth hesitating before embracing the caricatures of elderly, incompetent Joe Biden or reckless, authoritarian Donald Trump. For all the complaints about Trump and Biden, they’ve both avoided major wars and kept unemployment relatively low, except for the Spring 2020 pandemic spike. Either one of them is better than Bernie Sanders.
The excess mortality from pandemic-related deaths has spanned both administrations and is attributable more to longstanding public health concerns such as obesity, poverty, and vaccine skepticism than to any presidential policy choice.
Even so, a second term for either Biden or Trump is going to strike many voters, with some good reason, like buying a ticket for a sequel to a movie when the original film wasn’t that good. Politicians and political families tend to stay on past their prime in part because the cost in time and money to achieve the name recognition, donor list and experience necessary to be a plausible candidate takes a long time to acquire.
There is new talent waiting to rise. The most astonishing political development is the bipartisan Senate compromise on a federal response to gun violence, drafted by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican John Cornyn of Texas.
The senators who back it include Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, Republicans who are retiring. The group also includes Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have done Biden a big favor by curbing the worst of his tax-and-spend proposals. Senators Romney, Booker, Coons and Lindsey Graham are also on the gun compromise list.
Perhaps it’ll be a legislator who eventually lifts America out of the Trump-Biden doldrums. It could also be a governor, or a cabinet member, or maybe a former general, admiral or business executive.
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until the 2028 election.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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