By Rich Lowry
Joe Biden is going to run for reelection.
One question this raises: How is anyone going to tell?
The basement presidency is about to embark on another basement campaign.
Biden’s political genius turns out to be not provoking strong negative emotions because no one particularly thinks of him as being in charge or as having anything interesting to say.
President Biden and the people around him are, in effect, conducting a large-scale, ongoing political science experiment: Is it possible to run a left-wing government — with tactics often frankly at odds with our constitutional system — and avoid a massive backlash by having a president at the top who appears ineffectual and out of touch?
If Bernie Sanders, the ill-kempt, self-avowed socialist, or Elizabeth Warren, the off-putting, dyed-in-the-wool progressive former academic, presided over exactly the same administration with exactly the same policies, they’d have ignited a political firestorm by now.
The cry from the center-right and independents would be, “To the barricades!” The cry provoked by Joe Biden is more, “Meh.”
By being around forever, Biden has achieved the status of a known quantity. His rhetoric is generally moderate-sounding, and he never says anything memorable. No matter how radical and lawless the acts of his administration, it’s hard to associate those qualities with an elderly man who tells stories of his bygone cooperation with Republicans and often rambles to little effect.
People should be threatened by this administration, but — with a few exceptions such as his visually apocalyptic “Dark Brandon” speech prior to the midterms — they don’t feel threatened by Biden himself. Or they fear his incompetence more than anything else.
Biden’s age is an asset in taking the edge off his left-wing governance, yet the effects of it are obvious for everyone to see. At 80, he makes the elder statesmen of yore seem youthful by comparison. Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel at 70. Ronald Reagan was elected president at 69. The long-serving French legend Charles de Gaulle retired permanently at 79.
If the reaction to Joe Biden isn’t a vociferous rejection, it is still an emphatic, “No, thanks.” According to the new NBC News poll, more than half of Democrats and 70% Americans don’t want him to run for reelection. His age, of course, is the leading reason; it doesn’t take a gerontologist to realize that an 80-year-old man and the most demanding job on the planet aren’t a natural match.
The White House clearly understands this as well. President Biden is carefully stage managed, and sometimes awkwardly reminded of his cues by people with him at events. His interactions with the press are limited, and this isn’t a media that is out to get him but is incredibly sympathetic and accommodating.
Biden broke with tradition by not holding a press conference while on his trip to Ireland. He’s done 54 interviews so far in his first two years, according to The New York Times, the fewest since Ronald Reagan. He has averaged 10 news conferences a year, whereas Calvin Coolidge — you know, “Silent Cal” — did about 90 annually during his first two years in office.
The standard isn’t very high, though, when you are a default candidate. That’s how Biden won against Donald Trump in 2020; it’s how he avoided a midterm drubbing in 2022; and it’s how he hopes to win again against Trump, should he be the nominee, in 2024.
Biden has built on the old adage, “Never interfere with an enemy when he’s destroying himself.” His version is basically, “Never bother going out in public when your enemy is destroying himself.”
The lesson of the last couple of years is that Biden doesn’t have to be scintillating, impressive, or inspiring. Heck, he doesn’t even have to be popular. He simply has to be there. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 90% of getting elected for Joe Biden is just showing up.
His campaign could be barely evident and still succeed.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.
(c) 2023 by King Features Synd., Inc.