Is this a backpedal? Or is this an embarrassing attempt to be nice to a guy before his party hands him a gold watch and applies a boot to his backside? On Tuesday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) made headlines when she declared that Joe Biden wouldn’t run for re-election in 2024. Her opponent in the election debate, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was more circumspect, declining to answer the question. “It doesn’t serve the purposes of the Democratic Party to deal with that until after the midterms,” Nadler answered.
This morning, Maloney attempted some damage control by declaring herself fully committed to Biden’s re-election effort … which she still says won’t happen:
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) walks back: "Mr. President, I apologize. I want you to run. I happen to think you won't be running, but when you run or if you run, I will be there 100%. You have deserved it. You are a great president and thank you for everything you've done …" pic.twitter.com/w8gUATVkf9
— The Recount (@therecount) August 4, 2022
Oof. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence, no matter what Maloney intended by this statement. A president deciding in his second year in office not to run for another term is unprecedented in modern American history, and perhaps in all our history. Just intimating that such a decision by Biden is thinkable is to all but call it necessary, and for all the obvious reasons — age, incompetence, and public disaffection.
Politico notes that it’s not just Maloney who’s making this question thinkable, and likely necessary:
Even as Biden’s domestic agenda accelerates at surprising speed for an election year — climate, health care and taxes may follow veterans and manufacturing through Congress this summer — within his own party there’s been a slight but unmistakable political drift away from him ahead of the midterms.
As Biden polls poorly in battlegrounds while congressional Democrats see a brightened political outlook for themselves, lawmakers are tying themselves in knots over whether to cheer on a second term for the 79-year-old president. It’s not that they’re abandoning Biden early, just that many see little upside in taking a firm stand either way when that risks alienating either independents or the party base. …
Democratic leaders publicly support Biden, even as they equivocate somewhat on whether the oldest president in U.S. history should try to tack on four more years. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said “if he runs, I’ll support him.” And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) similarly praised Biden for “doing a good job” as president, even as he responded to a question about Biden’s future much like Nadler did: “Getting into this game this early is not very productive.”
The party’s presumptive nominee in the Wisconsin Senate race, Mandela Barnes, similarly says he’s happy to have the conversation after the midterms. And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who’s finally given Biden the big party-line bill he’s been seeking for a year, has repeatedly declined to back the president for 2024. Manchin told MSNBC on Tuesday that “I’m not going to talk about it.”
Too early? This isn’t a question in 2018 about Biden getting into the Democratic presidential primaries as a non-incumbent VP. Biden is the sitting president, an office that Democrats fought hard to win in 2020 and presumably figured to work a lot easier to keep with an incumbent. If Biden’s approval ratings and favorability scores were in the high 40s, these same Democrats would say of course he’s running for re-election.
They’re dodging the question because Biden has turned into a disaster. He’s about to plunge his party under a midterm red wave from which it might take several cycles to recover, especially in state-legislative races. His energy and economic policies have touched off the worst sustained economic environment in 40-plus years, with stagflation and recession just around the corner if not already here. And to top it all off, Biden’s age and obvious decrepitude has kept him from a robust press engagement, and even the friendly media is starting to chafe at it and ask questions.
Maloney doesn’t think Biden’s running for re-election in 2024 because he shouldn’t. And even if he does, it’s becoming clear that the sharks are beginning to enter the Democratic presidential-primary lagoon, setting up a 1968 moment for Biden, or at least a 1979 Carter-Kennedy-esque fight at some point. This isn’t a walkback — it’s an attempt at a valediction and a very big hint: Get out.