In May 1962, a goddess named Marilyn Monroe, naked under a semi-transparent dress, sang the most sensual “Happy Birthday, Mister President” in history to the youngest president ever elected to the White House. “I can retire from politics after this,” replied John F. Kennedy ecstatically on the stage of Madison Square Garden. Tragedy stalked both of them. The actress would commit suicide three months later. Kennedy had a year and a half to live.
With that fundraising gala, the Democratic Party took advantage of the birthday of an enormously popular president who had captured the country’s imagination with the attractiveness of his youth and the charisma of a cinematic smile, as Barack Obama did half a century later, another eloquent leader who reached the peak of power at the age of 47. Both chose seasoned politicians as vice presidents to compensate for the distrust his youth inspired. That was Joe Biden’s role.
His return to the presidential race was an accident of history brought about by Donald Trump and the pressing need of the Democratic Party to find a respectable candidate who would guarantee victory. Old Joe allowed the country to regain its pulse and stability, under the promise of being “a bridge president, nothing more!” He told CNN in March 2020. “There is a whole generation of leaders behind it. “They are the future of the country,” he said before arriving at the White House.
Biden broke the opposite record to Kennedy by becoming the oldest president ever elected in the United States. Now it is precisely his age that worries the electorate. Today he turns 81 without any Marilyn singing “Happy Birthday” to him. Last year he limited himself to celebrating his entry into the 80s with a family picnic that his wife organized the day after his granddaughter got married. Now it is not even known if he is going to celebrate turning 81. It would be like hanging the rope in the house of the hanged man. 77% of the electorate believes his age is a problem, according to an Associated Press poll published at the end of August.
If then the Democratic Party downplayed those polls, the ones that began to come out this month granting a hypothetical victory to Trump (77 years old) have unleashed panic. The results of the local elections on the 7th were much better than expected for the Clinton and Obama formation. Democrats regained the Virginia Legislature, retained the governor of Kentucky and approved a constitutional reform in Ohio to enshrine the right to abortion. All this in conservative states. But the president is less popular than the policies of his party and that, one year before the elections and facing a candidate like Trump, is worrying. So much so that Obama’s campaign chief strategist, David Axelrod, suggested in a tweet on the 6th that the president abandon his re-election bids in favor of other younger “talent” ready to emerge.
“Yes, it’s too late to change horses,” he admitted on X (formerly Twitter). «There is a risk associated with changing course now, because there is very little left until the primaries, but the campaign is how candidates are tested. Only Joe Biden can make that decision. If he continues, he will be the Democratic Party nominee. “What he needs to decide is whether that is wise and whether it is in the best interest of him and the country,” he added.
“He’s an asshole,” says ‘Politico’ magazine that Biden responded privately. Since then, several polls have confirmed Trump’s strength, which leads Biden in key states. “I understand that he irritated you, because I was the first to express the concern that many Democrats had,” Axelrod responded in an interview with CNN. “You have no idea how many people have come up to me and said ‘good thing someone said that’.”
What led to Biden’s leadership in the previous campaign is precisely what now justifies the growing clamor for him to pass the baton before it is too late: fear of Trump. Biden is not facing just any candidate, but an agent of chaos who threatens to dismantle democracy if he wins the rematch. “Democrats will take a big risk by replacing Biden at this point, but they will also take a big risk by nominating him,” fivethirtyeigt.com statesman Nate Silver wrote on Substack.
Two possible successors
This controversy that has gained strength in the last two weeks is also a breath of fresh air for those who cultivated the succession with more or less discretion. “There are two other Democrats running for president,” criticized Senator John Fetterman in Iowa. “One is the congressman from Minnesota (Dean Phillips) and the other is the governor of California (Gavin Newsom), but only one has had the balls to announce it.” ».
Since then, the controversy has evolved so much that last Wednesday the president himself took advantage of his stay in San Francisco during the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit to unexpectedly confront his shadow rival. “I want to talk about Governor Newsom and thank him,” he intoned. «He has been a great governor. In fact, he could be anything he wants. “He might even have the job I’m looking for,” he said. The audience’s laughter revealed surprise and discomfort, because Newsom has repeatedly denied the obvious. For his part, Congressman Phillips, who defines himself as “an eternal optimist,” limps in the latest Quinniapiac University survey, while Robert Kennedy Junior has decided to run as an independent.
Experts believe that Biden will not be able to win the elections without facing the age problem that bothers public opinion so much. Like Kennedy did with his Catholic religion and Obama with race. He became president at 78 years old, will be about to turn 82 when the elections are held in November next year, and will be 87 when he leaves the White House if he wins a second term. Ten years above life expectancy in the United States.