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The Biden conundrum: Centrist appeal or progressive push?

By Josie Simon, May 7 2024

At 81, President Joe Biden has launched an audacious campaign to make history once again by becoming the first octogenarian commander-in-chief. But his defiant bid for re-election in 2024 has opened a generational rift in the Democratic Party over the risks of advancing age and the desire for transformational change. 

Biden will turn 82 shortly after the 2024 election. If he wins a second term, he will be 86 by the time he leaves office in 2029. This advanced age is unprecedented for a presidential candidate and has raised doubts about whether Biden will have the stamina, mental acuity and physical vigour required for another gruelling four-year term.  

In focus groups, some voters have expressed trepidation about Biden’s age, with one saying, “It’s not the 82 that’s the problem. It’s the 86.” Some of Biden’s advisers have even privately admitted that “he just seems old” at times. 

Biden has pushed back firmly on these age concerns, boasting that he has “acquired a hell of a lot of wisdom” and knows “more than the vast majority of people” due to his extensive experience. He sees his age as an asset rather than a liability. 

Beyond his age, Biden is also facing political headwinds from his low approval ratings, which hover around 40 per cent. Voters have expressed dissatisfaction with his handling of key issues like inflation and immigration.

Within the party, there is a perception that Biden is out of step with the progressive wing and younger left-leaning voters. His failure to achieve major pledges like codifying Roe v. Wade, forgiving student debt, and passing comprehensive immigration reform have disappointed many Democrats. 

The lack of a strong approval base or clear mandate could make it harder for Biden to generate the enthusiasm needed to win re-election, especially against a polarizing figure like Donald Trump, who could supercharge Republican turnout. 

Ultimately, Biden’s re-election bid represents a gamble for the Democratic Party’s future. Biden is betting that a return to pre-Trump “normalcy” and his reputation as a unifying moderate will be enough to win over swing voters disenchanted by Republican extremism. However, there are doubts about whether this nostalgic appeal can energize the diverse coalition of young people, women and voters of colour who power the Democratic base.

For progressives seeking transformative change on climate, racial justice and economic inequality, Biden’s centrist approach represents a bitter pill. While he may be preferable to any Republican, many on the left question whether Biden can be the catalyzing force for the fundamental societal shifts they view as existential priorities.

In the end, Biden’s re-election bid is a study in contrasts and tough choices for Democrats. He offers a return to traditional democratic governance but may lack the energy to enact real reform. He provides a known brand but struggles to inspire passion. He represents a bridge to the party’s future but may not be able to lead it across the chasm of age and ideology.

The 2024 election will be a test for President Biden and the Democratic Party. It will determine whether Biden’s promise of restoring America’s democratic norms is sufficient for Democrats or if the party’s various factions will demand more ambitious leadership to tackle the challenges of the modern era. No matter the outcome, Biden’s campaign will shape the direction and identity of the Democratic Party for years to come. 

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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