It still seems pretty unclear if President Joe Biden will run for a second term in 2024 – despite what some in his administration want us to believe. Typically, an incumbent president with a remaining term of eligibility would be guaranteed to run for reelection.
The last time a sitting president chose not to run was during the 1968 election cycle when Lyndon B. Johnson opted out. Johnson’s announcement was shocking – and historic – nothing like it has happened in the five decades since. But a similar announcement from Biden, a withdrawal from the 2024 contest, wouldn’t shock anyone. Some Democrats would even see Biden’s withdrawal as a relief. First, Biden’s approval rating is dreadful, sitting below forty percent, prompting the question: could he be reelected? Second, Biden is old. Really old. When he turns 80 in November, he’ll be the first octogenarian to ever serve as President. If Biden were to win reelection, his second term would extend beyond his 86th birthday, prompting the question: should he be reelected? Just remember that the US male life expectancy is just 78 years old. And Biden is already visibly in decline.
Enter Bernie Sanders:
Still, Biden isn’t the only old-timer being discussed as a 2024 candidate. On the right, there’s Trump, of course, currently 76 years old. On the left, there’s Bernie Sanders, who turns 81 in September. The prospect of a third-straight Bernie Sanders presidential run is an intriguing premise. Would Bernie run again?
In 2016, Bernie staged an era-defining insurgency campaign against establishment darling Hillary Clinton. Clinton was next in line – having paid her dues as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. Actually, she was well overdue; she was supposed to head the DNC ticket in 2008 before upstart Barack Obama out-campaigned her.
So the momentum Bernie gained in the 2016 Democratic primary was a shock to the system, analogous in some respects to Trump’s disruption of Jeb Bush’s scheduled succession on the right. Bernie, espousing a $15 minimum wage, higher taxes on billionaires, and medicare for all, appealed to the swath of society left disenchanted after the 2008 economic collapse.
Bernie’s campaign siphoned voters from the Clinton campaign in hordes – voters who were familiar with, and tired of, Clinton’s incremental neoliberalism. Through 2016, Bernie looked like he might just eke out an upset victory. He didn’t, of course; Clinton won the nomination. But after the fact, WikiLeaks released a series of DNC emails that appeared to show the DNC favored Clinton – consolidating around her to avoid a contentious primary.
Controversy ensued. “Was the Democratic primary rigged?” Vox asked. Both DNC official Donna Brazile and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren stated that, indeed the primary was rigged before later softening their criticisms. Warren, for example, would eventually maintain the position that “the overall 2016 primary process was fair,” although there was “some bias.”
Undeterred, Bernie ran again in 2020. His 2020 campaign was somewhat similar to his 2016 campaign, albeit suddenly woke.
Otherwise, Bernie employed the same themes, same indignation, and same hand gestures. Although, Bernie wasn’t an upstart underdog anymore. He had widespread name recognition and – in hindsight of Clinton’s 2016 general election defeat – Bernie entered the race with a “shoulda-woulda-coulda” appeal.
But Bernie’s 2020 campaign underperformed, failing to capture the insurgent magic of his first effort. Was 2016 a fluke? It “could be that Mr. Sanders’s level of support was artificially inflated in 2016. Rather than casting votes in favor of [Clinton], voters could have been looking for a Clinton alternative and Sanders was their only option,” John Hudak wrote for the Brookings Institute.
The 2020 field was more crowded than in 2016, diverting attention from Bernie. And unlike 2016, by 2020, there was an emphasis on identity that played against Bernie, who is typically portrayed as a generic white man. Bernie is, of course, Jewish. As less than two percent of the US population is Jewish – and no Jew has ever served as president – I’d argue that Bernie was, in fact, a diversity candidate. But I digress.
Isn’t Bernie Sanders Too Old?
Now, pundits are wondering whether Bernie will make a third consecutive run in 2024. Frankly, my feeling is that Bernie is too old. While I appreciate his enduring vigor, I’d be surprised if he felt up to another campaign in his eighties. And while Bernie is clearly uniquely stubborn, two consecutive primary losses are humbling and dispiriting. Finally, while it seems unlikely that the DNC executed a full-blown conspiracy to rob Bernie of the 2016 nomination, he is an outsider, unlikely to garner much support from the party itself.
The cards are stacked against a Bernie 2024 run.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.