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Strange: Why Doesn’t Joe Biden Have a Real Primary Challenge? 

Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Image By Gage Skidmore.

A majority of Democrats would prefer that they had another choice for president, but no major elected official has opted to challenge President Joe Biden.

President Biden, who at 80 is the oldest president in history, is running for a second term. According to a poll released last week by CNN, two-thirds of Democrats would prefer a different candidate in 2024. 

However, the only opposition Biden is facing in the Democratic primaries is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — whose support appears to come mostly from the right — and 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson, whose campaign has been plagued by chaos

No major figure in the Democratic Party has opted to challenge Biden, who has been endorsed by the Democratic National Committee, and there will be no Democratic debates this cycle. The Democrats have a deep bench of governors, senators, and even cabinet secretaries who would appear natural candidates to run for president, but none have opted to run in 2024. 

Why have no Democrats opted to challenge Biden? New York magazine Jonathan Chait looked at the question this week. He argues that while Biden is up to being president, he might not be up to running for president again. As he says, the presidential race appears to be neck-and-neck, despite Donald Trump’s even greater unpopularity, as well as his multiple criminal indictments. 

“The strangest thing about this harrowing circumstance is that no mainstream Democrat is challenging Biden for the nomination. The hunger for such a challenge certainly exists,” Chait writes. “There isn’t much mystery as to why. The same poll asked Democrats what concerns they may have about Biden and found that two-thirds cited his age, his health, his mental sharpness, or his vice-president, all of which amount to the same thing. The demand for a different option is robust. What is mystifyingly absent is the supply.”

Chait also noted that people in politics tend to have ambitions for the presidency. Several Democrats have run for president in the recent past, while others — especially California Gov. Gavin Newsom — appear like they can’t wait to run for president eventually. 

Members of the party, Chait writes, seem to lack any specific ideological reason to oppose Biden, whether from the left or center. 

“One possible reason is that Democrats have overlearned the lesson of 2020, when pundits (your author very much included) wrote Biden off as a has-been only to watch the base rally behind him,” Chait says. “That event lent Biden’s connection to the party’s voters a kind of mystical aura. But Biden’s 2020 victory was rather prosaic. Most of his challengers drastically overestimated how far left their party’s voters had moved and pitched their campaign messages too far left. And when Senator Bernie Sanders, who frightened many of the party’s voters and elites alike, seemed poised to take the nomination, Biden was the beneficiary of a panicked flight to safety.”

Whether Biden wins or loses in 2024, it would appear that the big scramble over who will serve as his successor as the Democratic standard-bearer will have to wait until 2028. 

“For now, Democrats are hanging by a thread to a presidential candidate whose every stumble is pored over in the press and who appears to be struggling to handle his public-facing duties,” Chait writes of Biden. “If Biden wanted to dispel concern about his mental acuity, he could submit to challenging interviews. The fact that he hasn’t done so suggests that he or his aides are uncertain he could pass muster.”

Then again, Trump is not exactly a spring chicken himself, and would turn 80 during his term should he be elected president again. 

“I think Chait answers his own question in the piece: the reason no mainstream Democratic contender to Biden has emerged is that the only real rap they would have against Biden would be his age, which is an odd thing to base your candidacy on,” journalist James Surowiecki said on Twitter. 

Author Expertise and Experience

Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.

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Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.