During his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination at the 1988 Republican Convention, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush infamously said he wouldn’t raise taxes, but he took it a bit further stating, “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
That pledge, and especially the line, came back to haunt him just two years later when he admitted that fixing the ailing economy required raising taxes. Voters were reminded of the broken pledge during the 1992 presidential race – which Bush lost to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
The late President Bush was hardly the first person to serve in the Oval Office who was unable to follow through on a campaign pledge. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt promised to keep the U.S. out of the First and Second World Wars respectively – and that didn’t happen.
Moreover, Barack Obama promised to work hard to “close the partisan divide in Washington,” but it had widened greatly by the time he left office.
Then there was Donald Trump, who promised to build a wall along the Southern border that Mexico would pay for, Obamacare would be repealed (and replaced by something better), and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be sent to prison. Clinton is free, the wall wasn’t built, and Obamacare continues for good and bad.
But Joe Biden Has Been No Better – Maybe One Campaign Promise is the Worst
That above lesson in history is just a reminder that as candidates, future presidents may see the world through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps they really believe they’ll have the power to follow through on these pledges. Jimmy Carter may have really thought he could solve the energy crisis, George W. Bush may have thought he could help reduce government spending, and Richard Nixon may have even seriously believed there could be “peace with honor” in Vietnam.
But none of this explains how President Joe Biden has turned away from one of his pledges made during the 2020 campaign.
“Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” Biden said during one of his final pre-Covid lockdown campaign appearances. As he said those words, he was flanked by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, along with former primary rivals Kamala Harris and Corey Booker. Biden would even describe them as the “future” of the country.
Biden later took it even further, stating during an online fundraiser shortly after, “I view myself as a transition candidate.”
It very much seemed at the time that Biden was positioning himself as a one-term candidate or a transition candidate – someone to take on then-President Trump, and then pass the torch to the next generation of leaders.
Already Old – So Solid Plan?
Such a strategy made sense at the time, as Biden was already the second-oldest candidate in the 2020 race – after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the Democratic nomination. Biden is now the oldest person to be elected president and will be 82 by Election 2024, and 86 at the end of a second term if he is allected.
Almost immediately after Biden took office, there was speculation on whether he would really follow through on the not-quite-a-pledge to serve just a single term. Then in March 2021, Biden made clear, “My plan is to run for reelection. That’s my expectation.”
So Why the Switch – It Is About Trump
Clearly today, Washington is filled with old men and women who simply refuse to retire. Had they spent their careers in the private sector they’d have been shown the door long ago, but voters keep rallying behind the likes of Senator Mitch McConnell and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, each in their 80s.
Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein passed away at 90 – after she resisted calls to step down despite her failing health. Maybe these politicians think there is something noble about dying at their desks. But for Joe Biden, it is also about not stepping away from a fight.
“Biden’s best reason for running again in 2024, or defense against suggestions of a bait and switch, is this: He probably did not expect Trump to still be here. Nor did many of the rest of us. There is no precedent for a defeated one-term president to so easily resume his status as de facto standard-bearer of his party,” Mark Leibovich of The Atlantic wrote last month.
David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, shared a similar view, “Politicians who know Biden well say that if he were convinced that Trump were truly vanquished, he would feel he had accomplished his political mission.”
Is It a Losing Strategy?
Yet, many believe Biden may not be the Democrat’s best hope or chance to defeat Trump. He is neck-and-neck in the most recent polls, and his age remains an issue.
However, it was on Friday that comedian Bill Maher, host of HBO’s “Real Time,” ended his show with a monologue that called for Biden not to seek reelection, citing his age, “You can be a national treasure and still be too old for the job. If I’m on a plane and the pilot says, ‘This is your captain, Buzz Aldrin,’ I’m getting off.”
Maher’s comments on his show came after he also told Democratic strategist James Carville during a podcast interview, “[Biden has] done a great service. But whereas in 2020, maybe he was the only one who could have beaten Trump, I think now he’s the only one who will lose to him.”
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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