2020 elections

If Beto and Biden Got Together, Would the Age Gap Be a Problem?

Former vice president Joe Boden
Biden has certainly bridged an inspiration gap in the past, but could he bridge an even bigger generation one? Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As everybody knows, one of the problems the 2020 presidential candidacy of two-term vice-president (and six-term senator) Joe Biden is facing is his age. At 76, he is — luckily for him — a year younger than likely fellow-candidate Bernie Sanders. But either of them would make Donald Trump the unlikely youth candidate in 2020, and if elected would soon become the first octogenarian in the White House.

So it’s an issue for Biden, and the Associated Press reports that some of the people around him think they may have a solution:

Past and current advisers to Biden have held frequent conversations about options to alleviate concerns about age, including teaming him with a younger running mate. One option that has been floated, according to a source with knowledge of the talks, is outgoing Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who at 46 has become the subject of intense 2020 speculation after nearly beating GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

Whether or not this particular pairing makes any ideological or geographical sense, it is apparently based on the idea that a younger political partner will make Biden look younger, too — like those older people who engage in so-called May-December romances as a way of tapping into a psychological fountain of youth.

But would the age difference be so large that it’s more disconcerting than charming or intriguing? That’s hard to say.

The 30-year age difference between Biden and O’Rourke would match the all-time record set in 1856 when 65-year-old James Buchanan ran on a ticket with 35-year-old John C. Breckenridge — and won. Breckinridge went on to run for the top job in 1860, carrying most of the slave states, and served in the Confederate military and then as Confederate Secretary of War.

There have been a few recent May-December political partnerships that involved slightly less dramatic age differences. In 2008, 72-year-old John McCain chose 44-year-old Sarah Palin as his running mate. That generation gap was matched in reverse in 1904 when, at 52, Democrat Alton Parker ran with 80-year-old Henry Gassaway Davis, the oldest person to appear on a major-party ticket so far. Mitt Romney was 23 years older than his 2012 running mate Paul Ryan, the same gap that separated George H.W. Bush from Dan Quayle in 1988.

Totally aside from any alleged youthfulness a kiddie veep might lend his or her chief, the vice-presidential role in campaigns has traditionally involved the sorts of highly energetic and aggressive campaign tactics that a 40-something candidate might pull off more naturally than a coot. But in the end, it’s the geezer running for president who will get the bulk of attention, and having a relative youngster at the bottom of the ticket might just draw further attention to the age of the oldster at the top.

Beyond all that, it’s unclear whether Beto O’Rourke has any interest in serving as a trophy pol to glamorize someone else’s presidential campaign. If he chooses, he will first get his own chance to get onto the potluck circuit in Iowa and brave the winters of New Hampshire.

Would the Beto-Biden Age Gap Doom a Political Marriage?