Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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President Biden Is Too Old to Campaign Hard But Still Able to Govern

Claiming he can’t do the job is just false.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Jonathan Martin’s Politico story about the Biden campaign had an eye-opening passage:

2024 will be an extraordinary election, and it demands extraordinary measures.

That’s in part for reasons Biden refuses to accept: his capacity to do the job. The oldest president in history when he first took the oath, Biden will not be able to govern and campaign in the manner of previous incumbents. He simply does not have the capacity to do it, and his staff doesn’t trust him to even try, as they make clear by blocking him from the press. Biden’s bid will give new meaning to a Rose Garden campaign, and it requires accommodation to that unavoidable fact of life.

Nate Silver sees this nugget as reason to adopt the position I’ve been holding for a couple of months now: Nominating Biden is an extremely risky choice. If Biden isn’t up to the rigors of a full-time campaign, it creates a serious liability for Democrats. (Biden didn’t hit the stump vigorously in 2020, but the pandemic limited in-person campaigning by both candidates.)

Democrats are denying Martin’s reporting, but it’s obviously true that Biden’s public exposure is limited. He has held few press conferences and even fewer interviews. His workday is generally short. As Martin reported in a previous story, he did not attend Dianne Feinstein’s memorial service — in spite of their decades of overlap in an institution he reveres — to avoid the strain of a cross-country flight.

National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke sees this reporting as proof Biden is not capable of handling the job of president:

This is not “extraordinary”; it is disqualifying. If, as Martin proposes twice in the space of a single paragraph, Joe Biden lacks the “capacity to do the job” in a manner that allows him to “govern and campaign in the manner of previous incumbents,” then he cannot be the president of the United States. 

This is simply an incorrect interpretation of Martin’s reporting. Martin noted Biden “will not be able to govern and campaign in the manner of previous incumbents.” This passage is stating Biden is not able to simultaneously govern and handle the normal campaign schedule of an incumbent — therefore he is skimping on the latter. If Martin were noting Biden couldn’t handle either aspect of the job, he would have written that Biden couldn’t “govern or campaign in the manner of previous incumbents.” Instead, he wrote “and.” Biden is choosing governing over campaigning.

The obvious reality Biden is handling his job as president ought to be obvious. Cooke might not agree with the policies Biden has advanced, but even he couldn’t deny Biden has in fact advanced them. He has negotiated with Congress, passed laws furthering the goals he campaigned on, and personally negotiated important aspects of all these deals.

On the biggest issue of the moment, the war between Israel and Hamas, Biden has maintained a position starkly at odds with his party’s staffer class. This fact alone dispels any doubt that Biden is in control of his own administration. If Biden were being manipulated by his staff, his position on Israel would be impossible.

For those of us who lived through the 1980s, the current role reversal on elderly presidents is pretty amusing. Democrats were convinced Reagan’s rambling and oft-repeated stories, habit of forgetting names of people including his own cabinet members, and remote, stage-managed presence was disqualifying. Republicans insisted none of those things mattered a whit. Enough time has passed that the two parties can swap positions without embarrassment.

Anti-anti-Trump conservatives like Cooke are going to take any opportunity to disqualify the opposition to the Republican nominee. Democrats ought to be deeply concerned about what kind of campaign Biden will wage, and perhaps they ought to be worried about how well he will hold up for four and a half more years of a strenuous job. But we know perfectly Biden is vigorous enough to handle the job of being president. He’s been doing it for almost three years.

Biden Is Too Old to Campaign Hard But Still Able to Govern