Second innings hopes: On Biden announcement and repeat U.S. presidential candidates

Biden needs to do more than present himself as an alternative to Trump 

April 27, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 10:59 am IST

U.S. President Joe Biden, 80, has announced that he will be seeking re-election in the 2024 presidential polls, a goal which, if he succeeds, will ensure that the Democrat breaks his own 2020 record of being the oldest ever U.S. President. With Vice-President Kamala Harris, of joint Indian-African heritage, throwing her hat in the ring again as Mr. Biden’s running mate, and with former President, Republican Donald Trump, 76, already in the fray as the frontrunner conservative candidate, it is likely that the contest may revert to a scenario similar to the one seen in 2020. While that would not be an unprecedented outcome in U.S. political history — it happened before with Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland in 1888 and 1892; William Bryan and William McKinley in 1896 and 1900; and with Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 — this would only be the fourth such instance of repeat presidential candidates in the post-Civil War period. Such an eventuality would also raise the question of why, within the Democratic and Republican Parties, there appears to be a paucity of charismatic and capable leaders who could offer a fresh take on the myriad of policy issues that beset the country and have bitterly polarised the electorate.

It is significant that Mr. Biden’s campaign announcement video began with visuals of the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack, indicating that the incumbent sees his second bid for the Oval Office as a projection of the alternative to Mr. Trump’s MAGA vision and would seek to emphasise the very threat to democracy that the idea of the “stolen election” of 2020 poses. In truth — and this may be a lesson to the Biden campaign that becomes apparent as the coming 18 months before the next election roll by — Mr. Biden may have to do far more than simply be an alternative. Not only would he have to “finish the job” on matters such as levying higher tax on the wealthiest Americans, stabilising the social security system, tackling inflationary threats, keeping up the momentum on job creation and providing humane yet practical immigration policy solutions, but he would also have to reckon with the fact that the worst of the pandemic effects have passed and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has moved beyond the one-year mark. In this new reality, for whichever among the 46th and 45th Presidents prevails in 2024, there will be a pressing need for blue-sky thinking on profound questions regarding public health and biosecurity; on NATO’s role in Europe and the challenges of coordinating between European powers to eventually end the war in Ukraine; and the eternal question of how to keep America at the forefront of technological innovation and jobs.

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