The Irish Times view on Biden’s decision to run again: battle is joined

The next US presidential election could be a re-rerun of the last one - in a divided America the result remains unpredictable

Donald Trump has proved to be the greatest unifying force in US Democratic politics in the last decade. The 76-year-old’s return to the presidential fray will again probably dispel or allay most of Joe Biden’s party’s concerns about their man’s advanced age as he announces his candidacy.

Biden, already the oldest US president, would be 82 on being sworn into office for a second term, and 86 by the end of his tenure. Nevertheless, his doctor reports him “healthy and vigorous” and “fit for duty”. Barring a cataclysmic health decline, historians note that Biden will be in better shape in a second term than were Ronald Reagan, Franklin D. Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson.

Although US election primaries can produce major upsets, as 2016 vividly demonstrated, yesterday’s announcement in all likelihood is setting up a presidential rerun next year of 2020′s Trump vs Biden contest. Neither candidature fills the electorate with enthusiasm. An AP/NORC poll last week found that only 26 per cent of respondents would like to see Biden run again – 73 per cent (52 per cent of Democrats) said he shouldn’t. Age is their main concern.

That said, the poll showed 53 per cent of Americans say they definitely would not vote for Trump, as against 41 per cent for Biden. However, the vast majority of Democrats – 81 per cent – say they’re likely to support the latter in a presidential election. America, in other words, remains sharply divided.

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Biden is unlikely to start on the campaign trail for months, but his announcement will help to keep the primary field largely clear of party challengers, as most of those viewed as serious contenders have already said they will not stand against him. Trips to Japan and Australia will burnish his statesman credentials, and a battle with Republicans over their threats to use the debt ceiling to enforce spending cuts will speak as eloquently as any stump speech.

His successful, energetic record of legislative and economic success has belied those who, in 2020, tried – even then – to dismiss him as old and burned out. Biden won Congressional approval for billions in federal funds to tackle Covid-19 and climate change and for new infrastructure, and has seen unemployment fall to the lowest levels since 1969. A 40-year high in inflation has, however, marred his economic record.

“Let’s finish this job. I know we can,” Biden appealed to America yesterday, describing Republicans as threats to freedom. He promised to fight efforts to limit women’s healthcare, cut pensions and ban books, while excoriating “Maga extremists”. For Maga – “Make America Great Again” – read Trump. There’s no guarantee Biden with his running mate, Vice-President Kamala Harris, will do it, but his age should not be a barrier.