[Former vice president Joe] Biden and his top advisers are considering nodding to the rising next generation in Democratic politics — and elevating an heir — by announcing a running mate early, well before the nomination is sealed. Also under discussion is a possible pledge to serve only one term and framing Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign as a one-time rescue mission for a beleaguered country, according to multiple party officials.
Biden and his advisers should stop fretting. Biden is 76, but he’s far more vigorous than the 72-year-old President Trump.
Recall when Ronald Reagan, then 73 years old, dealt with his age in the 1984 presidential debate. He wisecracked, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience." Even his opponent, former vice president Walter Mondale, had to laugh.
Biden frankly can get in his own digs at, say, Beto O’Rourke. The latter’s career in politics is so brief and accomplishments so skimpy that voters have every right to ask whether he’s ready for the presidency.
The way to deal with age is not to underscore it with tricks and gimmicks, but to show you’re vigorous, fit and forward-looking in your thinking. Instead of being like President Trump, basking in the nostalgia of the 1980s or maybe even the 1950s, Biden can show he’s fully immersed in the concerns and issues of the 21st century.
Moreover, it’s not as though all his opponents are spring chickens. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is 77; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is 69.
Now, at some point well into the primaries, he may want to offer a vice-president spot to a younger superstar like Stacey Abrams. However, it should not be done from a position of weakness (or from fear he won’t connect with African American audiences).
And let’s be real: If he wins the nomination, Biden will have to pick a younger vice president for the sake of balance (just as he likely would need to avoid picking a white male). That may put some voters’ minds at ease. But Biden cannot afford to pick a novice in whom voters don’t have confidence. Now is no time to pick a Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin.
All that said, if asked directly about running for a second term, Biden should be honest. I’ll stay as long as the voters will have me and as long as it takes to get the country back on the right footing.
Let’s also not forget that older candidates (Sanders, Reagan) have in the past successfully attracted younger voters. If older candidates advocate radical change or radiate optimism and idealism, young voters will rally to them. And in the Democratic primary, let’s remember that seniors are a significant segment of the electorate, and vote more reliably.
In sum, Biden shouldn’t overthink this. If he campaigns vigorously, uses his experience as an advantage (we can fix this!), focuses on issues young and old care about (e.g. climate change, student debt) and relies on self-deprecating humor, Biden’s age shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for the vast majority of voters. The worst thing he could do would be to appear defensive or desperate. Besides, isn’t 76 the new 56?