On Election Day 2020, Donald Trump will be 74 years old. Bernie Sanders will be 79, and Elizabeth Warren, a relative youngster, will be 71. Joe Biden will be 17 days from his 78th birthday.

Even though Sanders is the oldest of the group and suffered a recent heart attack, he has appeared to be a 79-year-old man since he was about 30, so he seems no older now than he ever did. As a result, many of the concerns about age have been directed at Biden.

But for either of them, the idea of a second term, taking Sanders to the age of 87 and Biden to 86, inevitably raises some difficult questions.

According to a report by Politico’s Ryan Lizza, those questions have been weighing on Biden’s mind:

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s top advisers and prominent Democrats outside the Biden campaign have recently revived a long-running debate whether Biden should publicly pledge to serve only one term, with Biden himself signaling to aides that he will serve only a single term.
While the option of making a public pledge remains available, Biden has for now settled on an alternative strategy: quietly indicate that he will almost certainly not run for a second term while declining to make a promise that he and his advisers fear could turn him into a lame duck and sap him of his political capital.
According to four people who regularly talk to Biden, all of whom asked for anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters, it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for re-election in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president.

An aide to Biden tweeted in response, “Lots of chatter out there on this so just want to be crystal clear: this is not a conversation our campaign is having and not something VP Biden is thinking about.”

Which might be true, or it might be exactly what you’d expect a spokesperson to say. After all, if you admit publicly that you might be too old four years from now to perform the incredibly challenging tasks demanded of a president (at least one who doesn’t spend nine hours a day watching television), people will inevitably ask whether you’re too old for the job already.

But let’s assume for the moment that Biden has in fact had these conversations, even if they’ve concluded. Before I start criticizing him, let me be clear that in some ways this is a perfectly reasonable, even admirable position for him to take. You can still be capable in your late 70s while realizing that things might not be the same once you’re in your mid-80s. Biden may think of himself like Kirk Gibson, hobbled but resolute, with one last heroic swing left in him.

And when you understand the rationale Biden has offered for his campaign, he doesn’t actually need a second term.

That’s because unlike some other candidates, Biden isn’t offering a vision of comprehensive policy change (even if in substance many of his proposals are more sweeping than many people realize). He argues that what America needs isn’t a revolution but a reset. We just need to get Trump out of office, and then things can get back to normal. Biden will be that normal: seasoned, steady and willing to reach out to Republicans to govern in a bipartisan manner, once they wake from their fever dream and recover their sanity.

If that’s how he conceives of his presidency, it’s perfectly reasonable to serve as a caretaker for four years, then pass the torch to a successor. What he does or doesn’t manage to achieve on policy is of secondary importance; what matters most is the return of stability.

You might think that’s all America needs, or you might see it as a lost opportunity. There are many Democrats who believe that the next time the party holds the White House it should be ambitious, to try to achieve the most dramatic and sustainable progressive policy change possible. If that’s your belief, Biden probably wasn’t your candidate anyway, but the idea that he would serve four years and then depart likely convinces you even more that he isn’t setting the sights of his presidency high enough.

You can make your own judgments about whether Biden is as sharp as he used to be; it’s something we’ll all have to deal with sooner or later. But the real question is what the next presidency ought to accomplish. Biden has a very particular answer to that question, one he can answer without a second term.

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