On January 20, 2021, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be 78 years and 61 days old. If he wins in November, he’ll not only be the oldest man to ever become president, he’ll also be the oldest man to ever be president. Ronald Reagan completed his second term just before his 78th birthday.
On January 20, 2025, Biden will be 82 years and 61 days old, older than all but eight presidents when they died.
There’s no indication that Biden is physically unwell. (For the record, if Donald Trump completes a second term, he, too, will be the oldest president in U.S. history—and, well, he believes exercise drains your life force.) Last year, the American Federation for Aging Research assessed the health, longevity, and survival prospects of presidential candidates. It gave Biden a 79 percent chance of living through his first term and a 70 percent chance of surviving his second. (Trump has an 85 percent chance of making it another four years.)
That, of course, won’t stop the Trump campaign and its army of bots from plastering social media with memes about an infirm and addled Biden. Trump’s job over the next six months is to make the former VP as disliked as he is.
Biden will spend that time reminding disaffected lefties that two liberal Supreme Court justices are in their 80s, contrasting his reputed decency with Trump’s amorality, and trying to make the election a referendum on the incumbent.
Maybe that will be enough.
With Bernie Sanders suspending his campaign last week and endorsing Biden on Monday, Biden is the nominee. On paper, he’s also the likely next president of the United States. A CNN poll last week had him up by 11 points over Trump, 53–42. A Quinnipiac poll had Biden winning 49–41.
But Biden has chinks in his armor that we shouldn’t ignore and need to be addressed—one of which has historically been an especially bad omen: There’s no palpable energy about Ridin’ with Biden on the No Malarkey Express. (A campaign whose agenda boils down to unplugging the country and plugging it back in hardly invigorates.)
Relatedly, Grandpa Joe never caught on with Millennials and Gen Zs, who have little interest in reverting to the ante-Trump status quo.
To his credit, Biden knows he represents the past. “Look,” he said at a campaign event with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, California Senator Kamala Harris, and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, “I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else. There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.”
There’s also the disturbing sexual assault allegation lodged by former Senate staffer Tara Reade. Other women have said Biden touched them inappropriately but in ways that didn’t rise to the level of assault. Reade’s 27-year-old claim won’t be fatal to the campaign unless more allegations like it surface, and Biden’s been fortunate that it’s been drowned out amid the coronavirus. Its pall, however, will allow Trump to deflect from his own sexual misconduct.
Biden’s pledged to pick a woman as his running mate, which is smart. Despite the drama that surrounds VP picks every four years, they tend not to matter much. They don’t swing elections. At most, an effective choice fills a resume gap or sends a signal to tenuous supporters.
Given the circumstances, though, Biden might be the exception that proves the rule. He needs someone who can forcefully articulate a vision, infuse his campaign with energy, and, ideally, liaise with progressives. And as a soon-to-be octogenarian, he also needs a very plausible replacement.
To my mind, all of that should point to Elizabeth Warren. But I doubt that’s where Biden’s headed. Warren is 70, which is older than Biden wants. She’s also well to his left.
And he has plenty of viable alternatives. There are women of color, including Kamala Harris, who, despite her much-to-be-desired history as a prosecutor, has a solidly progressive voting record; the electrifying but inexperienced Stacey Abrams of Georgia; and Asian-American Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who lost both of her legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq.
There are also women from swing states (though the home-state advantage is a myth), including the Trump-antagonizing Governor Whitmer; Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who would be the first (openly) LGBTQ person on a national ticket (hey, James Buchanan); and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the darling of editorial boards.
Honestly, I don’t know if Biden’s pick will mean anything in November. If we’re in the Second Great Depression and Trump’s approval is in the 30s—even if we’re limping out of a recession and he’s in the low 40s—probably not.
But if he views himself as a bridge to the political future, his choice will say a lot about what he thinks that future looks like.
Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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