By Peter Baker
President Joe Biden suggested earlier this week that he might have been content to serve only a single term if his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, were not attempting to recapture the White House.
At a campaign fundraiser in the Boston area, Biden presented his decision to run for reelection as driven largely by his determination to defeat Trump a second time and prevent him from returning to power. Biden has at times portrayed a second term for Trump as an existential threat to American democracy.
“If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running,” he told donors at the Weston, Massachusetts, home of Alan Solomont, a longtime Democratic financial backer who served as ambassador to Spain. “But we cannot let him win.”
He later approached reporters upon his return to the White House late Tuesday night and amended his comments. Asked if he would be running if Trump were not, he said, “I expect so, but look, he is running and I have to run.” Asked if he would drop out if Trump did, Biden replied, “No, not now.”
The president’s remarks came at a time when polls show that most Democrats would prefer someone other than Biden, who turned 81 last month, to represent the party in next year’s election. A survey by CNN in August found that 67% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic wanted another nominee, and 70% listed Biden’s age, health, mental competence or ability to handle the job as their main concern about him.
Although he described himself as “a bridge” to the next generation during his 2020 campaign, a comment that some interpreted as a hint that he would serve only one term, Biden has concluded that he is best positioned to beat Trump again, justifying a reelection campaign. He faces only long-shot challengers in the Democratic primaries in the form of Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Marianne Williamson, the author.
Trump, who is 77 and has demonstrated his own cognitive issues lately, has outpaced his rivals for the Republican nomination by double digits in the polls and appears poised to steamroller to his third general election. That is despite four criminal indictments on 91 felony counts of illegally trying to overthrow an election, endangering national security and other charges. Despite his political liabilities, surveys show he is either tied with Biden or leading slightly both nationally and in the battleground states that will decide the Electoral College.
After two months largely consumed by the war in the Middle East, Biden is heading back to the campaign trail this week with three fundraisers in the Boston area Tuesday, another one in Washington on Wednesday, and a three-day trip to Nevada and California this weekend. Aides have dismissed concerns from worried Democrats by arguing that once the choice is clear, wavering Democratic and independent voters will return to Biden even if concerned about his age, rather than allow Trump back into office.
The president assailed Trump on Tuesday for a radical agenda if he returns to office. Among other things, Trump or his allies have talked about prosecuting political foes and former Trump aides who have criticized him; eliminating civil service protection for many government officials to make them more personally loyal to him; setting up detention camps for immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally; backing off NATO treaty commitments; and sending the military into the streets to quell protests.
“Trump’s not even hiding the ball anymore,” Biden said at another of the fundraisers Tuesday. “He’s telling us what he’s going to do. He’s making no bones about it.”
Biden noted that Trump has vowed “retribution” against perceived enemies, promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, supported further restrictions on abortion and threatened to root out “vermin” in Washington in language that the president compared to that used in Germany in the 1930s during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
“He didn’t show up at my inauguration, which I can’t say was a disappointment,” the president said at his last reception of the day. “My guess,” he added to applause, “is he won’t show up at my next inauguration.”