WASHINGTON — At fundraisers and on the sidelines of events in recent weeks, Joe Biden has been selling Democrats — on Joe Biden for 2024.
It’s an unusual sales pitch reflecting an unusual political moment: the nation’s oldest sitting president, with a weakened political standing, grappling with questions in his own party about whether he will, or even should, run for another term, shaped by the prospect of a rematch against Donald Trump.
People who have spoken with the president described to NBC News what’s become a familiar exercise. Biden will argue he’s the only one who can beat Trump, sometimes ticking through the names of potential Democratic candidates if he stepped aside — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, even Vice President Kamala Harris. Then rhetorically asks: Can any of them beat his 2020 rival?
“It’s basically the same argument he was making at this point in 2018 about why he thought he might have to run,” one Democrat familiar with the comments said. “He would just walk through every candidate.”
Biden’s political operation insists he’s running — and amid questions of his viability, sources tell NBC News, he now intends to show it.
Soon after the midterms — and following a discussion with his family over the holidays — Biden will move perhaps more quickly than expected to formalize his intentions for 2024, according to a top official familiar with the president’s planning, filing paperwork for re-election shortly after the new year.
Aides say the president also plans to use November’s midterm elections as something of a test run for 2024, much as he used the 2018 midterms to set up his 2020 bid. As the Jan. 6 committee wraps up its work this fall, Biden is also likely to invoke new revelations to remind the country what is at stake should Trump allies return to power in Washington, harkening back to another core message from his winning campaign that the very soul of the nation is at risk.
He’s also expected to pick up a more robust schedule of events around the country in late July when he returns from a trip to the Middle East, his aides said, with an eye toward quieting some of the hand-wringing over his age by demonstrating he has the stamina for campaigning.
“It’s the kind of thing you can only show, not tell,” a top White House adviser said, noting that Biden’s age was an issue in the 2020 election as well and that “short of buying a time machine” there’s nothing he can do about it except get out in public more.
The selling points will include the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law. He also hopes to motivate key pillars of his political constituency — Black voters and suburban women — by highlighting the historic appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and underscoring what’s at stake after the high court overturned Roe v. Wade.
This is all a conversation kicked into gear sooner than anyone in the White House wanted by recent stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal addressing increasingly public discussions among Democrats about their future under Biden, who would be 81 during the 2024 campaign.
Beyond upping Biden’s visibility, his advisers have been working with the Democratic National Committee to build up political infrastructure in key midterm battlegrounds — many of which are also likely to be critical in 2024. Some of the staff now working in coordinated campaign offices in states with key House, Senate and gubernatorial races — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — would be well positioned to quickly transition to a Biden re-election campaign. Already the DNC has poured $20 million into the effort, with more being raised and spent quickly.
“Every cent you spend in 2022, of course helps in 2022 but also builds for 2024,” a Biden adviser said.
Out in the open, the 2024 pitch sounds like the 2020 pitch. The same goes for behind closed doors, where the argument about electability is what he used to hold off a historically crowded field of Democrats in 2020.
People familiar with the president’s comments said he’s not disparaging other Democrats when privately making the case that they can’t beat Trump. Rather, they said, he’s explaining what he sees as a fact supported by data.
A White House official echoed Biden’s private remarks, saying of another matchup with Trump: “He beat him before. It’s not clear there’s anybody else who could. But he did, and can again.”
Biden’s allies dismiss concerns from Democrats about whether he’s too old and should step aside, saying those same questions were asked and answered in 2020, and in 2012 when Democrats wondered — even polled — whether then-President Barack Obama should drop him as his running mate.
“He’s the strongest candidate,” Terry McAuliffe, former Virginia governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, said of Biden. “He’s the incumbent president and he should run again.”
Some of Biden’s top political allies have also stepped in to help quiet talk of finding a new standard-bearer in 2024, reminding the party of his continued strengths with key constituencies.
“I’m ready to sign up for Biden 2024 any day now, and I hope that’s the case,” Liz Shuler, the president of the AFL-CIO, said in an interview.
“This is a president every bit as capable of leading us if re-elected in 2024 as he was in 2020,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., has also reiterated in recent weeks that he stands with Biden, telling The Wall Street Journal, “I don’t care who goes to New Hampshire or Iowa, I’m for Biden and then I’m for Harris—either together or in that order.”
Clyburn’s statement was notable in that it spoke to concerns that if Biden were to opt out, his running mate would not have a clear field to try to succeed him. Indeed, the president’s aides are mindful of other Democrats making moves that could position them for a 2024 campaign if Biden chooses not to run, or perhaps even if he does. And while they brush off the notion of a potential primary challenge, they also privately quip about the ways some Democrats — such as Sanders, Warren and California Gov. Gavin Newsom — seem to be leaving their options open.
Potential primary challengers would risk significant blowback, the aides contend, if they tried to take on Biden while GOP lawmakers launch investigations into Biden’s administration and his family, which the White House anticipates if Republicans take control of the House or Senate.
Aides make the case that a GOP takeover of Congress could even portend a successful re-election effort, noting how Obama and then-President Bill Clinton rebounded after midterm setbacks in 2010 and 1994, respectively, by using a Republican-led Congress as a foil on the campaign trail.
“If you’re a Biden adviser, the argument you go to the president with is ‘Barack Obama lost 62 seats in the 2010 midterms and still won in 2012. If you don’t run, then who?’” a former high-level Biden aide said. “‘You’ll watch half your Cabinet run, and the sitting vice president would likely enter the race as an underdog. You run to prevent that mess and because you’re still the most likely to win.’”
Republicans, too, are hedging their bets on a potential Trump candidacy as both parties grapple with will-he, should-he questions about the top of their ticket. While the former president is widely expected to run, he has not declared his candidacy. Some potential GOP hopefuls, including former Vice President Mike Pence, have left open the possibility of entering the race even if Trump is in it.
Biden aides also insist a different, or even younger, Republican nominee, should Trump not enter the race, would not alter the crux of the president’s 2024 message given how Trump’s ideology has dominated the party. In that sense, aides said Biden’s 2024 rationale — his belief that he’s the candidate who can beat Trump — still stands if the 76-year-old former president isn’t the Republican nominee. That’s partly the impetus behind Biden’s midterms message casting the GOP as “the MAGA party,” a reference to the Trump campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”
“Even in his advanced age,” a former high-level Biden aide said of the president, “he’s the most likely to find enough consensus to beat Donald Trump — or any Republican like him.”
One Biden confidant said the president also has another rationale for seeking a new term. As he’s been privately expressing frustration with low poll numbers, he blames them on congressional Republicans blocking his agenda, global events beyond his control and even negative press coverage.
“Joe Biden needs vindication,” the source close to Biden said.