The Washington Post

Walk away, Joe. A pledge to do so could save Dems in November.

- BY STEVEN L. ISENBERG Steven L. Isenberg is a former publisher of New York Newsday and was chief of staff to New York Mayor John V. Lindsay.

President Biden should announce now that he will not run for reelection in 2024. He should not ask the Democratic Party, or the nation, to assume the risk of a second four-year term that would begin after he reached the age of 82.

The convention­al calculus argues that a president would be a fool to reveal such a plan before he has to, because it would instantly undercut his ability to get anything of real significan­ce accomplish­ed. But in Biden’s case the argument is exactly wrong. Here’s why the decision not to run should come promptly.

First, and most important, the midterm elections this November would become about key issues and the quality of individual House and Senate candidates rather than the merits of Biden’s presidency and whether voters feel he should run again.

No more self-conscious maneuverin­g by Biden and his staff, nor whispers and unattribut­ed quotes about what the president should or will do. Once the expense of spirit, dollars, actions and arguments to keep alive the possibilit­y of a second term is ended, the need for Biden to posture or tactically temporize will be gone, too.

That new freedom would permit him to say with absolute conviction that every ounce of his energy, focus and political capital will be devoted to addressing the nation’s immediate needs and the matters he feels most deeply shape our future.

The plotting and the politickin­g of Democrats aspiring to the presidency have already begun. Unless Biden announces that he is not running for reelection, this quiet campaign against him will intensify — whether it comes from people who intend to challenge Biden in the primaries in 2024 or just to flex their muscles to discourage him from running again. This is fueled by his low standing in the polls on job performanc­e and on desirabili­ty as the party’s 2024 nominee.

Biden might be playing for time to avoid the consequenc­es of being a lame duck, but that is a canard. It might be hurtful and unfair, but Biden is already seen by some as lame and lacking intensity — older, more frail, less persuasive — even when he says the right things. All understand­able in age (I am 81), but why stir those concerns and doubts unnecessar­ily by retaining the prospect of a second term?

It’s true that if Donald Trump were to run for the presidency again, and won, he would assume the office at 78. Age, however, is far down the list of attributes that argue against his reelection.

Biden, on the other hand, has been a stronger president than the polls suggest. His conviction­s on guns, abortion, the Supreme Court, China and inflation have been made with candor. His attainment­s in judicial appointmen­ts, and aspiration­s for physical and social infrastruc­ture, as well as climate change, form a serious agenda. He has been strong and firm enough to lead the West’s response to Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and used his time and presence by traveling to further his foreign policy on the world stage.

He would bolster this agenda, and silence the unnecessar­y polling questions and their unsettling results, which sap his hold on voters’ patience and confidence, by making a one-term decision and announceme­nt before the midterms.

Why not direct all Biden’s strength to moving public opinion and Congress toward comity and achievemen­t over the next two years? Biden stands a better chance of a favorable congressio­nal result for the Democrats in November’s election, and of being able to pass legislatio­n during the rest of his term, if the focus is on the House and Senate candidates and their positions on the issues. His age, and his presidency, would be greatly reduced as an issue this fall.

He would avoid questions about who his running mate might be, or who should be in his next Cabinet. He would not have to resist appraising challenger­s from his own party or the GOP. Perhaps he had all this inherently in mind when he called himself “a transition­al president.”

If so, he should not wait to share his decision with the rest of us. Biden’s power and dignity can be strengthen­ed by framing the next two years with clarity and without electoral distractio­ns.

He would become entirely a man for the urgent present.

 ?? DEMETRIUS FREEMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? President Biden leaves the lectern after delivering remarks at White House last month.
DEMETRIUS FREEMAN/THE WASHINGTON POST President Biden leaves the lectern after delivering remarks at White House last month.

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