A specialist in the United States, Elisa Chelle is a professor of political science at Paris Nanterre University. She has published Understanding Health Policy in the United States (EHESP Press, 2019).
"I don't know about you, but I'm going to bed": it was with these words that President Biden suddenly ended his press conference in Hanoi on September 10. It must be said that despite the five questions carefully preselected by his staff on the recent G20 summit, he had multiplied the blunders. From "Mohammed VII" to "Prime Minister Xi" to an incomprehensible reference to a western to answer a question about climate change, the session was torture. Joe Biden appeared more than tired by the jet lag and the pace of international visits. This is not the first oddity of man. We remember the "200 million COVID deaths" announced during his 2020 campaign, his questioning of a deceased parliamentarian, or, more recently, his reading aloud of the teleprompter's instruction to "repeat the line" in the middle of a speech on abortion rights.
What if Biden's Old Age Tree hid the forest of a political strategy — the preparation of the successor?
His team kept coming to his rescue. She relays in the press the supposed reasons for these failures: stuttering, propensity to blunder or joke. Republicans, meanwhile, do not miss an opportunity to mock President Biden's "senility." So that his physical condition now raises questions. Several sequences have captured a Biden repeatedly stumbling or unable to get up. We no longer even comment on the stiff gait of a president who is finding it increasingly difficult to travel. The failing health of a president is, of course, not unprecedented. We remember John F. Kennedy weakened by Addison's disease but held by drugs and drugs. Biden's advisers are not fooled. In 2020, they proclaimed that their leader would only serve one term. They even told the press that Biden would make "a good transition figure" and that he was thinking about someone "who could take over in four years."
What if the tree of old age hid the forest of a political strategy? President Biden has not, officially, prepared a successor. The idea that Kamala Harris, the vice-president, could take over has of course been present since the beginning of the mandate. The White House's communication testifies to this: the display of the "Biden-Harris presidency" on its official website or on its Twitter account (today X) suggests a partnership rather than a hierarchy. The President has entrusted his Vice-President with important issues, both in foreign and domestic policy. The strategic subject of immigration was at the heart of the concerns of interest groups behind the Democratic Party, but also Republicans orphaned by Donald Trump's "wall".
Donald Trump is the Democrats' best campaign argument.
But for the past three years, this minority woman has failed to pull through. Not arousing the enthusiasm of his own camp, his chances of winning primaries in 2024 would have been infinitesimal. If Biden is running again, it may be the result of that failure: Kamala Harris' failure to gain popularity. A new Biden-Harris ticket is announced. It will allow, as provided for in the Constitution, the Vice-President to replace the President in the event of failure. A scenario that we imagine very likely. This calculation would offer Harris the leading role without submitting to the test of the ballot box.
Crazy bet? Not so sure. A Joe Biden, even a cacochyme, keeps his chances of winning the November 2024 elections. He repeats it again this Monday, September 18, 2023: beyond his age, it is the "future of democracy" that is at stake. As long as we last another 18 months and face an opponent who is himself weakened, but for other reasons. Donald Trump is the Democrats' best campaign argument. In public opinion, the impeachment proceedings opened by Kevin McCarthy and the trial of Hunter Biden do not weigh as heavily as the four criminal trials of Trump. The former president remains a bogeyman of choice in the center and on the left.
The obstinacy of Republican voters to nominate the former president as a presidential candidate would be a boon for Joe Biden... and Kamala Harris.
Two major differences are to be highlighted compared to 2016. First of all, he is no longer a challenger that some hesitant voters might trust because of novelty. His ongoing legal proceedings have, admittedly, galvanized the hard core of the Republican electorate. But these white, poorly educated voters are declining in the general electorate: they made up 60 percent of the Reagan-era electorate compared to 40 percent today. Gen Z increasingly matters in elections. More diverse, more educated, it had already weighed on the 2020 election, and its share in the electorate is constantly increasing. Neither young people, nor moderates, nor independents massively support Donald Trump. However, their weight will be decisive in the upcoming election. The obstinacy of Republican voters to nominate the former president as a presidential candidate would be a boon for Joe Biden... and Kamala Harris. Some would even say a blessing.