Pretty much ever since he left the White House, Donald Trump has been teasing another run at the White House, and every article I’ve seen on the matter dithers back and forth between the fact that his ego makes him think he could win it again (despite the improbable nature of his 2016 win) and the fact that his ego couldn’t stand another loss. (They all assume he’ll be a free man at the time, which is not a given, although, to be truly fair, being in prison isn’t in and of itself a reason not to be elected…)
And pretty much everyone since that day, has been wondering whether or not Joe Biden will seek re-election in 2024. It was thus inevitable that we’d see articles like this one, which appeared a couple of days ago in The Washington Post.
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way. Some of this article reads as though it came from this humble little blog of mine. Indeed, some of the talk in this article reads very much like my post from about two and a half years ago where I talked about the fact that only ten incumbent presidents actually lost their re-election bids.
I believe I’ve also talked in the past about how, since the passage of the 22nd amendment, only two presidents who were eligible to seek re-election, chose not to. (One if you count the fact that Truman wasn’t actually bound by it.)
Now back to the article. This particular essay in the WaPo is trying to make the argument that Joe Biden should not seek re-election in the year 2024. I neither agree nor disagree with the sentiment, and I imagine we’re going to see a lot of articles making other variations on this argument, or the opposite argument over the next few months (and they’ll probably get more vocal and louder after this year’s mid-term elections).
The simple truth, though, is that there is no right or wrong argument about whether or not he should run for re-election. And there won’t be until (1) he announces his answer, and (2) whether or not the democratic nominee will emerge victorious in November 2024. Arguments about his age will be tempered against arguments about how much good he’s done for the country with a razor-thin margin in congress.
And for the record, I am not in either camp. I imagine that, like LBJ and Truman before him, the ultimate answer to the question of whether or not he runs, will come from polling and general public sentiment.
That said, this article in The Washington Post does not do a very good job at arguing its position. While there is a truth to the fact that Jimmy Carter and George H W Bush effectively retired after just one term with more respect than you might expect, that’s not a really good argument since they both lost their re-election bids.
No, if we’re here talking about one-term presidents and their lasting legacies, it would be political malpractice to ignore the three most impactful single-term presidencies, as this article did. And I’m not talking about candidates who were denied the right to a second term so much as I’m talking about men who either swore they’d only serve one term, or, failing that, didn’t put up a serious effort to be re-elected.
This is probably where some people might scratch their heads over the word “impactful” in the previous paragraph. And if you’re wondering whether I’m arguing that they were good or bad presidents under that term, it’s a little bit of both.
(Yes, we can make an argument for both John Adams and John Quincy Adams, but I should think that the better arguments for Biden not seeking re-election should not come from the presidents who lost their bids for a second term…)
Polk probably did more to shape the modern presidency than any other other of the antebellum period in the way that he consolidated power in the executive branch.
Buchanan is rightly reviled for his poor stewardship of the country and how he essentially turned the idea of civil war from something that could happen into something that was inevitable. But that definitely means he was impactful.
And Arthur brought a degree of stability to an unsteady era, and may have been one of our greatest at bringing the nation together.
As I said before, I personally don’t have an opinion one way or another on whether or not Joe Biden should seek re-election. But if you’re going to make the argument that he shouldn’t do it, you’re better off invoking the legacies of one-term presidents who didn’t lose re-election. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.