Biden plots a 2024 presidential run - and a Trump rematch

Those close to US President Joe Biden (left) describe him committed to again deny Mr Donald Trump a return to the Oval Office. PHOTOS: AFP, NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Joe Biden is readying plans to launch his re-election bid after November's midterm congressional elections, according to multiple aides and allies, setting up a potential 2024 re-match with former President Donald Trump.

Mr Biden's resolve to mount a second White House bid is hardening even with polls showing most Democrats would prefer a candidate other than the 79-year-old president.

But those close to Mr Biden describe him as buoyed by recent legislative, economic and foreign policy victories and committed to again deny Mr Trump a return to the Oval Office.

"The president has said he's planning on running again," said Ms Anita Dunn, a longtime aide who recently returned to the White House. "People should take him at his word."

Three congressional Democrats have recently suggested Mr Biden make way for a younger successor, while several more have pointedly declined to endorse his re-election. Mr Biden's approval rating is only about 40 per cent, according to an analysis of polls by FiveThirtyEight.

But allies say Mr Biden's determination has grown amid revelations about Mr Trump and his role in the Jan 6, 2021 insurrection, as well as the former president's continued embrace by Republicans.

This week, FBI agents searched Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of a probe into whether he removed classified documents from the White House, and Mr Trump was deposed by New York's Attorney-General over claims his businesses misled lenders.

Mr Biden frequently notes polls that show him defeating Mr Trump head-to-head in a 2024 matchup, and believes he won the Democratic nomination in 2020 because he represented the best chance to remove the former president from power.

But in a potential rematch, Mr Biden would be the incumbent, defending his record both on the economy and overseas while fending off Mr Trump and his still formidable and energised base of supporters.

Mr Biden may also not face Mr Trump at all, should the former president, who is 76, opt against a run or lose a primary challenge from a rising and younger Republican.

During a meeting with Democratic Party activists earlier this month, Mr Biden said he worried that the risk to democracy "hasn't diminished; if anything it's grown."

Mr Biden added he could not think of anything more important than making sure the party was in a position to win both the midterms "as well as 2024."

"He thought he was the only person who could beat Donald Trump when Trump ran for re-election, and he was right," said Mr Cedric Richmond, a former congressman and White House aide who has moved to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to help coordinate political efforts.

"It is clear-cut that he's our best candidate," he added, dismissing concerns among Democrats about Mr Biden's age or popularity as "annoying and distracting."

Democratic doubts

An actual announcement would come in the months after the midterms, but allies say the accelerated coordination with the DNC, which has poured resources into crucial swing states ahead of November, is the surest public indication Mr Biden is plotting a second run.

Strengthening the DNC has been a key priority for the president. The committee has raised over US$245 million (S$335.67 million) so far this election cycle - a midterm record for the party.

The president sees bolstering DNC resources in key midterm races, including competitive Senate races in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada, as a way to both support Democratic candidates that could help his agenda and build out state-level organisations that he would lean on during a reelection bid, according to a Mr Biden adviser who requested anonymity to discuss the planning.

Mr Biden has also stepped up outreach to key donors who helped his 2020 bid, and plans more political events and more outreach to grassroots supporters.

The adviser noted that many of the states with key races in 2022 would be important in the 2024 election and that investments there would aid Mr Biden's presidential bid.

US President Joe Biden is planning a more aggressive domestic travel schedule and more campaign-style events like town halls. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Mr Biden has also sought to reinforce ties with labour unions that are a key personal constituency. Friendly political action groups have stepped up spending in battleground states, with the pro-Biden group Future Forward USA putting millions of dollars into ads and another supportive group, Building Back Together, seeking to highlight his policy accomplishments.

Mr Biden, recently recovered from Covid-19, is planning a more aggressive domestic travel schedule and more campaign-style events like town halls. The strategy is primarily designed to promote Mr Biden's legislative achievements ahead of November.

But it's also aimed at subtly addressing concerns about Mr Biden's age that hang over his presidency and have prompted speculation about whether he would mount another campaign.

Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York said during a Democratic primary debate earlier this month that she didn't believe Mr Biden would seek re-election. She later apologised and said she wanted him to run again.

Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips answered "no" in a radio interview last month when asked if he'd support Mr Biden in 2024. Another Minnesota representative, Ms Angie Craig, backed Mr Phillips in an interview with the news organisation MinnPost and said the country needs a "new generation" of Democratic leaders.

Other prominent Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have declined to endorse Mr Biden's re-election.

Last weekend, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd implored Mr Biden to "leave on a high."

Congressional aides and Democratic allies say that for many lawmakers, the public equivocation is simply a way to create distance from the White House in a particularly tough political environment and not representative of an actual break between Mr Biden and his party.

Still, three-quarters of Democrats polled by CNN last month said they wanted a different candidate in 2024, and a quarter of Democratic voters said they didn't think Mr Biden could win again.

Political victories

Mr Biden and his aides have been careful to caveat answers about whether he'll run again by saying that a decision isn't final and could depend on his health. But the caution isn't rooted in concern over the president's ability to serve a second term in his 80s.

Instead, aides say, they are worried that publicly declaring before the midterms could trigger legal restrictions on fundraising. As a declared candidate, the DNC could also be responsible for a larger share of the cost of presidential travel to certain events.

Prospects both for Mr Biden's party in November and his own re-election have lately improved thanks to a series of political victories.

He signed the first gun-safety law in decades, as well as a measure authorising billions of dollars in subsidies for US semiconductor manufacturing. A US$437 billion package to curb climate change, lower prescription drug prices and raise taxes on corporations is headed for Mr Biden's desk.

Late last month, he ordered a drone strike that killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Recent inflation and jobs data suggest continued strong economic growth and a tempering of gas and food prices.

Mr Biden's allies expect those developments to pay political dividends, and they point out that incumbent leaders across the globe are unpopular due to a worldwide struggle with post-pandemic inflation and the war in Ukraine. But they say that the president will prevail when weighed against a Republican like Mr Trump.

"If he says he's planning on running, he's running," Mr Richmond said. "And if he runs, he wins."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.