The Biden & Trump Actuarial Dilemma
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
Leave it to Al Roker at the annual White House Easter egg hunt to smoke out President Biden on whether he will seek a second term at age 82. The NBC Today Show weatherman phrased the question as to how many more Easter hunts were in the president’s future.
The president’s answer was troublesome.
“I’m planning on running, Al, but we’re not prepared to announce it yet,” Biden responded. “Well, I plan on at least three or four more Easter egg rolls … maybe five. Maybe six I don’t know, what the hell?”
That sounds like a recipe for a state funeral. Biden would be 86 years old at the end of a second term. If Republican Donald Trump wins in 2024, he would be 82 years old on Jan. 20, 2029. The Social Security Administration’s actuarial life expectancy data reveals that the 79-year-old Biden would be at 88 years old. Trump’s life expectancy would be at 86.7 years. Both men would be facing the Grim Reaper as a second term in the White House would wind down.
But we’re not talking about just any job. We’re talking about the most pressure-cooked job on Earth.
When it comes to the question of “what keeps you up at night?” President Biden has been dealing with the specter of a potential nuclear war unfolding after Russia invaded Ukraine. That proverbial “3 a.m. phone call” could be Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley advising a meeting beneath the White House in the Situation Room or trip to Joint Base Andrews for a rendezvous with one of three U.S. Air Force “doomsday” jets.
We’ve watched recent younger presidents like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama become grayer right before our eyes.
President Biden, who has suffered two brain aneurysms as a younger man, moves and acts older than when he took office in 2021 after running a Benjamin Harrison style “front porch” campaign. The COVID-19 pandemic spared Biden hundreds of thousands of miles of travel and, perhaps, hundreds of greasy chicken dinners. According to The Hill, “Trump meets the technical definition of obesity, has at times slurred words, and has had trouble walking.”
According to The Hill: If Biden lives to 86 years old at the end of a second term, he would have outlived all but seven presidents (Harry Truman at 88, Herbert Hoover and John Adams at 90; Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford at 93; George H.W. Bush at 94; Jimmy Carter still alive at 97). Of the 45 men who have served as president, just seven (15%) have lived longer than 86.
Then there’s the first Hoosier president, William Henry Harrison, who took office in 1841 as the oldest at the time (68), gave the longest inaugural address in history during frigid weather, and died a month later.
What will be revealed between now and November 2024 is whether the “torch will pass to a new generation” as President John F. Kennedy put it after succeeding the older, heart attack prone President Dwight Eisenhower (who lasted a little more than eight years after retiring).
There’s been speculation that Biden is “slow walking” his reelection announcement. It was expected in January, and now it will come sometime this summer. There are only two “fringe” candidates (Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) running for the Democrat nomination, but RFK Jr. polled 14% in a USA Today/Suffolk Poll this week; Williamson was at 5% and 13% were undecided. That’s nearly a third of Democrats unsure about a Biden reelect.
The real “next generation” for Democrats – Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar – are preparing for their future by forming leadership PACs and preparing for 2028.
On the GOP side, all eyes are on Trump, who is facing one criminal indictment, with two or three others just over the horizon. The GOP’s “next generation” would include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (though he is stumbling through the opening phase of his national moment), former vice president Mike Pence, and, potentially, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who told Republicans in Fort Wayne this past week that Trump can’t and shouldn’t win a general election. “I think Donald’s confused,” he said of the former president who called for the U.S. Constitution to be “terminated” to allow him back in office. “The oath for president says ‘preserve, protect and defend’ – not ‘preserve, protect and suspend,’” Christie said.
Neither Trump or Biden is very popular. According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s average approval rating stands at 43%, only 1% higher than Trump’s approval rating on April 15, 2019, at the same point in his one-term presidency, according to the New York Times.
It could be a redux of 2016, when the historically unpopular Trump defeated the historically disapproved Hillary Clinton, prompting me to ask this question: Out of 320 million Americans, is this the best we can do?
The scenario of an 82-year-old Biden seeking a second term is fraught with danger for Democrats. America is pretty much a 50/50 country these days. The nightmare scenario is President Biden suffering a stroke, a heart attack, or tumbling down the Air Force One stairs in late September 2024, meaning … all bets are off and anything could happen.
The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.