Is Joe Biden Too Old to Run?

The age issue is obviously one that will confront Biden, and his potential candidacy even more — notably, he is almost five years older than Hillary Clinton.

National Journal
Charlie Cook
Feb. 17, 2014, 3:05 p.m.

I ar­gued in a column last week that, des­pite the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that Hil­lary Clin­ton is cer­tain to run for pres­id­ent in 2016, there’s a de­cent chance — maybe 30 per­cent — that she won’t. Ob­vi­ously, that means there’s still about a 70 per­cent chance that she will.

The art­icle’s point was very de­lib­er­ately not to make a case that she ab­so­lutely would or wouldn’t run. My in­ten­tion was purely to point out that chances are pretty fair that she may not run (per­haps more of one than many have sug­ges­ted).

It would hardly be pos­sible for any­one to ar­gue that she lacks the am­bi­tion to run. However, Clin­ton — who turns 67 in Oc­to­ber — will pre­sum­ably be mak­ing her “go or no go” de­cision soon after her next birth­day. That de­cision, if in the af­firm­at­ive, would ef­fect­ively be a nine-year com­mit­ment. One year to run, and, if suc­cess­ful, the four years of a first term be­gin­ning at age 69. This would be fol­lowed by — if she were reelec­ted — a second term at 73. In­clude the four years of a second term, and Hil­lary could pre­sum­ably be leav­ing of­fice at age 77. Giv­en the health scare she had dur­ing her fi­nal year as sec­ret­ary of State, the choice to take on an even more phys­ic­ally de­mand­ing chal­lenge three years later, i.e. run­ning for pres­id­ent, would not be a de­cision to be made eas­ily or lightly.

The re­ac­tion to that piece was some­what dis­may­ing on sev­er­al levels. The vast ma­jor­ity of the more than 4,200 com­ments that ap­peared on na­tion­al­journ­ were anti-Clin­ton and among the most vit­ri­ol­ic that I have en­countered in 28 years of column writ­ing. It’s proof that no mat­ter how po­lar­iz­ing Pres­id­ent Obama has been, no mat­ter how much many con­ser­vat­ives des­pise him, he has in no way dis­placed their deep-seated hatred for the Clin­tons. The bile just poured out of the screen as if we were back in the 1990s, a very un­subtle re­mind­er of how much polit­ics have changed in the past 30 years. Back then, while emo­tions ran high, things wer­en’t quite this per­son­al. It’s this cur­rent volat­il­ity that could very well be an­oth­er reas­on why Clin­ton may ask her­self, “Life is too short; why would I want to put up with this crap an­oth­er time?”

But again, in all prob­ab­il­ity, she will run. And, at least for the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion, she would be a very dif­fi­cult can­did­ate to stop. She would also likely be a very for­mid­able op­pon­ent for any Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee to de­feat.

The pro-Hil­lary Clin­ton side largely held their fire, but I did get a bit of sen­ti­ment that some saw the column as im­plied sex­ism — des­pite the fact that I ex­pli­citly stated that Clin­ton’s age at the time of the 2016 elec­tion would be ex­actly the same as that of Ron­ald Re­agan when he was elec­ted in 1980. I also poin­ted out in the column that the age ar­gu­ment was used against him in both 1980 and 1984, but it didn’t seem to work. Left un­stated was why I chose not to dis­cuss Joe Biden, who will turn 74 two weeks after the 2016 elec­tion. Biden wasn’t brought up in that piece be­cause the column was not about the vice pres­id­ent. The age is­sue is ob­vi­ously one that will con­front Biden, and his po­ten­tial can­did­acy even more — not­ably, he is al­most five years older than Clin­ton.

For either Clin­ton or Biden, the chal­lenge is to make them­selves, and their can­did­a­cies, more rel­ev­ant to the fu­ture than to the past. The young­est voters in 2016 were 2 years old when Bill Clin­ton left of­fice in 2000 and were not born when Biden first ran for pres­id­ent; in­deed, many of their par­ents may not yet have been born when Biden was elec­ted to the Sen­ate in 1972. Hav­ing elec­ted, and reelec­ted, Obama, him­self a mem­ber of Gen­er­a­tion X, the 2016 elect­or­ate poses a sig­ni­fic­ant prob­lem for any po­ten­tial can­did­ate.

Ap­peal­ing to the baby-boom co­hort in the near fu­ture would re­quire a can­did­ate to make a very de­lib­er­ate de­cision to step back a gen­er­a­tion in terms of tar­geted voters and cam­paign strategy. The gen­er­a­tion­al dif­fer­ence between Obama and John Mc­Cain in 2008 may or may not have been rel­ev­ant to the out­come of that elec­tion; however, it cer­tainly was no­tice­able. It’s worth not­ing that, purely spec­u­lat­ively, vir­tu­ally all of the names on the Re­pub­lic­an side in 2016 would be far young­er than either Clin­ton or Biden.

If people want to spec­u­late about Clin­ton — should she run, will she run, how well would she run — it is im­port­ant to note that these same ques­tions are just as ap­plic­able and ap­pro­pri­ate when con­sid­er­ing Biden. Hav­ing been burned by one in­ev­it­able Hil­lary Clin­ton nom­in­a­tion, afi­cion­ados would be bet­ter ad­vised to con­sider all of the vari­ous per­muta­tions of Demo­crat­ic fields, and re­mem­ber that all de­cisions about run­ning are not purely polit­ic­al.