When I watched President George W. Bush board Air Force One during his first year in office, it finally dawned on me—why the previous scarred, so oddly fitting ordeal of a presidential campaign, puts itself through Once, sleepless, tempting heartache, risking humiliation. On this airborne ego trip, he had a bed, and I don’t mean a seat that could be squashed into one. He has an office with desks larger than those of some down-to-earth executives. Assistants handed him the files. The assistants carried the papers away. They called him “Mr.” president. “He has been upgraded from a once famous old surname to a kind of divinity.
He will no doubt seek re-election, though he is irritated by some of the obligations of the presidency and clearly longs for his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
I never flew with President Barack Obama. But I visited him a few times at the White House. I went once with a dozen other well-known journalists, including MSNBC superstar Rachel Maddow; and another time with half a dozen columnists, including my Pulitzer Award-winning colleague Maureen Dowd. When he walked into Roosevelt Hall, our stature did not change the speed with which we quickly drew attention, engrossed in his every syllable. Every syllable of him counts: he is the leader of the free world, wielding more power than anyone else in the richest and most powerful nation. He could see awe in almost every face that turned towards him, like almost every face.
He’ll no doubt try to hold on for eight years, despite signs that he and Michelle Obama have a strong dislike for the gilded fishbowl of White House life.
It shouldn’t have been a mystery what President Joe Biden, who released a video earlier Tuesday announcing his re-election bid, would decide. One doesn’t just hang around on such a gigantic scale, away from flattery and affirmation — at least not the kind of guy who wants them to be president.
Over the past six months, many of us commentators have weighed whether the 80-year-old Biden should seek the Democratic nomination again. We don’t put too much weight on his course of action as we assess his energy, his acumen, the preferences of Democratic voters for alternatives, and the party’s smartest strategy to keep Donald Trump and MAGA conspiracy theorists at the door Impact.
But that discussion only makes sense if there is a real possibility that Biden might step down, so we’re hinting at that as well. We are fools.
Maybe that’s too harsh: Given his age, there’s reason to wonder if he’ll be battling health-related challenges that would make his case and calculations fundamentally different from those of Bush, Obama, or many of his other past predecessors. century.
But thinking of him calmly checking his approval ratings (“Damn, Jill, I can’t seem to crack 50%!”), despairing at the Republicans’ constant torment of him and his kin (“This is bullshit!”), looking around All around young Democrat politicians yearning for their day and deciding to quit: This is ridiculous. That is boast. This contradicts the appeal of the job. It defies the very nature of those who find it very attractive.
People who are willing to undergo intrusive scrutiny and grueling treks en route to the White House believe that, on some level, they belong there, or crave reassurance intensely. They won’t settle for the next best thing. They were chasing the highest recognition, the highest office and the world they saw from that summit — a world that is now beneath their feet.
“Most of them had this ambition from elementary school,” Timothy Naftali, a New York University historian, told me. “Others’ appetites grow as they eat. In any case, it’s unusual — not normal — to crave such great power.”
I’d wager that when Donald Trump runs for president again, this surge of power — not just security from criminal prosecution, or the chance to use the White House as a profit center — is what Donald Trump Pu’s greatest motivation. No amount of personal wealth, no amount of fame, can confer bragging rights on the presidency.
Over the past century, the only presidents who could run for re-election but chose not to run — Calvin Coolidge in 1928, Harry Truman in 1952, Lyndon Johnson in 1968 — have served more than one term because they had started Their presidencies pass by completing the terms of predecessors who died while in office. There’s a reason for that, and it’s a precedent every modern president knows.
“The way history is, if you don’t run anymore, it’s considered an admission of defeat,” said Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist who served as a senior adviser to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. tell me. “Either you think you succeeded in your first term and you deserve a second term, or you think you failed your first term and you want to do better.”
Which category does Biden fall into? “I think he thought he had a huge success,” Stevens said. “I agree.” Regardless, Stevens said, the presidency is hard to hand over. “It’s intoxicating to be able to change history.”
Bush is proving skeptics wrong, including his own parents. Obama is fulfilling his father’s far-fetched dream. Bill Clinton was a glutton for dinner at the nearest and biggest buffet. Trump was—and is—Trump, judged every day, every hour, by some sort of cosmic simulation akin to Nielsen ratings. The presidency is always the most watched show.
What about Biden? His decades in the Senate, with his unpretentious oratory, nicknamed “Joe Scranton” and daily Amtrak rides to the Capitol, gave him the unpretentious unpretentiousness of a journeyman who humbly serves us side, unimpressed and unimpressed by all the glitz of the office.
But we lost our way: he announced his first presidential campaign in 1987, at the age of 44, and apparently even then he was as confident as anyone else that he could lead the United States of America. While that bid ended early and disastrously amid allegations and subsequent admissions of plagiarism, he ran for the presidency again two decades later, when Obama ultimately won and chose him as a wingman.
We forget the sting of rejection that Biden must have felt when Obama basically tagged Hillary Clinton to succeed him after serving faithfully as Obama’s vice president. We forget how Biden has moved on after his crushing defeats in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in early 2020. This kind of determination indicates a strong sense of self-esteem and a strong desire.
When we focus on his age, we focus on what it might and might mean for the dynamism he brings to the job and how much voters trust him. But there’s another side: He’s waited longer than anyone for the presidency. It’s sure to sweeten his tenure.
Biden is also driven by his obvious and rightful belief that the moral corruption of the Republican Party makes it as risky as possible for Democrats to retain control of the White House. He undoubtedly sees himself as the party’s best hope for that. A part of him is really doing it for us.
But he does it for himself too—for the approval of no rival, the excitement of no peer. For some people, these feelings don’t matter. They’re not people begging around for votes.
(This article has been updated to reflect news events.)
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