Biden should speak fully on his plans to run in 2024

Two years into the incumbent’s first term, Democrats clearly haven’t figured out the 2024 plan or the messaging, and that’s leaving the party sounding less like Biden is the done deal.

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“The president has said he’s planning on running again. People should take him at his word.”

That was Anita Dunn, a top adviser to President Joe Biden, sounding very confident in her insistence that Biden will seek a second term — and almost indignant that the question is being raised at all.

But the question is being raised all over the place, by reporters and by other Democrats.

Two years into the incumbent’s first term, Democrats clearly haven’t figured out the 2024 plan or the messaging, and that’s leaving the party sounding less like Biden is the done deal Dunn is promising. The resulting fallout has been messy, to say the least.

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Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, running for Congress in Manhattan, raised eyebrows during a debate with Rep. Jerry Nadler and attorney Suraj Patel when she announced, seemingly unbeknownst to the White House, “I don’t believe he’s running for reelection.”

Then, in an interview with CNN, she apologized to the president and said she wants him to run again.

Then, in an on-the-record interview with the New York Times, she said, “off the record” (but it wasn’t) “he’s not running again,” then, “on the record,” went even further, stating, “he should not run again.”

This weekend, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre swatted questions of Biden’s 2024 viability away, carefully insisting, “He intends to run. He intends to run.”

The very same day, another New York congressman, Jamaal Bowman, had trouble answering the question of whether Biden should run again.

On a CNN panel (on which I was a participant) he dodged the question several times, and finally hedged by saying, “Yes, if the president is running for office — if he’s running — I will support him.”

A third New Yorker, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, refused to endorse a 2024 bid, saying simply, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Others, including Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, Sen. Joe Manchin, Rep. Angie Craig and the Colorado Democratic Party’s first vice chair Howard Chou, have either refused to endorse him or have said outright that he should not run.

These misgivings are reflected in voter sentiment as well. A July poll from CNN revealed 75% of Democratic voters want someone else to run in 2024 — a troubling number when compared to the 47% of Republican voters who say they’d support someone other than Donald Trump.

Not since Lyndon Johnson in 1968 has a president chosen not to seek re-election, and there have only been six total in the history of the United States.

But these are extraordinary times and circumstances. Biden will be 82 years old next Inauguration Day if he wins reelection, and 86 if he completes his second term. His approval ratings dipped to a new low of 38% in late July, and have rebounded slightly in the days since winning a number of legislative victories.

Meanwhile, Trump — who’s just three years younger than Biden — has managed to keep the Republican Party and voters mostly coalesced around him, although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been recently breaking through in some battleground states.

Biden insists he’s the only person who can beat Trump again. And given that he’s the only person from either party to do it, it’s hard to argue his logic.

But “planning” on running, and “intending” to run — all things his camp has said — aren’t the same things as announcing your reelection bid.

And Democrats had better sort this out soon. Trump has effectively been running since 2020, and perhaps never stopped.

As I told Bowman on CNN, there’s no clear second choice for Democrats, and if they’re going to prepare voters to get behind someone else, they’d better go ahead and let them know who that should be, or let a field of contenders compete.

If Biden decides not to run, it need not be an embarrassment for Democrats. He was always meant to be a transitional president, not a transformational one. Biden can confidently own this while conditioning the environment for a successor.

If, on the other hand, he runs, he’ll likely be primaried by what one Dem strategist told me would be “a thousand” other candidates. The odds of the latter happening increase with every passing day that Biden’s intentions to run are doubted.

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That’s a bad scenario for Democrats: a divided field against an incumbent who’s short on enthusiastic voters.

The lingering question of whether he’ll run is undoubtedly weakening his standing. Every interview with a Democratic lawmaker is an opportunity for them to awkwardly hedge or even discourage a run. The longer this is in the news cycle, the worse it looks for Biden.

Rather than keep voters and Democrats guessing — and allow a pileup of naysayers — Biden’s best move is to announce decisively what he plans to do sooner than later. In or out, the clock is ticking for Biden in more ways than one.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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