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Dentures in, gloves on: Fighting for the White House

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MARCH 15, 2023

This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of meeting former U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, who served in Congress for 30 years. Taking place in the UC Berkeley Alumni House, the public conversation between her and Vice Provost Lisa García Bedolla highlighted something increasingly rare in our modern political scene: temperance and clarity. 

Roybal-Allard, now 81 years old, was articulate and effective in her messaging that day. She clearly resented the current schism in Washington, but seemed begrudgingly accustomed to the partisan ruptures that now define Congress. Yet, her sharp focus and consistent logic give me hope that there are still politicians who can communicate effectively.

From what I see, the problem is that the same communication skills presented by Roybal-Allred are lacking in the Oval Office. 

For 2024, the Democrats may have a Joe Biden problem. An incumbent president has never lost a nomination bid in the 50 years the modern primary system has existed. Even in 1976, the electoral powerhouse and popularity of Ronald Reagan could not defeat incumbent Gerald Ford in the primaries. 

With no clear alternative on the Democratic bench, it’s safe to predict that President Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for the 2024 presidential election, even if just 37% of Democrats want him to run. Due to his lackluster communication record and underwater approval ratings, this is a problem for the Democratic Party. 

He seemingly does not have a consistent base of crucial, young voters that resonate with him, which is magnified by the fact that he will be 86 years old at the end of his second term. 

In this day and age, it is hard to believe that there was a time when a 73-year-old Reagan was questioned regarding whether he was too old for office.

My greatest concern for Biden’s age and, by extension, his mental acuity is the fact that the United States stares down a variety of paramount foreign policy issues, especially with a more hawkish Chinese Communist Party emerging as our country’s greatest threat. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, then-president John F. Kennedy was laser-focused for 13 straight days in rigorous diplomacy as both the Soviet Union and the United States were on the brink of nuclear warfare. Seeing his repeated gaffes, fumbles and poor argumentation, I have serious doubts that Biden can mirror such mental focus. 

Beyond his age, Biden’s brand was basically being “not Trump” in 2020. If the Republicans do not nominate his old foe, then independents would be hard-pressed to vote for Biden, especially due to his consistently low ratings among the center of the aisle. While that “not Trump” brand and messaging seemed to work in 2020, it may fall short if he faces a candidate that can successfully move away from Donald Trump’s sphere of influence. 

This brings me to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — a rising star in the Republican party who will reach his term limit in the awkward, off-election year of 2027. Either he runs now in 2024 as the incumbent governor of a large and populous state, or he runs as a private citizen in eight years. Due to his growing popularity in conservative circles, I predict the former rather than the latter. 

By all recent polling, he is neck and neck with Trump and has raised a large amount of money for the Republican party. Increasingly, Republican donors and leaders are backing the Floridian because his policies mirror that of Trump without the bombastic rhetoric and potential criminal indictments.

For Trump, his previous attempts to overturn the 2020 election, resulting in widespread distrust of our electoral system, should disqualify him from any public office. His derelictions of basic presidential duties on January 6 must deny him the Republican nomination. 

Even if Republican leaders want to look past two impeachments and an attempted insurrection, his rhetorical imposition in the 2022 midterm elections arguably prevented the Republicans from winning larger majorities in the House and flipping a few Senate seats. 

Beyond his blatantly false claims of late, Trump’s 2015 political brand of being an outsider to the establishment seems no longer applicable. He was the president for four years and has close professional ties with congressional leaders, including the sitting Speaker of the House. He has been the presumptive leader of the Republican Party since winning the Republican presidential nomination almost six years ago. In short, he is the Republican establishment. This is why, for his campaign’s electability, he either needs to reimagine his brand or risk possibly falling behind a fresher candidate.  

At this point, the Democratic Party should honestly evaluate Joe Biden and wonder if he is best suited to overcome whichever candidate may lie in his path. If the only two contestants our political system can produce are Trump and Biden, then we all need to take a hard look at ourselves and reiterate what we value as a nation. 

For our presidency, is this the best we can do?

Ethan Kim writes the Wednesday column on measuring the medium of the two political sides in a marketplace of ideas. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

MARCH 15, 2023