Washington: Incumbent presidents historically have an overwhelming advantage when they seek a second term. But Joe Biden’s bid to secure four more years faces particular headwinds.
The age issue
Biden became the oldest president in US history when he took office in 2021, aged 78. He would be 82 at his second inauguration and 86 by the time he left office - almost a decade older than the previous record-holder, Ronald Reagan, who finished his second term at 77.
Although Biden’s annual medical report released in February says he is “fit” for the job, questions persist on the risks of a sudden health deterioration at such an advanced age. At the very least, Biden will be taking the issue of age into uncharted territory.
Bill Clinton’s campaign famously focused on “the economy, stupid” as the leitmotif for a successful bid against incumbent George H.W. Bush.
The fate of Biden’s reelection will also likely closely track how Americans feel about their wallets.
The overall post-Covid economy is performing strongly but polls show that many people are not feeling what the macro-economic data says is happening.
Experts remain wary of possible recession. The ‘r’ word can be lethal to a campaign, although Biden could escape damage if the slump was shallow and ended at the right time.
Day-to-day the most potent economic challenge for Biden is taming inflation. It’s an issue he has little control over but on this he appears to be in for some luck: prices remain far higher than pre-pandemic, but are on a steady decline.
The deepest potential pothole, however, is a US debt default as early as this summer - prompting global panic - if Biden’s Democrats and the Republicans cannot agree on the usually uncontroversial debt ceiling extension.
Trump or Trump alternative?
A crucial factor in Biden’s chances is whether the Republican he faces is called Donald Trump.
Biden’s brand is rooted in his 2020 defeat of a man who upended US politics, then threatened the country’s democracy by refusing to accept his loss. Biden would relish a rematch, confident that Americans would take the same decision.
Biden has said he would be “fortunate” to face Trump again and “I believe I can beat” Trump.
However, Trump is a seasoned campaigner with an almost fanatical base.
Polls also show Biden would face a steep challenge from Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a run.
DeSantis closely follows Trump’s ideology but would present himself as a break from the past - potentially spoiling Biden’s narrative. At 44, DeSantis would also offer a stark contrast to the incumbent Democrat.
Some argue that Trump lost in large part because of Covid - a pandemic that came from the blue, transformed the world, and badly exposed the US president’s chaotic management style.
What stock market watchers dub a “black swan event” could also be lurking out there for Biden.
Potential game changers include fallout from the Justice Department probe into his son Hunter Biden’s taxes and foreign lobbying activities. The president does not appear to be implicated but his son’s questionable business past is embarrassing.
The response on Ukraine has so far been a big plus for Biden, who has led the Western push against Russia. However, a cataclysmic twist - for example Russia resorting to a nuclear weapon - could yet see Biden blamed.
A US-China war was long almost unimaginable but Taiwan - the staunchly pro-Western territory that Beijing has vowed to control - looms increasingly large on the world stage.