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US politics

Can Biden really beat Trump again?

Only a quarter of Americans want him to run. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

“Four more years,” says Gerard Baker in The Wall Street Journal. “Have those words ever elicited less excitement?” Normally the prospect of a US president’s re-election is a “rallying moment”, an opportunity to offer the nation that “curious but compelling combination” of continuity and renewal. But with Joe Biden’s announcement yesterday, “four more years” sounds more like a “parole board’s answer to a prisoner’s appeal”. Only a quarter of Americans want him to run again. Besides, all second terms end in failure – since the imposition of term limits 70 years ago, they amount to a “litany of disappointment and disillusion”. Richard Nixon had Watergate, Ronald Reagan had Iran-Contra, Bill Clinton had Monica Lewinsky, George W Bush had “the near-collapse of the world financial system”. Barack Obama’s legacy was the “dystopia of Hillaryland and Trumpville”.

Many “rashly assume” Biden can easily beat Donald Trump, says Edward Luce in the FT. That’s why Democrats have been almost willing The Donald to become the nominee, which now looks probable. But they thought exactly the same with Hillary Clinton in 2016 – and that proved “the most costly example of political complacency in modern US history”. A major factor this time will be Biden’s age: the public is “highly attuned” to the 80-year-old’s “allegedly waning capacities”. Republicans will also hammer the line that a vote for him is really a vote for his unpopular vice president, Kamala Harris. Then there’s the growing risk of an economic downturn – the last time a president won re-election in spite of a recession was William McKinley in 1900. The more recent examples – Jimmy Carter in 1980, George Bush Sr in 1992 – ended in defeat for the incumbent. “Biden has slain the Trump dragon once.” It is far from certain he can do it again.