Joe “One-Term” Biden for president?

It’s the question hanging over the former VP’s run

SOMEONE has finally taken on the elephant in the room looming over the campaign of Joe Biden, who has managed to be the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and the most wobbly major candidate in the field at the same time: If the third time somehow proves to be the charm, and Biden wins the White House prize that first eluded him 31 years ago, he almost certainly would be a one-term president.

So reports Ryan Lizza this morning in Politico in a piece that works through the details of something that has seemed obvious from the start: Joe Biden, if elected next year, would not look to win a second four-year term, at the start of which he would be 82 years old.

Lizza reports that Biden campaign officials have been debating whether the candidate should make a public vow to serve only one term. The decision the campaign has apparently reached for now is to avoid such a declaration, but “quietly indicate that he almost certainly will not run for a second term.”

That seems like a smart way to approach the issue, which avoids the trap of being a self-declared lame duck on Day 1. Sending strong signals that he’d only serve a single term, however, might even give Biden a lift, especially with Democratic voters who are hoping for a more progressive change agent and who could be dispirited at the thought of a possible  eight-year Biden reign.

Instead, Biden might tap a running mate who appeals to that bloc and who would be almost regarded as the party’s 2024 nominee-in-waiting. For all the hype that regularly attends the selection of a running mate, Biden’s choice under such a scenario would be one of the most consequential VP picks in US history.

“I think who his vice president is will be very important because people will be thinking about that. But I don’t think I would make a one-term pledge,” said John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman, endorsing the idea of avoiding a flat-out one-term vow. “That’s a weak play.”

Biden has largely staked his campaign on presenting himself as a morally-grounded alternative to President Trump, someone who can bring stability and probity to a country weary from the unprecedented norm-breaking that has become a daily feature of the current White House.

In that way, the clear understanding that he would serve just one term solidifies the idea of Biden as, in the words of one campaign adviser, a “good transition figure.”

In October, Biden was publicly noncommittal when asked by about a second term.

“I feel good and all I can say is, watch me, you’ll see,” he told the AP. “It doesn’t mean I would run a second term. I’m not going to make that judgment at this moment.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

But a top adviser to the campaign was more candid with Lizza. “If Biden is elected,” Lizza quotes the adviser telling him, “he’s going to be 82 years old in four years and he won’t be running for reelection.”

One Democratic strategist put it in even more blunt terms. It would be “crazy for him to run for a second term,” he told Lizza. “It’s a bit crazy to run for a first.”

Of course, if Biden fades in the coming months, all this talk of serving just a single term will be irrelevant and quickly forgotten. But if he stays on track and gets closer to the nomination, it’s only likely to get more attention.