President Joe Biden was an unseemly candidate in the 2020 US presidential election, but he scraped through, aided by a strong negative vote against incumbent President Donald Trump. At 78 years, Biden was the oldest in the US history to win a first term, and he was widely expected to not run for a second term.
All through the last two years, the president's performance was under the scanner, and all his gaffes, verbal slip-ups, apparent memory mix-ups and cognitive failures were in sharp focus, so much so there was an unstated consensus within his team that the President will not seek a re-election.
However, Biden surprised political observers on Friday, when he nearly announced his candidacy for the White House in 2024. Speaking at Democrat rally in Philadelphia, the president sought ought party cadres' approval for a second term race.
"Let me ask you a simple question: Are you with me?" Biden asked the cheering crowd, with supporters chanting 'four more years' and 'Go Joe'.
1. Mid-Term Election
Biden wasn't polling good enough at all throughout his presidency, making a bid for 2024 outrageous even in the perspective of core Democratic followers. However, that perception was changed after the November mid-term elections. The Democrats were expected to lose the Senate narrowly and the House by a wide margin. Biden was not seen as having the gravitas to pull off an electoral success for the party.
However, the results surprised everyone, with the Democrats retaining the control of the Senate and losing the Congress just narrowly. While the results were a huge body blow to the Republicans, the clear winner was Biden. If Biden is nursing ambitions for a second term, it was fuelled by the mid-term victory.
2. US Economic Performance
The US economy was widely expected to slip into a recession as it emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic. The aggressive rate hikes by the Federal Reserve appeared fast-tracking the slide into the recession. However, the economy's performance was surprisingly good, and Biden has taken all the credit for it.
Commerce Department data at the end of January showed that the US economy expanded 2.9 percent during the last quarter of the year. The resilient growth came despite predictions of recession for most of 2022, which roiled sentiment. For the whole of last year, the gross domestic product expanded 2.1 percent.
The fourth quarter growth numbers exceeded the expectations of analysts. According to economists surveyed by Bloomberg, the US economy was expected to grow at an annualized pace of 2.6 percent during the fourth quarter.
The surprisingly strong performance of the US economy, which is the bellwether for the global economy, happened despite the US central bank aggressively raising interest rates during 2022 in an effort to beat high inflation. The Federal Reserve hiked benchmark interest rates several times during the year, eventually adding 425 basis points from near-zero levels.
3. Strong US Employment Scene
Despite the rising inflation, job cuts by the giant companies and the chatter about recession, the US job market is performing surprisingly well. Government figures showed on Friday that nonfarm payrolls recorded an increase of 517,000 in January, beating analyst expectations for the creation of 187,000 new jobs. Incidentally, this is the strongest ever nonfarm payrolls numbers since July 2022.
The stronger than expected job numbers were accompanied by a fall in the unemployment rate to 3.4 percent, marking the lowest jobless level in as many as 53 years. This tidy set of data was exactly what Biden wanted in order turn the focus on his administration's ability to put the economy back on track for ordinary citizens.
4. Policy Successes
Biden made the pitch after listing out the achievements of his administration in the last two years. These included the lowering of the prices of prescription drugs and appointing the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. Biden also discussed the long-term policy goals for his administration such as prohibiting assault weapons and codifying Roe v. Wade. These reforms are not possible given the current power balance in the House, and Biden appeared to hint that he would be able to execute these goals if he is given another term.
5. Recent Setback for Trump
Former President Donald Trump has thrown his hat in the ring for the third straight election but his standing has taken a beating following the mid-term election losses. The defeats of many Trump loyalists in the mid-term have gone down as wedge in the Republican party and it seems widening. Former Trump loyalists like Nikki Haley are considering their own races in 2024, while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has already emerged a strong potential Trump challenger. The troubles for the Republicans have obviously made Biden stronger at the hustings.