How Biden Might Be Thinking About the Decision Ahead of Him

“I don’t think I’m old enough. I had to do the math.”

This is how President Biden describes his reaction, back in the summer of 1971, when Delaware Democrats suggested a U.S. Senate run. (Biden’s 30th birthday would come in late November 1972, so he’d clear the age requirement with a few weeks to spare.) In his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics,” Biden recalls the audacity of the idea. “How many 28-year-olds ever get in the position to even consider such a move?” he wondered.

And how many 81-year-olds ever get in the position to consider running for a second presidential term? With calls for Biden to end his candidacy multiplying following his alarm-bells CNN presidential debate against Donald Trump last week, and polls showing Trump’s lead widening, the president and his family have a decision to make.

It’s a decision they’ve faced many times; that’s one advantage of a long political life. In his memoirs and in various biographies, we see Biden grappling with this choice over the decades. (I first considered “Promises to Keep,” for instance, when Biden was contemplating a 2016 White House bid.) Does he run? Does he step aside? Does he still have what it takes? His recurring considerations are family, legacy and, yes, his age.

Looking toward the 1972 election, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, encouraged him to commit to politics. At the time, he was both building his law practice and serving on the New Castle County Council. “You should be all the way in or all the way out,” she said. “If politics is what you want to do, let’s do it — full-time.” Biden’s mother warned that running for Senate might sully his emerging reputation as a lawyer, but he concluded that it was a “risk-free” effort. “Only a handful of people outside the family thought I had a real shot to win,” Biden writes, “so I figured even if I lost, people were going to say, ‘That’s a nice young guy. That’s a serious young guy.’”

That nice young guy would win that election, defeating the longtime Republican incumbent Caleb Boggs. (During a debate, Biden declined to pounce when his 63-year-old opponent did not show mastery of some facts because, as he puts it in his memoir, “nobody in the audience wanted to see Boggs embarrassed — it would have been like clubbing the family’s favorite uncle.”)

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