Nov 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi throws down gauntlet for aging leaders

Illustration of a gavel made of gold.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Like a seasoned CEO, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) handled her party's succession plan seamlessly — anointing a new generation of Democratic talent at a moment other aging leaders are reluctant to give up power.

Why it matters: President Biden's 80th birthday on Sunday was a fresh reminder that Democrats do not have anything close to a coherent plan for their presidential hopes.

  • But they're not alone: 76-year-old former President Trump is again seeking the Republican nomination, threatening to burn down the party if it abandons him and daring younger challengers to step into the fire.
  • 80-year-old Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, just secured an extended tenure as Senate GOP leader.

Driving the news: The percentage of Democratic voters who believe Biden should be the nominee in 2024 ticked up six points after the party's strong showing in the midterms — but 50% still believe he should be replaced, according to a new USA Today/Ipsos poll.

The big picture: Unlike the House Democratic caucus, which had a popular trio of leaders ready to replace Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the field of potential Biden successors is wide open.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris would normally be the obvious candidate-in-waiting, but party leaders are deeply skeptical she has what it takes politically to win the presidency.
  • Double-digit victories this month by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro showcased their ability to win in crucial battleground states and vaulted them into the national spotlight.
  • But Biden still sees himself as uniquely qualified to defeat Trump in a rematch, and Democrats' expectation-defying performance in the midterms has only hardened that view.

Yes, but: Biden may learn the wrong lessons from his party's overperformance. If he runs for re-election, he may not end up facing Trump — but a younger conservative like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who matches up much more favorably.

The other side: Trump has boxed out a new generation of GOP leaders not just by announcing a third presidential bid, but by publicly attacking two of his party's rising stars on social media — DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The bottom line: Heading off the prospect of a messy civil war in an open Democratic primary — much like the one currently roiling the GOP — may be the best argument for Biden to run again.

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