That’s true despite the likely loss of the House and possibly the Senate to Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections.
That’s true despite the inflation that has soured Americans on the economy.
This is true despite the toll another election cycle will take on his family. Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, is a frequent target of the president’s political opponents.
While it seems almost inconceivable for a president to retire after one term, it hasn’t always been the case. I spoke to Mark Updegrove, presidential historian and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, about presidents and re-elections.
Our conversation, conducted by email and slightly edited, is below.
Why Presidents Almost Always Run Again
WHAT MATTERS: Presidents almost always seek a second term. Why?
TO IMPROVE : You don’t run for president unless you’re extremely competitive and have a healthy ego. Getting re-elected is are usually part of the overall proposal. A second term offers another chance to win at the highest level.
Also, you don’t run for president unless you’re ambitious. Four years is relatively short-lived. A president can leave a bigger mark on the nation and on history in eight years.
What would make someone like Biden reconsider?
WHAT MATTERS: Biden is under notable pressure from his fellow Democrats to consider not running for office. Should that be enough to make him consider stepping down?
TO IMPROVE : No. It must be his decision. Biden won the presidency and earned the right to determine for himself whether to run for a second term.
Are there any similarities between Biden and LBJ?
WHAT MATTERS: The most recent exception to the re-election rule is Lyndon B. Johnson. Are there any similarities between what led LBJ to announce he would no longer run for president in 1968 and what Biden faces now?
TO IMPROVE : Yes. There’s the misconception that LBJ chose not to run again solely because of the growing controversy and divisions over the Vietnam War. That may have been part of it, but his main concern was his health.
He had had a near-fatal heart attack in 1955, and his family had a history of fatal heart disease. He did not want to put the country through the kind of crisis we had gone through with the sudden death of FDR in 1945 and the attack on Woodrow Wilson in 1919, which had rendered him incapacitated.
As he plans to run again, Biden is expected to make the same calculation. The average life expectancy of an American male is 79 years. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term.
And even if he lived through the entirety of a two-term presidency, would he have the physical and mental stamina to handle the inherent stresses of the office?
Which other presidents have bowed out?
WHAT MATTERS: Other examples include Harry Truman, Calvin Coolidge and Teddy Roosevelt. They have all, like LBJ, assumed part of the mandate of a president who died in office and then won it in their own right. Would Biden essentially be the first one-term president to just call it quits if he chose to?
TO IMPROVE : No, in the 1800s, James Polk, James Buchanan and Rutherford Hayes refused to run for a second term.
What would a post-Biden presidency look like?
WHAT MATTERS: With the exception of Trump, who is almost as old as Biden, most recent presidents were quite young when they left office, had productive lives after presidencies, and lived into their 90s. What could Biden achieve after the presidency?
TO IMPROVE : Given his advanced age, he won’t have the trail that our more recent past presidents have had.
As with all living former presidents except Trump, he will likely spend the first few years writing his memoirs and laying out the plans for his presidential library.
Then he’ll be in the mid-80s, so we probably won’t see the kind of militant post-presidency from him that we’ve seen from (Jimmy) Carter, (Bill) Clinton and (Barack) Obama.
How has age affected previous presidencies?
TO IMPROVE : There was much concern that Ronald Reagan was too old for the presidency when he ran for re-election at age 73 in 1984. He hijacked it during a debate with Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale, jokingly, “I’m not going to exploit my opponent’s youth and inexperience for political gain.”
But Reagan lost momentum during his second term, and we now know he was likely suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.