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A Biden coalition is (barely) saving democracy. POTUS 46 must run again in ‘24.

He'll be 81 in 2024, but President Biden is the glue holding together America's fragile pro-democracy coalition. He needs to run in 2024.

President Joe Biden boards Air Force One Sunday after attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One Sunday after attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.Read moreAlex Brandon / AP

It was with nearly 40 years of cynicism built up from covering American politics corroding my arteries that I trudged down to Philadelphia’s Eakins Oval on the sun-soaked afternoon of May 18, 2019, to watch Joe Biden announce his third — and probably final, in my hardened viewpoint — run for the presidency.

An opinion journalist who’d watched Biden’s two prior White House bids crash and burn in Hindenburg-like fashion — my opinion was that Biden, who was then 76, was hogging a torch that Democrats ought to be passing to a new generation. The column I wrote that night had a tone of surprise at some of the young attendees who didn’t agree with a perceived centrist on every issue, but saw Biden as the surest way to rid America of Donald Trump.

When a 30-year-old Christian Perez from Hunting Park told me three years ago that voters craved electability and that “people just want some familiarity,” and when he was echoed by a 22-year-old newly minted Temple grad, Yasmine Hamou, who told that as a Black woman she was attracted by Biden’s appeal to voters who didn’t look like her, I should have realized I was there for the start of something truly historic in American politics.

This was the birthdate of what we needed to start calling “the Biden coalition.” They are the less-noisy majority of Americans who believe in counting the votes, in decency, in expanding civil rights instead of curtailing them, and — corny as it sounds to some of the Beltway pundits — in democracy. From college campus to leaf-blown suburbs, from predominantly Black city neighborhoods to Indigenous reservations, these voters proved just enough to rescue America from a disastrous Trump second term in 2020 — and they did it again in Tuesday’s midterms.

As the dust settles from the 2022 election, and as pundits frantically look for a memory hole to toss their “red tsunami” predictions, it’s now clear that this Biden coalition reunited to deliver one of the most stunning upsets in modern U.S. political history. The news late Saturday night that Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto had eked out a win in Nevada meant Biden’s party will again control the Senate for the next two years.

The showdown for the U.S. House looks headed for either an unworkable GOP majority of just one or two votes, or the not improbable chance that the Dems run the table in the uncalled races and return Nancy Pelosi as speaker. Defying the history that midterm elections are a bloodbath for the party that holds the White House, Democrats actually flipped a couple of state legislative bodies — including, most likely, the Pennsylvania House — in their favor. Critically, GOP believers in Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud hoping to sway the 2024 election as secretaries of state or as governor lost in every key swing state.

To be clear, the Biden coalition is not your father’s political mandate. The combine of predominantly women (and especially women of color), voters under age 35, African Americans and others revulsed by the anti-democratic and Christian nationalist bent of today’s Republican Party isn’t like the massive blue-collar New Deal alliance that boosted the Democrats in the mid-20th century, or the “Reagan revolution” of landslide White House wins in the 1980s.

The Biden coalition is a majority — but a fragile one. In 2020, a shift of about 60,000 votes in three states might have reelected Trump. In 2022, the electorate’s blue tide may not have been enough to overcome GOP gerrymandering in states like Florida or Ohio, or a weak Democratic showing in the key state of New York, to prevent Kevin McCarthy from becoming the next House speaker.

And Tuesday’s election revealed the glue holding this brittle but vital voting bloc together. It is President Biden.

Indeed, the success of Biden’s sometimes stormy two years as 46th president loomed large over the Democrats’ surprise showing in the midterms. Yes, voters on Tuesday were mad about inflation — but a surprising number of them agreed with the White House in blaming greedy oil companies, or in realizing that the party that had just lowered the price of prescription drugs and hearing aids might be better equipped to handle it.

A savvy politician who’s survived for a half-century by rolling with the changes, Biden overcame any personal qualms about abortion as a practicing Catholic to defend reproductive rights, and overrode any doubts about student-debt cancellation to sign a $400-billion-plus relief plan that energized Gen Z. His closing message about saving democracy was mocked by D.C. pundits — but embraced in the heartland.

» READ MORE: The day young voters lined up to keep the American republic for 2 more years

That’s why it seems bat-guano crazy to me that a number of pundits, and even a few prominent Democrats, are sticking with their prewritten, pre-Tuesday narratives that Biden — who’ll be a few weeks shy of his 82nd birthday on Election Day in 2024 — will be too old and worn down to seek a second term, and that the Democrats must conduct a chaotic free-for-all before facing down the authoritarian right led by Trump and Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

This pack is led by the likes of CNN’s always-wrong-like-broken-clockwork Chris Cillizza, who based his post-Tuesday column claiming that voters sent a “clear” message against Biden seeking reelection on essentially misrepresenting a poll result that 67% of midterm voters want someone else to run. Well, duh ... when two-thirds of that 67% is comprised of Trump voters who just read on Facebook that Democrats drink babies’ blood to stay young. The truth is that the poll Cillizza cited — and several others like it — show that a solid majority of Democrats still want Biden as the 2024 nominee. His support is probably even higher with Tuesday’s results.

It’s revealing that on Sunday, one of the high-profile Democrats mentioned as a potential 2024 candidate — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — published a New York Times opinion essay that was unabashed in its praise for the 46th president. She wrote that “this electoral success belongs to Mr. Biden, who ignored ivory-tower economists and out-of-touch pundits claiming that bold action to help families was bad politics.” Warren doesn’t sound like someone preparing to challenge an incumbent president — and I suspect that other much-hyped potential 2024 Democratic candidates will soon be singing a similar tune.

I say that as someone who wrote back in the 2020 primaries that I preferred the dynamic progressivism of Warren to what I thought Biden could offer. Today, my perspective has changed. I’m feeling what those young Democrats were telling me on Eakins Oval back in 2019. Biden kept Trump and his dangerous disdain for democracy out of the White House in 2020, and that makes him the best bet for doing so in 2024. Why gamble on something different?

This is all very much in keeping with the groundbreaking research by the Harvard political scientists Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, the authors of 2018′s How Democracies Die, who showed that the countries that successfully thwarted dictatorships were the ones in which rival factions dropped their ideological differences to instead rally behind a defense of democracy. It wasn’t 100% clear before Tuesday’s midterms, but the Biden coalition — the Democratic base, joined by Gen Z voters who might normally prefer the democratic socialism of a Sen. Bernie Sanders, and white suburban “Never Trumper” ex-Republicans — is beginning to look exactly like what the authors described. This alliance must be preserved at all costs.

It’s true that Biden would be the oldest man to seek the presidency — by far. It’s also true that, as he ages, he lacks the verbal agility of the man Delaware first sent down the Amtrak corridor to D.C. back in 1972. But American voters have shown they understand extenuating circumstances. Most famously, they returned a frail Franklin Roosevelt — a man whom Biden increasingly stands in comparison to, including his midterm-election success — for a fourth term in 1944, because they wanted to stay the course on winning World War II.

As a second-term Biden grows older, he would always have the option of stepping down and passing the torch to his handpicked successor in Vice President Kamala Harris — ensuring that the 47th president will also be a supporter of democracy, and cementing his legacy by transitioning to our first woman president. In contrast, leaving the White House by not running in 2024 makes it more likely his successor would be DeSantis or Trump, who would undo his accomplishments.

In echoing FDR, remember that Roosevelt’s famous slogan in becoming the only president elected to more than two terms was, “Why swap horses in midstream?” That phrase must echo in the heads of America’s thin pro-democracy majority these days. The U.S. waters of election denial, wackadoodle conspiracy theories like QAnon, and political violence remain rough. It would be nothing short of reckless to try to mount a different steed against these swift currents.

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