Democratic war-of-words spills into the open after Obama aide questions Biden’s 2024 odds

Ex-Obama adviser joins clear majority of Democrats in questioning president’s ability to serve second term

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 14 November 2023 18:42 GMT
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Biden makes sign of the cross after mentioning Trump

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Joe Biden appears to be engaged in a bitter feud with one of Barack Obama’s former strategists as Democrats continue to fret openly about the incumbent president’s chances in 2024.

Bad blood between the president and David Axelrod, a senior CNN commentator and former campaign strategist behind Mr Obama’s two successful White House bids, spilled into public view this week after Politico Magazine reported that the president had taken to referring to Mr Axelrod as a “pr***” behind closed doors. Axelrod is one of a number of Democratic operatives who have urged Mr Biden publicly to get out of the 2024 race and allow a younger candidate to run in his stead; Mr Biden has insisted that he is instead running for re-election.

“As I’ve said for like a couple years now, the issue’s not — for him is not political, its actuarial. You can see that in this poll and there’s just a lot of concern about the age issue, and that is something I think he needs to ponder. Just do a check and say, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’” Axelrod said over the weekend on CNN.

He had previously tweeted, drawing ire from the White House: “Only @JoeBiden can make this decision. If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it's in HIS best interest or the country's?”

At 80, Mr Biden’s age is seen in most polling as the greatest issue facing his campaign. Voters including a clear majority of his own party see the president as too old to effectively serve another four years in office. Those concerns are growing louder as more polling suggests that the president is in real danger of losing the 2024 election to his presumed opponent, Donald Trump, despite Mr Trump’s ongoing criminal prosecutions.

Now, Axelrod has fired back at the president, urging him to put aside petty name-calling and address the real concerns shared by most voters in his party.

“Listen, I understand he was irritated because I raised concerns that many, many Democrats had,” he said on CNN. “And again, my feeling is either get out or get going.”

“The stakes are so high,” he continued. “This is Donald Trump. It’s a fundamental question as to what American democracy is going to look like the day after the next election ... I’m glad that I said it, and I’ll live with the fact that the president is unhappy with me.”

The incumbent president has been challenged in the 2024 Democratic Party primary by Rep Dean Phillips, a centre-left congressman from Minnesota who has cited concerns with the president’s age and a widely-held desire among Americans for a shakeup of the Washington old guard as reasons for his presidential bid. His party has not scheduled any debates, and is operating largely under the idea that Mr Biden will be the nominee.

Even so, clamouring around the idea that Mr Biden will drop out has not ceased. There remains an awkward atmosphere within Democratic politics as a result, and various reports have indicated that the White House has grown hypersensitive on the issue.

In March, it was reported by Insider that 2020 candidate and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had provoked the wrath of the vice president’s office after responding meekly to a question from a local public radio reporter regarding whether Kamala Harris, the VP, should remain Mr Biden’s running mate for 2024.

"I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team," she had said.

Those comments were dubbed “pretty insulting” by a Harris official and reportedly led to Ms Warren calling the White House multiple times in the hopes of apologising.

And she isn’t the only popular Democrat to feel the burn. California’s Gavin Newsom has provoked the same wrath from allies of the president with his decision to debate presidential contender Ron DeSantis on Fox News later this month; some, including Senator John Fetterman, have responded by accusing the governor of running a shadow campaign for president. HBO’s Bill Maher has insinuated that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is doing the same.

Mr Newsom, for his part, has addressed the calls for Mr Biden to step aside if not the direct accusations of running a shadow campaign for higher office.

“We need to move past this notion that he’s not going to run,” he said to NBC News. “President Biden is going to run and I’m looking forward to him getting reelected.”

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