Discover more from Diane Francis
August 1, 2022
Americans are polarized, and polled to death. Their attitudes vary widely from religion to abortion, gay marriage, gun controls and taxes and their choices are parsed for profit or political purposes. But most Republicans and Democrats agree that Biden and Trump are too old to run in the 2024 Presidential election. A recent poll showed that 30 percent of Democrats don’t want Biden to run again and 26 percent of Republicans don’t want Trump on the ballot because of age. Even so, Biden has said he will run again and Trump likely will despite incriminating evidence against him. But others are positioning themselves and running for their party’s nomination.
Speaking as a person of a certain age, I don’t believe that a gerontocracy is necessarily a bad thing. The reality is that, while wisdom doesn’t automatically accompany age, experience and street smarts and a powerful network certainly do – all of which are useful governance tools. Besides, people are living longer and healthier so expanding lifespans have also now resulted in elderly persons holding the world’s most powerful positions. There’s the Queen, the Pope, Dr. Fauci and Warren Buffet and now the Presidency. At 70, trump was the oldest person ever inaugurated until Joe Biden beat him in 2020 and became Commander in Chief at the age of 78. In addition, there is House leader Nancy Pelosi, now 82 and Senate leader Mitch McConnell at 80 years.
Biden maintains he’ll run again because he cannot say otherwise or he would be regarded as a “lame duck” President. And if illness or a scandal sidelines him while in office, Vice President Kamala Harris will assume the reins which is why the assertive, profile-building moves made by her California colleague, Governor Gavin Newsom, 54, make for interesting speculation. He’s a hugely popular, progressive Democrat with movie star looks, who runs the most important state in the nation. With a population and economy larger than Canada’s, California ranks as the world’s fifth largest economy, just behind Germany’s.
Newsom’s handlers have been busy lining up donors—in competition with Kamala Harris’ crew. He’s made the rounds on Wall Street and become actively engaged in fighting the culture wars – abortion and gun controls and masking and gay rights -- against Republicans, notably Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, 44, who is the front runner to replace Trump. He recently beat The Donald in a primary contest in bellwether state New Hampshire.
DeSantis has also been front and center in the culture wars and risen onto MAGA and Republican radars by doing so. Among his initiatives are abortion restrictions, no-masking edicts, no lockdowns, and stripping Disney of its self-governing status after it opposed DeSantis’ bill banning lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms up to third grade (nicknamed the “don’t say gay” law). Newsom has attacked these positions in advertisements in both Florida and Texas, not just for political reasons, but for economic ones. Both states have low taxes and have attracted businesses and technology workers from California, led by Elon Musk who now lives in Austin.
DeSantis has outdistanced Republican potential rivals such as former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, Fox’s Tucker Carlson, and the hapless Ted Cruz. He’s now running for re-election as Governor but has been stepping out across the country to buff up his profile as the House Selection Committee hearings on January 6 damage Trump’s chances. De Santis has distanced himself from Trump and their previously close relationship now resembles the “All About Eve” plot line: DeSantis was plucked from nowhere by Trump who endorsed him to become Governor and DeSantis recently declared he doesn’t need or want Trump’s blessing.
Newsom has taken on the culture wars directly. After the Supreme Court decision allowing Texas residents to sue abortion providers, he proposed legislation in California that would allow private citizens to enforce California’s strict gun laws by offering a $10,000 reward to residents who successfully sue makers of illegal guns. He also ran full-page ads in Florida and Texas attacking their governors for banning abortion, and has ripped into the Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade and for giving Americans the right to arm themselves in public. In response, a Texas spokesman shot back that “Newsom should focus on all the jobs and businesses that are leaving California and coming to Texas.”
Newsom versus DeSantis is the likeliest match-up in 2024 should Trump drop out and Biden fade or retire. But the two septuagenarians bristle at suggestions they won’t go for the prize. When asked about his low approval ratings, Biden shot back that recent polling showed that 92 percent of Democrats would support him if he ran against Donald Trump. Most polls show he would beat Trump in a rematch 44 percent to 41 percent.
But popularity, polling and elections turn on a dime, so it’s anyone’s guess as to the future. Age and vigor are valid issues and the contrast between the two elderly leaders couldn’t be sharper. Trump, obese with the eating habits of a 13-year-old boy at summer camp, nearly died of Covid and had to be hospitalized. Biden, trim and a fitness buff, had a mild case of Covid and has continued working in isolation at the White House. But 2024 is a long way off and, as they say in football, the field is already in motion to replace America’s gerontocracy.