The title question is something that many of us probably don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking about. Or perhaps you dwell on it quite a bit. But at this point, it’s a topic that is increasingly hard to ignore. Our friend Liz Mair has a new article over at RealClearPolitics this week examining a scenario that, while hopefully unlikely, really can’t be discounted. Imagine if Joe Biden continues in his stubborn quest to seek a second term and Donald Trump’s poll numbers prove accurate and he breezes to the GOP nomination. Given the age and relative health of both men, what would happen if they secured their nominations but then either passed away or experienced some sort of accident or medical infirmity that would preclude them from moving forward? What happens next? It turns out that there are provisions in place to deal with such a turn of events, but it would be chaotic and most people likely wouldn’t be happy with the results.
With about a year until Election Day 2024, America is facing a bleak reality it has not yet come to grips with: For the first time in a very long time, there is a non-zero chance that both major party nominees could be dead or medically incapacitated before we get to next November. We also face a situation in which key elements of each party refuse to acknowledge this fact and address it.
On the Democratic side, voters are acutely aware of the risks presented by running a candidate as old as Joe Biden for a second term, but Democratic elites who still dictate much about nominations and who can vie for them appear utterly unconcerned. On the Republican side, party elites are extremely concerned about the age, cognitive ability, and infirmity (among many other things) of Donald Trump; meanwhile, voters – likely remembering a more spry Trump from the 2016 campaign and early portion of his presidency – are not nearly as bothered.
But whatever voters or elites think, the fact is that current life expectancy for American men is 77.28 years, according to the World Bank. Both Biden and Trump have already passed that marker. Both take medication to control cholesterol that extend longevity by only about a year. One of them seems to have trouble sticking to a healthy diet and doing the right amount of exercise. The other does exercise, but demonstrably appears “off his game” cognitively.
In terms of the viability of both men, I’m not 100% on board with Liz here. Yes, I have no doubt that Joe Biden is a cognitive mess and his mobility has been an issue for the entire term. But then again, some people last quite a while after you get the impression that the Grim Reaper may be lurking just around the corner. As for Trump, Liz tells us that “party elites are extremely concerned” about his age, cognition, and alleged infirmity. I’ve watched a number of lengthy interviews he’s given and his appearances at rallies and I’m really not seeing it. He still seems sharp at any time of day and seems to get around pretty well. Sure, he could probably stand to lose a few pounds, but who among us of “a certain age” couldn’t?
But with that said, Liz is addressing a very real concern. On election day next year, Trump will be eight years older than the Donald Trump we watched run in 2016. Everyone has a shelf date in terms of physical and cognitive functionality, as well as overall mortality. It would not be unheard of for something to happen to either of them.
So how would things play out in the event that both parties’ presidential nominees were suddenly, shall we say… “made unavailable” at a late date? As it turns out, both the RNC and the DNC have reserved significant power for themselves if such an event were to take place. Read Liz’s entire article for the details from the conference rules, but if the nominees were to suddenly be MIA, each conference could hold an emergency meeting and pick a replacement. That’s right… all of the primaries, the debates, and the speeches would mean nothing. A couple of hundred people would huddle up and decide who you get to choose from to be the next president. Does that sound very appealing to you? It doesn’t to me either.
But that’s the sort of power that the permanent, two-party system wields. It would just be more blatantly on display in this scenario. It’s already been discussed as a possibility that if Joe Biden’s poll numbers keep sinking and the DNC thinks they are toast, at the convention next summer they could use their superdelegates to override the primary results and simply kick Biden and Harris off of the ticket and swap in Gavin Newsom or someone else. In the end, the choice was really never yours to begin with, at least in theory. It’s always their decision in the end. And we may now be living through a scenario where theory could rapidly turn into reality. Just something for you to ponder while we await today’s election results.