The last time that a sitting President of the United States willingly chose not to seek a second term after being elected to either a first term or first full term as President was in 1968, when Lyndon Baines Johnson chose not to seek a second full term as President. LBJ announced his decision to not seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in early 1968, well into his second full term.
Now, POLITICO is reporting that former Vice President Joe Biden is signaling to his own aides that he may not run for re-election to the presidency if he were to be elected to a first term, although Biden has not formally announced any intention to serve only a single term as President:
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s top advisers and prominent Democrats outside the Biden campaign have recently revived a long-running debate whether Biden should publicly pledge to serve only one term, with Biden himself signaling to aides that he will serve only a single term.[…]According to four people who regularly talk to Biden, all of whom asked for anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters, it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for re-election in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president.“If Biden is elected,” a prominent adviser to the campaign said, “he’s going to be 82 years old in four years and he won’t be running for reelection.”
The adviser argued that public acknowledgment of that reality could help Biden assuage younger voters, especially on the left, who are unexcited by his candidacy and fear that his nomination would serve as an eight-year roadblock to the next generation of Democrats.
While I have many concerns about Biden’s candidacy, I don’t have any concerns about Biden’s age. However, I do have concerns about whether or not Biden would be willing to commit himself to as many as two four-year terms as President. If Biden were to willingly not seek a second term if he were to be elected to a first term, that would, from a political standpoint, render Biden effectively a lame duck and/or placeholder president, and would signal to voters that Biden views the presidency as little more than a pre-retirement gig or as a vehicle to serve as a transitional figure within the Democratic Party.
If Biden has no intention of seeking a second term as President if elected to a first term, that would raise the veepstakes quite dramatically if Biden wins the Democratic nomination, since whoever Biden picks for his running-mate would likely be the frontrunner, possibly even the prohibitive frontrunner, for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination and be seen as the future of the Democratic Party, for better or worse. It is important to note that Biden, in his third bid for the Democratic nomination, has been more willing to openly discuss possible running-mates at an earlier than normal stage of the campaign than past major-party presidential candidates, so there may be some truth to the POLITICO report, but I’m going to consider it an unconfirmed report until and unless Biden makes any kind of formal announcement on his plans beyond 2020.
For an historical comparison, only six Presidents chose to not seek another term before or during his first full term: James Polk, James Buchanan, Rutherford Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson.