President Biden has two significant challenges heading into his 2024 re-election campaign—his age and the price of cereal.
Let me explain his cereal problem first.
Author and academic William Galston wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal last month under the headline, “$8.99 Cereal Could Rock the Globe.” Galston quoted an Illinois house cleaner who said, “I almost had a heart attack the other day when I saw a box of cereal for $8.99. Does that come with a gallon of milk, too?”
And now, New Republic editor and liberal columnist Michael Tomasky brought up cereal in an opinion piece this week. “The inflation rate is way down. And those of us who read economic reports know that when it was bad, it was worse in the EU, and it wasn’t largely Biden’s fault (it was pandemic-related supply chain issues). But most people don’t understand that; they just know that their kids’ cereal went from $4.89 to $6.19.”
As Tomasky correctly pointed out, most people judge the economy not by dry statics or global economic news, but rather by how they are doing. Yes, inflation has cooled, but the prices for many goods and services have remained high. When the price of cereal and dozens of other items are higher now than they were a year ago, people know it.
And many voters blame the current administration.
That explains why the New York Times/Siena poll of six battleground states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) found that voters overwhelmingly favor Donald Trump to do a better job than Biden on the economy.
Of course, polls are just a snapshot in time, and it is possible that voters’ attitudes toward the economy will change over the next year. It is also possible that Trump will be a convicted of a crime over the next few months and that could impact his standing.
But that brings me to Biden’s other problem. Seventy-one percent of voters in those battleground states—including 51 percent of Democrats—believe he is too old to run again. Just 39 percent believe Trump is too old, even though he is just three years younger than Biden. Sixty-two percent say Biden does not have the mental sharpness to be president, while that number for Trump is 44 percent.
As former Obama strategist David Axelrod said of Biden, “The issue is not political, it’s actuarial.” Axelrod posited the question of whether Biden should stay in the race. “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?”
Even Tomasky, who believes Biden has been an excellent president, is raising the issue. “Democrats need to have some tough conversations,” he wrote.
I see similarities in the cereal and age issues; both are very personal. One is a distinct kitchen table issue, which always resonates with voters. The other is also highly relatable. Each of us has life experiences with older parents, grandparents and relatives and have witnessed the diminishing that often comes with age. It is natural for that experience to influence views of Biden.
By this time next year, the price of cereal, as well as other goods and services may come down or at least the shock of higher prices may have worn off. That will work in Biden’s favor.
However, Biden will not have gotten any younger, and that is an intractable problem for him.