Apr 26, 2023

Biden announces his 2024 run.

Plus, a question about anonymous sources.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

Today, we're covering Biden's plans to run in 2024. Plus, a question about anonymous sourcing and whether we can trust it.

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Yesterday, we referenced Fox News's $787.5 billion settlement with Dominion. As noted elsewhere in the piece, it was a $787.5 million settlement, with an "m." Argh.

This is our 81st correction in Tangle's 195-week history and our first correction since April 19. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

Quick hits.

  1. Jury selection has begun in a civil trial against Donald Trump brought by E. Jean Carroll, the journalist who has accused him of sexual assault and defamation. (The trial)
  2. The World Health Organization is warning of a biological hazard after one of the two warring factions in Sudan captured a national health lab containing samples of measles, cholera, and polio, among other pathogens. (The warning)
  3. Fox News' 8 p.m. EST ratings fell 21% on Monday night, the first primetime show since Tucker Carlson was ousted by the network. (The hit)
  4. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declined to testify before Congress, saying such testimony is extremely rare. The Democrat-led Senate Judiciary Committee sought his testimony on ethical standards. (The decision)
  5. Republicans tweaked their debt-limit bill last night after criticism from both moderate and conservative Republicans. The bill is expected to be debated and voted on today. (The tweaks)

Today's topic.

Biden 2024. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden officially announced his plan to run for president in 2024, setting up a potential 2020 rematch with likely Republican nominee and former president Donald Trump. That would be the first time the same nominees faced each other in back-to-back elections since Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in 1956, and the first time a president has been challenged by his predecessor since 1912.

The opening images of Biden’s campaign video announcing his decision are of the January 6 riot at the Capitol, then transitions to Biden framing his re-election campaign as another showdown with "MAGA extremists" and a "fight for our democracy."

“When I ran for president four years ago,” he adds, “I said we were in a battle for the soul of America. And we still are.”

In 2020, Biden repeatedly described himself as a "bridge" to the next generation, and given his age many interpreted that as a promise to serve a single term. Aides say his decision to run is fueled by his belief that Trump will win the Republican nomination, and his confidence that he is the Democrat best positioned to defeat him again. At 80 years old, Biden is already the oldest president in American history, and he would be 86 at the end of a potential second term in 2028. Trump, who is 76, would become the oldest president in U.S. history if he defeats Biden and serves a full term, which would end when he is 82.

So far, no other Democratic candidate appears ready to challenge Biden. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of former senator Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, has also declared on the Democratic ticket. But Kennedy, who has become best known for his anti-vaccine stances, is considered a longshot. Marianne Williamson, the self-help author who ran in 2020, has also declared, but is similarly not expected to pull many votes.

On the campaign trail, Biden is sure to emphasize a series of legislative wins in his first term: The $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, major spending and investments to combat climate change, the lowering of prescription drug costs, a gun control bill, and the rallying of European leaders to support Ukraine. Republicans, meanwhile, will point to historically high inflation, the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that left 13 Americans and over 170 Afghans dead, a historic number of migrants at the southern border, and the several major cities beset by higher rates of violent crime.

Polling suggests that Biden faces an uphill battle with his own base, too. In a new NBC News poll, 70% of Americans and 51% of Democrats said Biden should not run again, citing his age as a “major reason.” His overall approval rating is just 42%, lower than 10 of the last 13 presidents at this point in their terms. Still, a smorgasbord of polls from Morning Consult, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo News, The Economist, and Harvard University all show Biden with a slight but consistent edge over Trump in a head-to-head race.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions from the left and right, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right criticize Biden's first term and insist America doesn't want him running again.
  • Some point to the national polls suggesting how uninterested people are in a second Biden term.
  • Others call out his record on inflation, immigration, and crime.

In The Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker said four more years of Biden "sounds like a prison term."

"Four more years. Have those words ever elicited less excitement?" Baker asked. "Have 48 months ever loomed as a more unnerving slog through domestic political strife and rising global insecurity? Has a nation ever peered more anxiously into a future under the leadership of a man far along the path of cognitive decline from which no one has ever returned?" Normally this is a "rallying moment," but this time it "sounds like a parole board's answer to a prisoner's appeal."

"Who is honestly enthusiastic about Joe Biden’s campaign for a second term except perhaps for a son who can hope that a father in the White House will continue to shield him from the accountability he deserves?" Baker said. "Certainly not most Americans. Only a quarter of voters want him to run again, according to an Associated Press-NORC poll released last week." There is "no getting around the age problem," and most Americans "have seen enough" to know his "capacities continue to shrink."

National Review's editors said "America doesn't want this," but Biden knows the Democratic alternatives are weak.

"Biden’s record when in full control of his faculties is bad enough. He has been a feckless commander in chief, disastrously abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban and signaling to Vladimir Putin that NATO might tolerate a 'minor incursion' into Ukraine," they wrote. He has prioritized "climate negotiations" over "the hard work of alliance-building against the China-Russia-Iran axis, and needlessly alienated allies such as Saudi Arabia while badly neglecting American sovereignty at our southern border."

But "most shameful" has been his "flagrant and repeated contempt for the constitutional limits of his office," they wrote. "Time and again, in unilaterally decreeing sweeping legislative policies such as student-loan forgiveness, an eviction moratorium, and a national vaccine mandate, Biden has acted as if the president is a national lawgiver with general police powers." His "profligacy with federal spending" also "exacerbated the runaway inflation" of his first term, which is "yet to be tamed."

In Fox News, Ronna McDaniel, the Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said Biden's vow to "finish the job" should terrify every American.

By "any objective measure," Biden's failed policies "have made life worse for Americans since he took office," she said. "He’s spent nearly fifty years living on the taxpayers’ dime as a career politician. Joe hasn’t earned the right to "finish the job" — and it’s laughable for him to claim he’s protecting "freedom" in his campaign launch video. How can the failed president who wants 87,000 new IRS agents targeting middle-class Americans claim to be for freedom? How can Americans feel free when they don’t feel safe in their own cities, or when they’re being told that their children don’t even belong to them, as Biden claimed on Monday?"

Our southern border is a "humanitarian disaster," fentanyl is "the number one killer of Americans age 18-45," and "6.3 million illegal immigrants have crossed the border" since Biden took office. Meanwhile, the economy is "in shambles" as "inflation continues to hammer American families" while "banks fail and wages are wiped out by skyrocketing prices." Biden has also "systematically waged war on American energy," as "all 50 states recorded their highest average gas prices ever."

What the left is saying.

  • The left is split on Biden, with some insisting he has been a good president and can beat Trump, while others say he is uninspiring and should step aside.
  • Some point to Biden's legislative victories and handling of Ukraine to argue that he is a capable leader.
  • Others acknowledge he could beat Trump again, but say he is doing little to improve life for Americans.

In Vox, Dylan Matthews said Biden is "pretty good at being president" and he should run again.

Biden is "more popular than Ronald Reagan was at this point," and he went on to win 49 states, which "tells you a bit about how poor an indicator approval ratings are this far from Election Day." He "ended the war in Afghanistan after 20 crushing years," the economy "grew at a steady 2.7 percent last quarter, unemployment is the lowest it's been since 1969," inflation is "elevated but falling," wages are "rising quickly, especially for less-educated workers." You need to go back to the dot-com boom for a "better economic picture" than this one.

Biden approved "the largest investment in R&D and deployment of clean energy" in U.S. history, "hundreds of billions of dollars of new science funding," and an infrastructure bill, and has strengthened domestic semiconductor manufacturing. His handling of the war in Ukraine, which has been costly to Putin and involved no U.S. troops, "has been outstanding." Even if you don't love his presidency, if you're a Democrat and care about Democrats winning, "Biden is simply the best chance Democrats have in 2024."

In Jacobin, Branko Marcetic called it the "depressing starting gun" for a bleak campaign season.

"Conspicuously absent is even the pretense that he'll do anything to make your life better," Marcetic said. "Biden rejected his own party’s push to eliminate the debt ceiling last year, which would have neutralized the current hostage scenario that has given Republicans the leverage to try and slash Social Security. Other than use it as get-out-the-vote fodder, Democrats have done little on the federal level to protect reproductive rights, while Biden reportedly won’t take on the Supreme Court that’s driving this assault because he’s worried about hurting its public standing."

The "voting-rights bill went nowhere" and Biden "moved on" after the party refused to eliminate the filibuster. "The fact that 71 percent of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction surely isn’t a sign of good health." More importantly, there is no plan. Outlining an ambitious second term "reviving the very popular Build Back Better bill that died two years ago and formed the backbone of his presidential agenda, for instance, or vowing to expand Social Security benefits" might give despondent Americans some hope.

In The Guardian, Margaret Sullivan said "he's too old and not especially popular," but right "to stop Trump."

It's still startling to see "how little awareness many Americans have of how hazardous the next election will be," she wrote. "'Not the odds, but the stakes' is the excellent recent advice to journalists about how to focus their politics coverage from Jay Rosen, the prominent media critic and New York University professor." And the stakes "could hardly be higher." Trump "has chipped away at the foundations of American democracy, including doing his best to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and has steadfastly, if baselessly, denied its legitimacy."

Another Trump term "complete with appointments of Trump loyalists" would be nothing short of disastrous. "It would be, quite possibly, the end of the US as we know it," Sullivan said. "Biden, by contrast, has done a far better job than most who voted for him could have hoped or even imagined." On top of his three signature bills, he also "put the first Black woman on the supreme court" and “led the west’s support for Ukraine." His age is a major worry, and there are other impressive and capable Democrats, but "the answer to who should be the Democratic nominee is easy: the Trump-slayer, Joseph R Biden Jr."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • Like most people, I really, really do not want a 2020 rematch.
  • Biden's age is a legitimate issue, one Democrats have to weigh.
  • He is still the best candidate available to beat Trump.

As per our editorial policy, one thing that differentiates us from many news outlets is that we don't make endorsements. I'm not going to change that here, or in 2024, or ever. So I need to tread carefully in a piece like this. As we did for Trump and Biden's first year, we'll review Biden's presidency when it's time, and I'm sure we'll cover a lot of the substantive debates on how his policies have fared.

For now, though, what I feel comfortable doing is an “anti-endorsement. The last thing I want in 2024 is a 2020 rematch. In my ideal world, we'd have two new candidates to fuss over.

However you want to frame January 6, Trump's presidency ended with the first non-peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, amid a calamitous pandemic, and led to his continuing and constant denial that he lost the 2020 election. The vibes are not good. No thank you. On the other side, Biden would be 86 if he were to leave office in 2028, appears less and less vigorous every time I see him, and implied repeatedly before the 2020 election that, if he were to win, he would not run in 2024. Somewhere during his presidency, which has been marked by historic inflation, many more Covid-19 deaths, and a border crisis, he went from "a bridge to the next generation" to "how many times do I have to tell you I'm going to run?" Next, please.

That doesn't mean we should be surprised. Only six of the last 45 presidents have chosen not to run for re-election. Putting up a new candidate is expensive and risky, and Democrats don't want to take any risks with the possibility of a Trump candidacy. Who else would they even run?

I've seen so many names floated: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, or Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Then, of course, there is Vice President Kamala Harris.

But think about the calculations party leaders have to make: Pritzker is a snoozefest and would have to defend Chicago's current state in every public appearance he makes. Whitmer is more interesting. She may be best known for being the victim of a bizarre (and kind of FBI-led) kidnapping plot, but she polls better than Biden in Michigan, a battleground state, and seems capable of winning over voters from the center out to the left. Either candidate would be one gaffe or scandal away from getting downed, though.

Newsom is barely popular in California and already has a toxic national image. Sanders and Warren have both already run unsuccessfully, and few people seem less appealing to Americans than Klobuchar. Buttigieg may have the best communication skills of all of them but he never got traction in 2020 and his term as transportation secretary has not been inspiring. It’s also true that, however unfair to Buttigieg, in a race where 1-2% of the vote could make the difference, it’s still unclear if America is ready for a gay man as president.

I personally like and respect Brown, who has a consistent ideological worldview, connects with working class voters, can communicate across the aisle, and seems like an honest broker. He's got serious dad at the baseball game vibes that I could see having wide appeal (a haircut every now and again wouldn’t hurt, though). But he's so progressive it's hard to imagine him pulling big national numbers right now.

Harris, of course, has had a chaotic couple of years as vice president, and appears incapable of even winning over a healthy plurality of Democrats. She currently polls behind Trump and has a national image that is already baked-in, which for party leaders making ruthless decisions is probably disqualifying.

And then there’s his age. I was questioning Biden's mental faculties two years ago and I think it's clear to everyone he doesn't have his fastball anymore. As of January, he had spent 197 days of his presidency away from the White House either at his home, beach property, or Camp David. I remember Trump’s absenteeism was scandalous during his term, but Biden’s time away far outpaces Trump’s at this point in his presidency. The New York Times reported last summer that Biden's age was already presenting "distinct challenges" for his aides. What about 2 years from now? What about five years from now?

I hate to be so crude, but statistically, Biden’s mortality outlook is pretty bleak. S. Jay Olshansky, a University of Illinois Chicago professor of public health who has written about Biden's life expectancy, told Vox his "survival probability" in a second term would be 59.1%. It might be a little higher than that given Biden doesn't drink or smoke and has low cholesterol, but something near a coin toss on whether the next president survives his term is hardly inspiring. Sorry. It’s not ageist to talk about these things — it’s simply reality. The prospect of a Harris presidency if something were to happen to her boss is not appealing to most, and could even be concerning enough to hurt Biden’s general election odds.

But while polling suggests Democrats want something new, don't expect that to last. Polling this far out is notoriously malleable. Politics is weird in this way: We all have short memories, and hypotheticals always perform differently than hard and fast realities. More than 70% of Americans might want someone different right now — lord knows I do. But if Trump wins the Republican nomination and Biden sticks to running, Democrats will turn out in droves and Biden will probably win again. Once this race is defined, everyone will line up on their sides and go to battle.

In that sense, Biden still might be the safest bet for Democrats to keep the White House. As Ryan Girdusky — a Trump supporter and author of the National Populist Newsletter — put it, 2024 is not going to be 2016. Trump isn't running against Hillary Clinton, and he isn't an undefined entity. Polls show a tight head-to-head race, sure, but Trump's own pollster Tony Fabrizio found that among voters who dislike both candidates, they break for Biden by a 39 point margin. I doubt that changes much over the next two years.

For Democrats, that might be all that matters.

Your questions, answered.

Q: How do we know anonymous sources are real and not just made up? Also, do you think there are less reputable media sources out there that actually do make up anonymous sources?

— Todd from Chandler, Arizona

Tangle: First, I think you should always be cautious of stories with anonymous sources. Look for confirmation from multiple outlets, people going on the record, or circumstantial evidence around the sourcing to confirm the story. Above all, never take them wholesale.

That being said, I also think it's important to understand that anonymous sourcing is normal. There is a process. We used anonymous sourcing on Friday because most congressional staffers don't want their names in the news, even in rather innocuous pieces like "How a bill becomes law." Some people stay anonymous to protect themselves, their reputation, or their agencies; others stay anonymous to do as much damage as possible or because they want to offer bad information. It's a difficult thing to parse.

At major outlets, though, anonymous sources are usually known by more than one person, and editors (if they are doing their job) will make sure a reporter really "has the goods" if they are pushing to include anonymous quotes. There are layers of fact-checking and protection. Professional risk and reputation are on the line.

I suppose at smaller outlets or less reputable places it would be easier to fudge the sourcing, but it's such a major ethical breach of journalistic standards I'd be surprised if any media outlet were to make a habit out of it and survive. But just to clear: You should always be skeptical of anonymous sources, but for different reasons.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

A new report suggests that half of the entire population of New York City is struggling to make ends meet. The "affordability crisis" has resulted in half of the city's households being unable to comfortably afford an apartment, access sufficient food, and obtain basic health care. The study, done by the Fund for the City of New York and United Way of New York City, is the latest evidence demonstrating how unaffordable America's largest city has become, and is emblematic of the rising cost of living that is impacting Americans in big cities across the country. The percentage of households struggling to afford basic needs is the highest of any year on record. According to the study, households in all five boroughs need to be making at least $100,000 per year to cover rent, food, and transportation. The New York Times has the story.


  • 67%. The percentage of 2020 Biden supporters who said they would support him in the Democratic nomination, according to a USA Today poll.
  • 14%. The percentage of those voters who said they would support Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
  • 5%. The percentage of those voters who said they would support Marianne Williamson.
  • 13%. The percentage of those voters who said they were undecided.
  • 48-45. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's lead over Biden in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • 3%. Biden's current polling lead over Trump in a head-to-head matchup.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

Last week, a Burger King franchise owner in Michigan decided to close 26 locations in metro Detroit. News of the closings left more than 400 people without jobs. But the cannabis company Stiiizy had a solution: Hire all of them. The company said the new jobs would pay more than $16 per hour, a higher wage than most workers were making at Burger King. Stiiizy is offering immediate jobs to up to 200 of the laid off workers, and said if there is enough interest they would hire another 200. So far, the legal cannabis industry has created more than 32,000 jobs in Michigan. Metro Times has the story, and you can read our coverage of cannabis legalization here.

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