Why Joe Biden Has Slow-Walked His Way to a 2024 Run

Closed-door planning meetings involving White House officials, the Democratic National Committee and outside advisers are intensifying as President Biden nears a final decision about how and when to kick off his 2024 campaign.

Mr. Biden’s seemingly off-the-cuff remark at an airport in Ireland on Friday that he would announce his campaign “relatively soon” was the kind of tantalizingly vague comment that could be — and was — read by his aides and others as either a reaffirmation that he was in no particular hurry to announce or a sign of gathering momentum.

Behind the scenes, advisers and allies are weighing how soon the president should set in motion a re-election operation — an announcement that will surprise no one but will signal the start of a challenging new phase of his presidency.

Before Mr. Biden’s remarks on Friday, conflicting signals abounded about the imminence of an announcement. Preparations have accelerated, according to people involved in and briefed on the planning sessions, even as those involved discuss the pros and cons of delaying a formal announcement into early summer, seeing little advantage in interrupting Republican infighting. At the same time, there has been increasing discussion among the broader Biden team about the notion of a low-key video announcement on April 25, the fourth anniversary of his entrance to the 2020 race — the kind of symmetry that Mr. Biden is said to appreciate.

What is clear is that any external pressure that Mr. Biden and his team once felt to formally enter the 2024 race has mostly evaporated. No serious primary challenge to the president has emerged, and potential opponents have rallied behind him. The leading Republican candidate, former President Donald J. Trump, faces felony charges related to a hush-money payment to a porn star. And Republicans are generally more focused on thrashing one another and dragging the party to the right than on attacking Mr. Biden, who is content to draw a sharp contrast to the G.O.P. chaos from the Oval Office.

“There is no immediate urgency,” said Kate Bedingfield, who recently departed the White House as communications director. “The president has the luxury of being able to decide when he wants to announce.”

The waiting game began last year, with the suggestion that Mr. Biden would enter the race after the winter holidays. Then came hints that a campaign would begin after the State of the Union address and the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. Then the likely timing was April, to take advantage of the beginning of a fund-raising quarter. (Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said, “There has never been a time frame for any announcement.”)

Inside the West Wing, Mr. Biden has kept most direct discussions about 2024 limited to a pin-size inner circle, where two senior aides, Anita Dunn and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, are taking the lead. He has yet to designate a campaign chief, and only last week Democrats announced that Chicago would host the party’s 2024 convention.

Mr. Biden traveled to Kyiv in February and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Credit…Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times

At 80, Mr. Biden is already the oldest president in American history, and he is likely to face questions about his plans no matter how many times he teases his re-election intentions without formalizing them. “I’m planning on running, Al,” he told Al Roker of NBC News at the White House Easter Egg Roll last week. “But we’re not prepared to announce it yet.”

Mr. Biden’s timeline is well behind where President Barack Obama’s was at this point in 2011. Mr. Obama released a video that year in the first week of April announcing his bid, but top aides including David Axelrod and Jim Messina had begun forming the campaign months earlier. And Mr. Obama had chosen Charlotte, N.C., to host the convention in early February 2011.

Who’s Running for President in 2024?

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The race begins. Four years after a historically large number of candidates ran for president, the field for the 2024 campaign is starting out small and is likely to be headlined by the same two men who ran last time: President Biden and Donald Trump. Here’s who has entered the race so far, and who else might run:

Donald Trump. The former president is running to retake the office he lost in 2020. Though somewhat diminished in influence within the Republican Party — and facing several legal investigations — he retains a large and committed base of supporters, and he could be aided in the primary by multiple challengers splitting a limited anti-Trump vote.

Nikki Haley. The former governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador under Trump has presented herself as a member of “a new generation of leadership” and emphasized her life experience as a daughter of Indian immigrants. She was long seen as a rising G.O.P. star but her allure in the party has declined amid her on-again, off-again embrace of Trump.

Vivek Ramaswamy. The multimillionaire entrepreneur and author describes himself as “anti-woke” and is known in right-wing circles for opposing corporate efforts to advance political, social and environmental causes. He has never held elected office and does not have the name recognition of most other G.O.P. contenders.

Asa Hutchinson. The former governor of Arkansas is one of a relatively small number of Republicans who have been openly critical of Trump. Hutchinson has denounced the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and said Trump should drop out of the presidential race.

President Biden. While Biden has not formally declared his candidacy for a second term, he is widely expected to run. But there has been much hand-wringing among Democrats over whether he should seek re-election given his age. If he does run, Biden’s strategy is to frame the race as a contest between a seasoned leader and a conspiracy-minded opposition.

Marianne Williamson. The self-help author and former spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey is running for a second time. In her 2020 campaign, the Democrat called for a federal Department of Peace, supported reparations for slavery and called Trumpism a symptom of an illness in the American psyche that could not be cured with political policies.

Others who might run. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire are seen as weighing Republican bids for the White House. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a longtime vaccine skeptic, filed paperwork to run as a Democrat.

A top Democratic donor allied with Mr. Biden was quietly asked early this year to begin planning for a New York fund-raising trip in late April or early May to coincide with a potential kickoff to a 2024 re-election campaign. Then the donor received new guidance recently that such an event was on hold — and no new timeline was provided.

“The longer he waits, the less scrutiny he is under,” Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist, said. “You have to measure that against creating momentum in these states that will matter. You’ve got to build infrastructure.”

The desire to rebuild key relationships and renew political outreach in a way that only a campaign makes possible is one of the few internal pressures to get started. Mr. Biden won the Electoral College by a comfortable 306 to 232, but seven states in 2020 were decided by less than three percentage points.

Money is at the center of the timing conversation. Delaying will postpone building a war chest for the general election.

Those preparing to raise money for the campaign express few doubts that the party’s big donors will pony up to back Mr. Biden, and some officials fear an earlier entry might prove to be a wheel-spinning exercise, demanding that the aging president traverse the grueling fund-raising circuit sooner than necessary.

And given that a majority of Democrats consistently say in polls that they prefer someone other than Mr. Biden as the nominee, a reliable infusion of grass-roots dollars is not guaranteed — at least until voters see the stakes of the election. Mr. Biden struggled to raise money online in 2019, breaking records only once he emerged as the nominee.

Mr. Biden’s advisers argue that he and the Democrats bucked political history — and similar low ratings — to outperform in the 2022 midterm elections, in part by relentlessly painting Republicans as extremists.

That is the basic blueprint for 2024. The Biden campaign-in-waiting is expected to be built around one of the president’s favorite political sayings: Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.

On four consecutive days last week, Mr. Biden posted tweets attacking “MAGA Republicans,” part of a drumbeat of warnings about the policies that Republicans want to roll back, including abortion rights. The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade turbocharged Democratic voters in 2022 and is expected to be a motivator into 2024, even if abortion has been an uneasy topic for Mr. Biden.

If Mr. Obama had soaring oratory and Mr. Trump had concertlike rallies, Mr. Biden’s advisers feel his strength is his governing ability and projection of competence. Spending time on the campaign trail, with its unscripted moments, introduces the risk of age-related mishaps.

The president’s slipping on stairs while boarding Air Force One or falling off a bicycle were minor episodes during his first two years in office that nonetheless circulated heavily in the conservative news media. A similar incident during the heat of a presidential campaign could be far more significant.

Mr. Biden’s advisers believe his strength is his governing ability and projection of competence. Spending time on the campaign trail, with its unscripted moments, introduces the risk of age-related mishaps. Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Ms. O’Malley Dillon, the White House deputy chief of staff, said Mr. Biden was maintaining an aggressive schedule. “Whether it was in Kyiv, barnstorming the country highlighting the manufacturing jobs he’s bringing back, averting international crises in the wee hours of the morning like he did in Bali or putting Republicans on defense over Social Security in the State of the Union, the American people and the world see his qualified leadership,” she said, “and younger aides have to push themselves to keep up with that pace.”

Republicans have steadily hammered Mr. Biden’s mental and physical state, and are already trying to transform any Rose Garden-based approach into a liability. “He’s going to be Biden in the basement again,” Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, predicted on Fox News last week.

The Biden operation has taken steps to signal a coming bid, like announcing a “national advisory board” of influential Democratic leaders last month in The Washington Post. But some of the elected officials who were named as top Biden surrogates on the board found out about their involvement in such a council only when reading about it, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. There have been no communications to the full advisory board since its creation.

In Washington, speculation has raged about who will serve as campaign manager, with an approved short list of Democratic operatives circulating for potential senior roles. Yet not all of the people on that list have had substantive contact with top Biden officials this year.

Michael LaRosa, a former adviser to Jill Biden, the first lady, said power would inevitably be centralized at the White House regardless of the location of the campaign’s headquarters — Wilmington, Del., is favored but Philadelphia has also been under consideration — or the person named as campaign manager.

“The person who is going to be running the campaign is going to be taking orders from the West Wing,” Mr. LaRosa said. He described Mike Donilon, Ms. Dunn, Ms. O’Malley Dillon, Steve Ricchetti and Bruce Reed as “the five people who inform his decision making when it comes to anything on policy or politics.”

“And I don’t mean that in a disparaging way,” he added. “This president, like every president before him, has a small circle of trust who he seeks advice from.”

A top Biden adviser disagreed with the suggestion that the West Wing would dominant the campaign, saying the eventual campaign manager would be “empowered.”

Whenever he does enter the race, Mr. Biden is expected to reveal a slate of top campaign advisers — not just a single campaign manager — to put forward a diverse team.

“They should have as much diversity as they can at the highest echelons of the campaign,” said Mr. Rocha, who has focused on mobilizing Latino voters. “Their biggest challenge is going to be motivating Latinos to vote for him.”

Mr. Biden has been doing some extra contributor outreach. Donors are often among the attendees to the White House Easter Egg Roll, and some were among those invited to an additional breakfast with Mr. Biden and the first lady in the state dining room before the event, according to two people with knowledge of the breakfast, which did not appear on the president’s public schedule.

Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, Democrat of Delaware, who is close with Mr. Biden, downplayed the timing of his 2024 entry. “The American people are going to judge him on the job that he’s done for four years as president,” she said, “not on the one day that he announces.”

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