The State of the Union - 'At 78, Biden will be the oldest man to be US president yet'

Men erect flags on top of a building as residents of Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland, begin celebrations

Joe Biden was elected as the 46th US president - Credit: PA

We recently saw the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. In November, Biden won more votes than any candidate in US history. Although the result was not a landslide, he also won by a comfortable margin in the electoral college.
At 78, Biden will be the oldest man to be US president yet. The second oldest, Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left office in 1989. The next oldest is the outgoing president, Donald Trump who is 74.
There is no upper age limit on the presidency although presidents must be at least 35 years old. The youngest has been Theodore Roosevelt who took over aged 42 following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. The youngest to win a presidential election and then assume office was John F Kennedy who became president, aged 43 in 1961. Bill Clinton, 46, became the third youngest ever president in 1993.
Biden is the second Roman Catholic to be president. The first was again, JFK. One African-American, Barack Obama (who Biden was vice president to) has been president. No women have been president at all yet. A few such as Biden’s incoming vice president, Kamala Harris have run for the presidency before, but only Hilary Clinton has been nominated as the candidate by either party in 2016. As most of us probably remember, Hilary Clinton was defeated by Trump.
The incoming vice president, Kamala Harris, will be the first woman as well as the first African American and first Asian American to hold the post. She will be the highest-ranking elected woman official in US history. The late Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were both picked as vice presidential nominees by Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984 and the late Republican politician John McCain in 2008 respectively but none of these figures won the November election.
Biden is the first former vice president to become president since Richard Nixon (who had been Eisenhower’s VP between 1953 and 1961) in 1969. Nixon, incidentally, is the only US president to have resigned. Nixon quit under threat of impeachment over his role in the Watergate scandal in 1974. Andrew Johnson in the 1860s, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were all impeached but remained in office.
Democrat Grover Cleveland is the only man to lose the presidency and then win it back later. Cleveland was first elected in 1884 but lost to Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888, before returning to beat Harrison in 1892. Cleveland is thus both the 22nd and 24th US president. Confusingly, Biden is thus the 46th president but only the 45th man to have been president.
To add to the confusion, Cleveland lost in 1888 despite winning more actual votes than Harrison. Harrison only won because of the electoral college. Similar results occurred in 1824, 1876, 2000 and 2016, for example, in 2016, Hilary Clinton lost to Trump despite winning three million more votes than him. With the exception of 2004 (when Republican George W Bush beat Democrat John Kerry) the Republican nominee has scored fewer votes than the Democrat in all seven of the other presidential elections held since the 1980s.
Theoretically, Trump could emulate Grover Cleveland and run and win again in 2024. Also, in theory, another one-term president, Jimmy Carter could also do this in 2024 although it is unlikely as 2024 will also witness his 100th birthday! At 96, Carter is the oldest former president to have ever lived. Other surviving former presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all served two terms so would be barred from running again under rules introduced after Franklin D Roosevelt’s presidency. FDR was the longest-serving president ever winning four elections in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Such a feat would no longer be possible now. FDR died in 1945 after 12 years in office.
Trump is fairly unusual in being defeated in his bid for re-election after just one term, a fate which has befallen just four other men in the last century (Hoover in 1928, Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980 and Bush in 1992). Presidents were re-elected thirteen times during the same period.

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