President Biden is 80 years old. Former President Trump is 77.
Yet age has become a defining part of Biden’s image, and is potentially his political Achilles’ heel. Polls suggest voters in both political parties have doubts about electing Biden to a second term because of his age.
In contrast, age rarely comes up as a criticism of Trump, a double-standard frustrating to some Democrats defending Biden’s acuity and stamina.
“Joe Biden is getting older, we all know that. But the other guy he’s probably going to be running against is getting older, too. And in the focus groups that I’m doing, old and steady still beats old and crazy,” Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha said on CBS News.
Democrats acknowledge age is a factor in the race and is a part of the equation when it comes to the president. Biden walks slowly and sometimes falters with his speech. There are days when he looks every day of his nearly 81 years.
Yet Biden has also repeatedly shown his acuity, political savvy and stamina, from baiting Republicans at the State of the Union address on cuts to Social Security, to his recent marathon trip to India and Vietnam.
And there are of course virtues to age.
“Look, here’s what I know, here’s what I can speak to. I can speak to that — a president who has wisdom,” White House Press Secretary Karrine Jean-Piere said when asked recently about suggestions he is being treated with kid gloves by his staff. “I can speak to a president who has experience. I can speak to a president who has taken historic action and has delivered historic pieces of legislation. And that’s important.”
Trump doesn’t have the same responsibilities as Biden as a former president. He doesn’t maintain Biden’s schedule, which includes near-daily appearances and occasional international travel. But when on camera, giving a speech or doing an interview, Trump can come across as forceful and fast-thinking.
“Trump talks louder and faster than Biden does and moves with a thudding force,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni observed this week. “He’s like a freight train to Biden’s cable car, or a big, bulbous tuba to Biden’s tremulous piccolo. Listening to Biden, I want a volume knob I can turn up. Listening to Trump, I crave nonsense-canceling headphones.”
Democrats also haven’t made a point of going on the attack against Trump over his age. That’s partly because it would expose them to attacks on Biden’s age. But it’s also because they see much bigger reasons to keep Trump out of the White House again than his age.
“His age is the last thing I’m worried about,” said Jim Kessler, a co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way. “He is an authoritarian monster who happens to be old.”
Polls suggest another tight race between Trump and Biden if Trump is the GOP nominee, but there are reasons for Democrats to think the former president would be an easier opponent to face than some of his younger opponents.
Age is a part of that equation, but the fear Trump inspires in many voters is another reason. Trump has shown an ability to drive his own supporters to the polls, but also his detractors.
“Trump has bigger challenges than his age, doesn’t he?” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser who has backed DeSantis.
Attacks and criticisms of Biden’s age have been a much bigger part of the emerging race so far.
A Wall Street Journal poll published earlier this month found 73 percent of Americans said the phrase “too old to run for president” described Biden at least “somewhat well,” compared to 47 percent who felt the phrase described Trump at least somewhat well.
Some of the criticisms of Biden have even come from somewhat friendly quarters.
In an op-ed published late Tuesday, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a usually reliable Biden booster, urged the president not to run for a second term, citing his age as a major liability with voters that could lead to his defeat at the hands of Trump.
“Biden’s age isn’t just a Fox News trope; it’s been the subject of dinner-table conversations across America this summer,” the columnist wrote. “Biden has another chance to say no — to himself, this time — by withdrawing from the 2024 race. It might not be in character for Biden, but it would be a wise choice for the country.”
White House allies largely responded to the Ignatius column with frustration and eye-rolls, viewing it as the latest example of a media columnist or pundit calling for Biden to step aside or reevaluate the Democratic ticket, an argument they believe is simply not rooted in reality.
“Something about hypotheticals not rooted in any suggestion of reality sucking up all of the air in the room just doesn’t sit right with me,” Symone Sanders, a former Biden campaign spokeswoman who served as Vice President Harris’ press secretary, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“So, Biden will be the Dem’s nominee. Harris is on the ticket,” Sanders added. “The [question] to ask is ‘will people vote for them?’ Not ‘should he run?’”
Biden and his team have repeatedly said that while it’s fair for voters to raise the president’s age as an issue, they should judge Biden on his actions and his record in the job.
Trump has attacked Biden on all kind of issues and has been a behind-the-scenes player urging Republicans in the House to move forward with an impeachment inquiry against the president.
But he generally doesn’t attack Biden on age.
“Age is interesting because some people are very sharp, and some people do lose it, but you lose it at 40 and 50, also,” Trump told SiriusXM’s “The Megyn Kelly Show” in a program that aired Thursday. “But no, he’s not too old at all. He’s grossly incompetent.”
Trump has shown some sensitivity on the subject of his age and mental fitness for office.
The former president in July 2020 bragged repeatedly about his performance on a test designed to detect signs of Alzheimer’s Disease or cognitive impairment. He also suggested in an interview before announcing his 2024 run that he would have to consider things like a doctor’s assessment while contemplating his political future.
“If [Biden’s] the nominee they’ll lose because he’s a lousy candidate,” Trump told Kelly. “So, you know, I’d rather take on the age issue. I feel I’m physically extremely good. I feel the same way I did 40 years ago.”