Worries from U.S. voters that President Biden is too old to serve another four-year term as president are increasingly looking like the biggest challenge the president faces in winning reelection next year.
Biden, at the age of 80, is already the oldest person to serve as president, and he would be 86 at the end of his second term.
The longevity would beat any other president who served by a large margin. Former President Reagan finished his second term at 77, while former President Trump — who is the favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination — ended his first term at 74.
Biden has some work to do to convince voters he has the mental and physical capacity to run for reelection.
A whopping 68 percent of voters in a recent NBC News poll said they worry about Biden’s health with 55 percent reflecting “major” concerns.
In a USA Today/Suffolk University poll of Democrats and Independents, 37 percent say the president’s age made them less likely to vote for him. A third poll from The Economist-YouGov found that 45 percent of independents say Biden’s health and age “severely limit his ability to do the job.”
“The president’s age is certainly going to be a headwind on his reelection campaign. The polling says so, and the examples will certainly keep coming as he is in the public eye,” said Stewart Verdery, who served in former President George W. Bush’s administration.
But Verdery, the CEO of Monument Advocacy, said Biden’s age might not be as much of an issue in a general election against Trump, who is 77 years old.
“If he were likely running against a modern JFK on a sailboat, it might be more of an issue. But as long as his main foil is in Mar-a-Lago, the president’s age may cause swing voters to pause before they still pull the lever for him,” he said.
The White House this week pushed back on questions about Biden’s health.
“The president — shoot, he traveled yesterday, he’s traveling again today. You saw how extensively he traveled during the midterms. And especially his foreign travel, this is someone who is incredibly active as president,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.
Biden increasingly has been self-deprecating about his age, joking he is 198, 103 or 110 in recent speeches.
He’s acknowledging his age is an issue for some voters, and he has reportedly sought the counsel of Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is encouraging him to own his longevity like Harrison Ford and Mick Jagger.
“By the way, I’ve been doing this a long time. I know I don’t look that old. I know. I’m a little under 103,” Biden said in recent remarks. “But all kidding aside … I was a pretty powerful senator.”
Still, the 80-year-old president’s age is also now something that carries over into everything he does, putting a physical or verbal stumble under a different kind of microscope.
When he tripped and fell at an event earlier this summer, there were worries about his health. To his political foes, it was evidence of his fragile state, even if a younger man might also have tripped.
On Monday night and Tuesday, Biden, who has a long history of misstatements, twice confused Ukraine for Iraq.
Opponents seize on these mistakes as evidence that Biden has lost a step and should not be running for a second term.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in an interview with Fox News this week, said he thinks California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is “maneuvering in the background,” and it would be interesting to see how things play out “if Biden doesn’t ultimately make it.”
“They would have a real clown show if Biden wasn’t able to make it,” he added. His comments echo fellow Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who said in April that Biden is unlikely to “make it” to 86.
Some political analysts think the GOP is playing with fire in going after Biden’s age, even if it is an issue for some voters. They say it risks angering older voters.
“You can point it out, but you don’t want to lean in too heavily here,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye. “Tone is important here. You can talk about mistakes that he’s made and so forth. But if you’re over the top, you [risk] a backlash, especially with senior voters.”
Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy for the Democratic think tank Third Way, said the best thing for the White House to do is focus on the president’s accomplishments.
“They can make a counterargument, which is that his experience has made the difference. And if you looked at what he’s accomplished in the last two and a half years, it’s close to a biblical miracle,” he said. “Like, no one thought the number of bipartisan bills passed the last Congress was possible. And it happened. He outfoxed Vladimir Putin.”
The White House this week confirmed Biden began using a CPAP machine in recent weeks to improve his sleep quality after reporters noticed lines visible on his face.
While Trump is nearing 80, Republicans argue his apparent energy gives him an advantage over Biden.
Heye said voters will ultimately get to compare the two if they win their parties’ nominations and debate.
Democrats are brushing off the verbal gaffes, noting they took place with Biden was younger, too.
“President Biden’s age has been an issue since before the 2020 election, and he’s been notorious for making gaffes most of his political career. There’s really not much new here,” one Biden ally said.
Biden faces other challenges, including the economy and son Hunter Biden’s legal problems, which have drawn GOP scrutiny. These are also factors in his lower approval ratings which have lingered around 40 percent.
Still, many see age as an issue where Biden will once again have to prove something to the electorate.
“The No. 1 thing I hear about Biden, and it doesn’t matter where I am, is his age. And that’s true of people who like them. That’s true people who don’t like him,” Heye said. “So he’s got a real problem there.”
Source: The Hill