With less than a year to go before election day 2024, the Biden campaign is stuck. How best to handle the age issue?
One campaign official speaking to a group of donors who are worried about the issue said that if age comes up, acknowledge that you can’t change Biden’s age and instead focus on his “historic accomplishments.”
That didn’t please everyone. Some donors don’t think age is an issue at all. Others believe that more attention should be paid to the age of Donald Trump, who is only three and a half years younger than Biden.
The point is that the Democrats are at sea when it comes to how they should handle the age issue. And it’s getting late in the day for them to come up with a strategy that doesn’t depend on deflection or distraction.
“Trump is old too” doesn’t cut it. Neither does touting Biden’s “accomplishments,” which many people don’t see as ”accomplishments” at all.
“I think everyone knows it’s an issue, and we have to address it,” said Ron Klain, who served as Biden’s chief of staff for his first two years in the White House. Klain also said that it’s important to “emphasize [that] it gives him more wisdom and experience, how he’s navigated this difficult problem in Ukraine.”
“He’ll keep on doing the job, campaigning with vigor and demonstrating to the American people his energy level, which is quite robust,” Klain said.
If Klain thinks the shuffling old man people see on TV is demonstrating “robust energy,” he needs an eye exam.
Biden and his team have deployed a number of responses. The president has been making light of his age for months, particularly at fundraisers, and his campaign has increasingly blasted out Trump’s own mental lapses on social media. In recent days, his campaign aides and surrogates have stressed that this “is not a time for rookies,” as Fulks said in a CNN interview earlier this month.
But nothing has seemed to move the president’s numbers. Seventy percent of likely voters in six battleground states said Biden is “too old to be an effective president,” according to The New York Times-Siena College poll released earlier this month. Only 39 percent of those battleground voters said Trump was too old. That’s virtually unchanged from April, when a Reuters/Ipsos poll found 73 percent of adults believed Biden is too old to be in office.
When in doubt, try to hide the age issue.
Even those in Biden’s inner circle, including family members, worry about the optics of age. Those close allies believe that Biden is mentally up for the job, but some acknowledge that the president can at times appear frail, according to two people involved in the conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations.
One example: As noted on his recent physical, Biden’s gait has stiffened following foot fractures he suffered playing with his dog in late 2020. People close to the president have discussed having him walk shorter distances while on camera. They’ve also advocated, at times, trading in formal shoes for more comfortable ones — both to make his stride seem less stiff, but also to reduce the risk of falls.
I don’t think the Biden team will be successful in covering up his frailty. This is especially true when he starts spouting incoherent word salad. Soft shoes and not walking as far can’t hide his mental decline.
If he tries to hide in Delaware or the White House, Trump will annihilate him. And if he tries to appear vigorous and in control, he’s going to be the gaffe machine we’ve come to know and love.
The Democrats’ only hope is that Biden doesn’t get much worse before the election.