For many of a certain age, there comes a time when marking yet another birthday, taking note of yet another entry in the calendar, is no longer greeted with the same enthusiasm as before. And this is for people who aren’t even running for president.
For President Biden, who turns 81 on Monday, another birthday could bring more responsibility than celebration, offering a further reminder of his age to an already skeptical electorate. Unlike other presidents who have celebrated their birthdays with lavish political events, Mr. Biden plans to celebrate his birthday privately with his family on Nantucket later this week.
The best birthday present the oldest president in American history could hope for would be a strategy to assuage voters’ concerns, but that has been difficult to achieve. Mr. Biden and his team have taken the approach that his record on domestic legislation and international leadership should belie any concerns about his ability, even though polls have consistently shown that this argument has not been convincing, at least not yet.
Some Democrats say Mr. Biden must do more to draw a contrast with his most likely Republican challenger, former President Donald J. Trump, who, at 77, has himself has been confused in public lately. Mr. Trump warned that the country was on the brink of World War II, confused the leaders of Hungary and Turkey and bragged about beating former President Barack Obama in the polls when, well Of course, Mr. Obama is not a candidate. If Mr. Trump wins next year and stays in office for four years, he will become the nation’s oldest president.
Others, including some current and former administration officials, said Mr. Biden’s staffers should stop treating him like an old man they don’t trust and let him interact more with the public and journalists. Some said the president needs to start hitting the campaign trail more to show his vigor, deploying more humor to defuse the issue and even bragging about his age rather than ignoring it.
Others, however, said he needed to be protected even more, given more time to rest and not sent on so many grueling international trips – what some cheekily call the strategy “bubble wrap,” like enclosing it in bubble wrap for the next 12 years. months to make sure he doesn’t trip or fall.
If some of these claims are contradictory, it may be because there are no easy answers, just as Democrats are obsessed with Mr. Biden’s age. One thing the White House can’t do is rejuvenate him. In a recent New York Times/Siena College survey of battleground states, 71% said Mr. Biden was “too old” to be president, including 54 percent of his own supporters. By contrast, 39 percent said that about Mr. Trump.
“He doesn’t look and talk the part,” said John B. Judis, a longtime political analyst and author with Ruy Teixeira of “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?” released earlier this month. “He is not an imposing or charming presence on the stage of a presidential or presidential election.”
Mr Judis said he believed Mr Biden had demonstrated “astonishing success” in passing major legislation aimed at strengthening infrastructure, reducing drug costs and tackling climate change, and added that he planned to vote for the president himself. But he noted that presidents are supposed to be both the head of government and the head of state — a prime minister and a king, if you will — and that the public performance part had eluded Mr. Biden.
“I think a lot of voters, and young people in particular, who are not at all put off by his political positions or achievements, are put off by his utter failure as a royal figure,” Mr Judis said. “And I don’t know how this can be resolved.” Not by bike. Biden’s best hope in this regard lies in Trump voters’ perception of a bad, even evil, father who wants to destroy the family.
Nothing irritates White House officials more than discussion of Mr. Biden’s age, which they view as a media obsession that does not fit with the energetic, mentally sharp president they portray inside from the Oval Office. While Mr. Biden moves when he walks, speaks in a low voice that can be difficult to hear and sometimes confuses names and details in public, they note that he maintains an overwhelming schedule that would tire a younger president.
In recent weeks alone, he has spent countless hours managing the war between Israel and Hamas, while holding separate summits with leaders from Asia, Europe and the Western Hemisphere. He did a day trip to Israeltraveling around the world and back without stopping in a hotel room, and they said he worked tirelessly on the phones dealing with high-stakes foreign crises.
Asked about his upcoming birthday, the White House did not directly address the age issue Sunday but chose to focus on the president’s accomplishments, emphasizing that his long experience in Washington has paid off.
“Thanks to President Biden’s decades of experience in public service and his close relationship with congressional leaders, he passed legislation that helped create more than 14 million jobs, lower the cost of medicines on order, to invest in American infrastructure and technology and to lead to the strongest economic growth. recovery in the developed world,” Ben LaBolt, White House communications director, said in a statement.
“He revitalized alliances on the global stage – cultivated over many years – to advance America’s interests and respond forcefully when global crises erupt,” Mr. LaBolt added.
Simon Rosenberg, a veteran Democratic strategist, said the White House should lean even more on Mr. Biden’s age advantages rather than being on the defensive.
“He succeeded because of his age, not in spite of it,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “We’re all going to have to make this point because it’s true. We cannot escape the question of age. This will be an important part of the debate, but we would be making a political mistake if we did not challenge it more aggressively.”
Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster, said there were naturally limits to what the White House could do. “There’s nothing anyone, even a president, can do to avoid celebrating a birthday,” she said. “President Biden should continue to do what he does: connect personally with people, make jokes about media coverage, and highlight the accomplishments of his administration.”
Some party strategists have argued that age has recently dominated discussions about Mr. Biden, in part because the president has not yet fully committed to the fight against Mr. Trump. Ultimately, they said, Democrats and independents who are wary of a president who would be 86 at the end of a second term will conclude that it is better to support an octogenarian with whom they agree instead that another one soon-. Being an octogenarian, they see it as a threat to democracy, abortion rights and other issues they care about.
“This issue, like many others, will disappear once the campaign enters the general election phase,” said Brian Fallon, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Once the race is reframed As a choice, it will be impossible for Republicans to try to weaponize the age issue when their own candidate will also be over 80 in his next term.”
If it were to work, it would be the best birthday present Mr Biden could hope for when he turns 82 next year. That’s of course a big if.