J.oe Biden is less than four years older than Donald Trump. When Biden became the oldest president ever to be sworn in in 2021, it was Trump’s record he was breaking. Today, the two men once again appear to be the oldest pair of major party candidates in history.
And yet polls show voters are far more worried about whether the 81-year-old president can manage another four years in the White House than his 77-year-old predecessor, a concern that exploded to the forefront this week after a report alleging that Biden exhibited multiple memory lapses. Conversations with voters, political strategists and others suggest that these feelings are about more than Biden being older than Trump; this is how the behavior and appearance of both men, but of Biden in particular, has changed in recent years.
“Look at everything that’s happened in the last three years with this guy,” says Travis Aslin, an Iowa independent who says he supported Democrats but can’t bring himself to vote for Biden. “The word salad, the tripping, you know, standing on a stage and looking like…honest to God, he looks like my grandfather. My grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
As we face the oldest presidential showdown in American history, questions of health and competence are likely to come up again and again over the next nine months. And both campaigns will strive to make their adversary appear shady, senile and infirm, and their own man the image of vigor and vigor.
Perhaps the most damaging ammunition in this fight came Thursday in a report on an investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents. Special counsel Robert Hur, a Republican and former Trump appointee, said he was not making accusations against Biden, but alleged the president didn’t remember the basic facts and described it as “an elderly, friendly, well-meaning man with a bad memory.” The Trump campaign quickly released a statement calling Biden “senile.” The President held a last minute meeting press conference where he insisted that “my memory is good” and raged against Hur’s accusations.
The latest attack on Biden’s mental acuity follows recent efforts by the Biden team to turn the tables on Trump, who has had his own share of misfires. A new ad from the Biden camp shows how Trump recently confused Nikki Haley, his latest opponent for the GOP nomination, with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Both Haley and Biden used Trump’s recent mix-ups to hammer the former president on his skills; Biden’s ad even features a clip of Haley saying, “He’s not who he was in 2016. He refused.” » Then the video returns to Trump’s other stumbles, including his claims that he won all 50 states (he didn’t) and that you need a voter ID to buy a loaf of bread (this is not the case).
“President Trump continues to lead in poll after poll, both in the primary and general elections,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung wrote in a statement to TIME. “There is no other candidate in history who has the energy and stamina of President Trump, and he will surpass Joe Biden to save America.”
Some of Biden’s public mistakes have arguably been worse than Trump’s. In 2022, it request if a congresswoman who recently died in a car accident was present at a White House event. Last year he referred to the war in Ukraine as to the war in Iraq. At a campaign event in Las Vegas this month, Biden suggested he recently met with former French President François Mitterrand, who died nearly thirty years ago, before quickly correcting himself. He later confused German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the late Helmut Kohl. Thursday he you are mixedp the Mexican and Egyptian presidents.
But even though Trump has a habit of bulldozing outlandish remarks at every rally he holds, the frequency of his public appearances may blunt the impact of those statements in voters’ minds. Meanwhile, some voters feel like Biden is dodging the public.
“When you look at public access and transparency, you see a difference,” says Scott Strunc, a Republican small business owner from Omaha who supported Trump in 2020 but said he would not vote for him again . “There is no hesitation on Trump’s part, but there appears to be protection from President Biden.”
Biden’s decision to speak to reporters Thursday to respond to Hur’s report underscored how rarely he participates in such meetings. He has had fewer press conferences and sit-down interviews than his predecessors and opted to skip the traditional Super Bowl interview this weekend. While attending rallies and fundraisers, he is also following the advice of advisors who have urged him to do more. the informal campaign stops, which they say play up his strengths as a retail politician and help him appear younger. Joining the president on a recent ride in his motorcade, one supporter said he was surprised that Biden seemed “very sharp.” And his team is working to compare Trump and Biden on issues other than age and acuity.
“There are big differences between the president and Donald Trump, and that is ultimately what Americans will vote on in November,” campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt wrote in a statement to TIME. “President Biden was the first president to march on a picket line, and Donald Trump wants to give even more tax cuts to his friends on Park Avenue. Biden will restore Roe deer, and Trump would ban abortion nationwide. President Biden will protect our democracy, and Donald Trump is an election denier. »
Always a recent Gallup survey indicated that less than a third of Americans would be willing to vote for an otherwise qualified candidate from their party over the age of eighty. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that three-quarters of Americans, including more than half of Democrats, think Biden is too old to work in government, with only half of voters and a third of Republicans saying the same about Trump. A January NBC Poll found nearly identical numbers saying they were concerned about Biden’s health, while fewer than half of those surveyed said the same about Trump.
A health summary released by Biden’s doctor early last year, it described him as “healthy,” “vigorous” and “fit to successfully discharge the duties of the presidency.” Trump, known for frequenting McDonalds and Coca-Cola, is no spring chicken, even though his doctor issued a note in November saying his test results were normal, he had lost weight weight and that “his cognitive tests were exceptional”.
A Democratic strategist blamed media double standards for the disproportionate concern over Biden’s age compared to Trump’s. “But we peel back the layers a little more and it’s a little more complicated,” added the strategist, who requested anonymity to speak more freely about the leader of his party. “For someone who’s watched him age over the years, he’s basically the same guy I’ve been looking at for years, but he’s just… his walk is so stiff. That sometimes gives the Republicans, the RNC, a lot to say.
Beverly Hallberg, who provides media coaching to Republicans as president of District Media Group, says Biden has long attracted attention for his occasional gaffes. When he became vice president, she says, those moments helped cultivate a “Joe’s just one of us” mentality for many voters.
“He could go up there and command an audience. He had a strong tone when he spoke, his consonants were clear,” she said.
What has changed more recently, Hallberg says, is the way Biden speaks, which she describes as “cussing” and “mumbling.” The public saw a glimpse of that problem when he responded to Hur’s report Thursday evening, evading words when talking about the time he spent with the special counsel.
A few Superficial factors also shape voters’ perceptions.
Patrick Kenger, a men’s stylist at Pivot Image Consultancy, says Biden’s gray hair could cause voters to view him as more than three years older than Trump. “In general, the more gray you have in your hair, in your beard, you’ll look a little older,” he says.
To be fair, both men’s public appearances attract their fair share of attention. A recent photo from Getty appeared to point out how much makeup Trump was wearing, his face bright and orange at a rally in Iowa. Kenger adds, however, that Biden’s skin looks less youthful than Trump’s. “You could attribute that to genetics,” he says.
When Megyn Kelly suggested Trump in a September interview that he must have good genes, he admitted, noting that his father lived to be 90 years old. “It’s really a parent thing,” he said. “I believe in the racehorse theory. Fast horses produce fast horses.
But, perhaps sensing his own vulnerabilities on the age issue, Trump passed up the opportunity to attack Biden on the issue. When Kelly asked if Biden was too old to be president, Trump responded that age had nothing to do with it.
“Age is interesting because some people are very sharp and others lose it,” Trump said, adding: “But no, he’s not too old at all. He is clearly incompetent. Look at some of the great world leaders, they were 80 years old and this is what they did – Churchill, and so many people, they were phenomenal at 80 years old. There is great wisdom if you are not in a position like him.
Soon, voters will decide whether they agree.
“I’m concerned; eighty years is old and we need a president who can do the job,” says Ethan Hughes, a 21-year-old college student from Iowa and a Democrat. “I don’t think it’s my main concern.”
Hughes adds that he definitely won’t vote for Trump. He is satisfied with Biden’s achievements. His grandmother’s farm in Mason City received high-speed internet access last year thanks to the infrastructure bill. And when he saw Biden outside, Hughes was quite pleased.
“He looks healthy,” Hughes said. “He’s on his bike all the time. He walks. Eating a little too much ice cream, maybe, but who wouldn’t? »