When the New York Times begins to question your fitness for office, maybe retiring to your Rehoboth beach house doesn’t look like such a bad idea.
It’s extraordinary for a partisan news outlet like the New York Times to publish an in-depth look at such an “uncomfortable” issue as the president’s age. But the 2,500-word article makes a case that Republicans could never make without being accused of partisanship.
Joe Biden is too old to be president. The Times doesn’t come out and say it, but they quote plenty of other people — close aides, friends, and Democrats — who admit that Biden is showing his age and that it might not be such a great idea for him to run for president in 2024.
Mr. Biden’s public appearances have fueled that perception. His speeches can be flat and listless. He sometimes loses his train of thought, has trouble summoning names or appears momentarily confused. More than once, he has promoted Vice President Kamala Harris, calling her “President Harris.” Mr. Biden, who overcame a childhood stutter, stumbles over words like “kleptocracy.” He has said Iranian when he meant Ukrainian and several times called Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, “John,” confusing him with the late Republican senator of that name from Virginia.
It’s not a state secret. Biden’s difficulties with age are well known to foreign leaders, who tried their best to cover for him last month during his trip to Europe.
During his European trip last month, foreign leaders followed his lead while protectively treating him like a distinguished elderly relative. At a photo opportunity, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany gently pointed Mr. Biden in the direction of the cameras. Just before a meeting, a reporter twice shouted a question about getting grain out of Ukraine. When Mr. Biden could not hear the question, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, rescued him. “We’re working on it,” Mr. Johnson responded.
Those aides closest to Biden try their best to hide his infirmities, but it’s a nerve-wracking job to prevent the president from embarrassing himself.
But they acknowledged Mr. Biden looks older than just a few years ago, a political liability that cannot be solved by traditional White House stratagems like staff shake-ups or new communications plans. His energy level, while impressive for a man of his age, is not what it was, and some aides quietly watch out for him. He often shuffles when he walks, and aides worry he will trip on a wire. He stumbles over words during public events, and they hold their breath to see if he makes it to the end without a gaffe.
“I do feel it’s inappropriate to seek that office after you’re 80 or in your 80s,” said David Gergen, a top adviser to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. “I have just turned 80 and I have found over the last two or three years I think it would have been unwise for me to try to run any organization. You’re not quite as sharp as you once were.”
Experts on age say there’s no evidence Biden is incapacitated, but even partisan “experts” question whether he should run again. Jay Olshansky, a longevity specialist at the University of Illinois Chicago, told the Times that “there’s no evidence that the age of Biden should matter one ounce” in your vote for president. But what if he wins re-election?
Still, Professor Olshansky said it was legitimate to wonder if that would remain so at 86. “That’s the right question to be asking,” he said. “You can’t sugarcoat aging. Things go wrong as we get older and the risks rise the older we get.”
OK, professor. It won’t matter “one ounce” that Biden is going to be 86 after his second term. We’ll just cross our fingers and hope that things won’t go wrong in his second term.
Biden’s approval rating has dropped off the edge of the earth. It’s down to 30%, according to the Civiqs tracking poll. Biden is deep underwater with voters in every age bracket, every educational level, and both genders. Biden’s age may be of secondary concern to Democratic Party primary voters given Biden’s hugely unpopular stewardship of the nation.
Of course, Biden’s age is a legitimate issue — now that Democrats are making it one. It may be a little premature, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Biden is not going to run for re-election. The question now becomes one of timing. Biden may wait until after the midterms. He may even want to give Kamala Harris a leg up and resign from the presidency “for health reasons.” Giving Harris the “incumbent” tag may help her in the primaries, but she’d still be toast in the general election.
The Democrat’s gamble of presenting Biden as a “sane” alternative to Donald Trump has failed. And there’s no one on the horizon for Democrats who have the heft or stature to fill the leadership void.