Yes, Joe Biden Is Old. Is That All Republicans Have to Run On?

The Republican National Committee wants everyone to know that President Joe Biden, like many Americans on a hot Saturday in July, was at the beach. “A shirtless Joe Biden enjoys a relaxing day at the beach,” read a tweet from the RNC’s research arm. “Biden has spent 353 days — 39.2% of his presidency — on vacation.”

The tweet, which included a video of Biden on the beach, was later branded with a community note: “This count includes any days not spent at the White House, including weekends, which Biden spends in Delaware. Presidents may still work while away from the White House and are, in fact, expected to travel as part of diplomatic outreach.” Nevertheless, the tweet surely served its purpose in accusing Biden of lying down on the job, but also, by showing him “shirtless,” in reminding voters that the president is 80 years old. If the RNC’s tweet was more implicitly highlighting the president’s senior status, some on the right have been more explicit. “Yes, Biden Is Too Old to Serve as President,” declared the editors of National Review.

It seems that Republicans are obsessed with Biden’s age because that’s pretty much all they have to run on in 2024. In recent election cycles, Republicans could run on opposing mask mandates (no longer relevant); crime (the murder rate is falling); the Southern border (ending Title 42 was supposed to result in a sea of migrants, yet daily crossings are significantly down); inflation (also down), opposition to abortion (they already got Roe overturned, a politically unpopular move); and anti-LGBTQ+ rights. Sure, Republicans will still exaggerate the potential crisis that crime and inflation and unchecked immigration could pose, and stoke fears about “wokeness” run amok. But it’ll be harder to sell such talking points to journalists—and importantly—voters.

Whereas Biden is actually old. A May 2023 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed that “almost 4 in 10 Democrats said his mental fitness was a real concern as did 7 in 10 independents and, as expected, more than 8 in 10 Republicans.” The president’s age is certainly fair game in covering the upcoming election; Vanity Fair, for one, has explored the issue.

But that doesn’t mean Biden’s status as an octogenarian is going to propel Republicans back to the White House. Because the Biden age discourse only works if he’s running against a much younger candidate, like Florida governor Ron DeSantis (44), Miami mayor Francis Suarez, or tech bro Vivek Ramaswamy (37). And while some in the GOP field—along with one self-described Democrat—are trying to out-push-up each other in a kind of testosterone primary, it increasingly looks like Donald Trump’s nomination to lose. Maybe these guys have a shot if Trump gets hit by lightning, though it’s just as easy to see the 77-year-old former guy keep going and win the nomination anyway.

Republicans are hoping they can use age as a cudgel to beat the president. But opening the door to this could boomerang back at them. The problem for Republicans is that Biden is only three years older than Trump. In 2020, voters compared the two men and Biden won. It’s hard to imagine how, three years later, Biden will seem less healthy than Trump. After all, Biden is athletic. He starts every morning on the Peloton and lifting weights; he goes to bed early. Biden is photographed exercising, and Trump is known for his love of fast food (though leans more toward McDonald’s than Dairy Queen).

There are lots of voters who like fast food more than exercise, myself included, but if your platform is essentially “my guy is healthier,” the fast-food pics are going to hurt your case. Or, Republicans can hope voters take the assurance of now-MAGA congressman Ronny Jackson, who, as White House physician, declared that Trump “has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.” But we also know Trump was hospitalized for COVID during his presidency, and who was likely sicker than his administration admitted.

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