One of the more frequently discussed issues in party circles is the president’s age, so a contributor questioned Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, about it at the Democratic National Committee’s September fundraiser retreat.
How, the person asked during a question-and-answer session on the 2024 campaign, should contributors handle the torrent of worries they’ve received about it?
Fulks admitted the obvious, that the President, who is 81 on Monday, can’t be made younger. He suggested that the contributor instead think about Biden’s historic achievements.
Those who see Fulks’s age as a sign of his extensive experience praised his response, which was described by four people who attended the session, while those who fear not enough is being done to remind voters that former President Donald Trump is just three and a half years younger voiced their disagreement. Overall, it shed light on a more systemic problem the party is currently facing: there is disagreement on how to best deal with the president’s most delicate weakness.
More than a dozen Biden donors, fundraisers, Democratic strategists, and party officials were interviewed, and many were given anonymity to voice their concerns that the campaign’s handling of voters’ concerns about Biden’s age. Many funders are putting pressure on top campaign staff to take the offensive, emphasising Biden’s age as evidence of his wisdom in uncertain times. They are lobbying for additional comedic “Grandpa Joe” moments.
“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. That he “has navigated this difficult problem in Ukraine” provides him “more wisdom and experience,” he said.
Klain predicted that Trump will continue to “do the job,” campaigning with vigour and showing the American people his “quite robust” energy level.
Yet some worry that not enough has been done to draw equally severe attention to Trump’s own advanced age.
Alan Kessler, a Democratic contributor and Biden bundler, noted that while both Trump and Biden will not be much younger on their next birthdays, Biden is constantly mocked for his advanced years while Trump is not. No one ever comments on Trump’s advanced years. This double standard worries me.
Vice President Biden and his staff have prepared many countermeasures. The president has been making jokes about his age for a while now, especially at fundraisers, and his campaign has been highlighting his own memory errors on social media at an increasing rate. This “is not a time for rookies,” as Fulks put it in a CNN interview earlier this month, his surrogates and campaign staff have been saying in recent days.
But the president’s poll numbers haven’t budged despite our best efforts. According to a study conducted by The New York Times and Siena College and published earlier this month, 70% of probable voters in six swing states believe that Biden is “too old to be an effective president.” Only 39% of swing voters believed Trump was too elderly to be president. That’s nearly identical from April, when a Reuters/Ipsos poll revealed 73 percent of Americans think Biden is too elderly to be in office.
Members of Biden’s inner circle, including his family, are concerned about the effects of his advanced age on his public image. Two sources familiar with the discussions who were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly said that the president’s closest supporters feel that Vice President Biden is psychologically capable of doing his duties.
A recent physical examination revealed, for instance, that Biden’s gait has tightened because of the foot fractures he sustained late in 2020 while playing with his dog. People close to the president have considered having him walk shorter distances when on television. They have also suggested that he switch out his dress shoes for something more casual in order to soften the appearance of his gait and decrease the likelihood of injury.
It has been argued by some Democrats that Biden’s campaign has been too dismissive of the possibility that the president’s age will hinder him in the election. They want Biden’s team to on the attack and highlight the younger, more diverse members of his cabinet.
A second Biden supporter said they recently voiced concerns to DNC officials about the president’s age, but “they just refused to even acknowledge it was a problem.”
The benefactor remarked, “I think the strategy is to not even address it, to consider questions like that stupid or silly.” “Even among contributors, it’s the topic of widespread conversation. The question “What are you going to do?” is always met with silence.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates released a statement in which he said that Biden “has used his deep experience to deliver unprecedented benefits.” Among the president’s many accomplishments, he highlighted measures to reduce medicine prices, invest in infrastructure, and alter gun regulations.
Bates elaborated, saying that while Republican leaders are busy fighting with each other and doubling down on critiques of him that failed in 2020, 2022, and 2023, “President Biden is fighting every day to add to those results for families.” Lastly, he linked to a May 2023 article titled, “After Calling Joe Biden Senile, Republicans Complain He Outsmarted Them.”
Biden is America’s oldest president ever, a distinction that even those in his own party are exploiting against him. In a long shot quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips has been advocating for a generational change and has even suggested that Vice President Joe Biden “hand the torch” to the next generation.
Some Democratic strategists and insiders have speculated that Biden’s staff is overly attuned to the topic, to the point of coming off as defensive.
“They bristle in ways that aren’t helpful,” said a Democratic insider close to Biden’s campaign.
White House and campaign insiders say that Vice President Biden is as sharp as ever, often lecturing his team on the nitty-gritty of policy matters and keeping a demanding travel schedule that has taken him to two active conflict zones in the past year. Bharat Ramamurti, a former deputy director of the National Economic Council, claimed on X that reporters who questioned Biden’s mental acuity “couldn’t survive a ten minute policy briefing with the President.”
John Morgan, a Florida attorney and Biden bundler, said he has encouraged the president’s team to emphasise that he is wise. He’s confident in the success of his campaign.
There is no way to undo the past. Morgan stated, “There is nothing that can be done to make him younger.” “I think the term ‘wisdom’ is going to be the deciding factor for Joe Biden. We need guys of wisdom. And to everyone who criticises him because of his age, I would simply say, “You missed out on 12 years of record returns if you stopped investing with Warren Buffett when he was 80.”
Members of the Biden campaign believe there is a double standard at play because more attention has been paid to Biden’s age than Trump’s. If Trump were to win in 2020, they are quick to point out, he would surpass Biden as the oldest person ever elected president.
However, they assert that they are aware of the problem and are confident in their ability to eliminate it. They contend that voters care more about a candidate’s ideals and accomplishments than their chronological age when deciding whom to support in an election.
Biden’s campaign team argues that despite assaults from Trump and the GOP on Biden’s age and mental capacity during the 2020 election, they were able to prevail thanks in large part to his extensive background in government. According to their latest proposal, they can now highlight significant legislative achievements.
Democratic California Representative Robert Garcia, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board, was nominated by the Biden camp as an interviewee. “When I look at his age, I see wisdom and experience,” Garcia remarked. “I think most voters are going to see the same.”
Ultimately, according to a Democratic donor who has spoken with Biden campaign staff, Biden’s advisors believe age will not be a huge factor next November because the election will likely come down to a binary decision between the president and Trump. In that situation, not all Biden backers agree that the campaign needs to change its approach to the issue of Biden’s age. Stephen Cozen, a Philadelphia attorney and Biden bundler, said he has told certain members of the reelection team not to worry about the situation.
I told the campaign staff to drop the age discrimination nonsense. Take it out on Trump, he urged. “Most people share my opinion.”