By Betsy Klein, CNN
Washington, DC (CNN) — President Joe Biden is celebrating his 81st birthday Monday with a low-key family celebration as he prepares for an intense election year ahead.
But even as the first family keeps the celebrations muted and out of sight, the moment nevertheless highlights his greatest campaign handicap: his advanced age and, along with it, the perception among voters that his physical and mental fitness has declined. .
White House and campaign officials privately acknowledge that this is a problem, and they are both working to eliminate potential gaffes and strengthen the project’s strength. Biden was prescribed custom orthotics to help with his feet this year, after his annual physical. determined that he experiences a “stiff gait”. In recent months, when Biden flies on Air Force One, he has started using a smaller, shorter staircase more frequently to board and disembark.
Biden also made a point of passing reporters on bike rides while vacationing in Delaware, stopping occasionally to answer questions while wearing his helmet. (The president is an avid Peloton user at the White House.)
Yet age-related liability is becoming more visible almost by the day. A wave of recent polls, including one new CNN poll, indicates that this is a chronic problem among voters. And critics talk about it every chance they get. On Saturday, former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, called Biden a “stupid person” who “can’t get off this stage…the moment everything he takes fades,” sparking protests. cheers from a crowd in Fort Dodge, Iowa. On Sunday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 45, remarked that “Father Time is undefeated,” singling out age as an issue for both Biden and Trump, 77, in a statement. interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Biden is already the oldest president in history, ahead of Ronald Reagan, who was 77 at the end of his second term. If elected in 2024, Biden would be 86 years old at the end of his second term. Trump, who would be approaching 83 at the same time, would take over as the oldest president in history if elected.
Biden advisers argue — and grumble — that there are double standards, with media coverage focused more on Biden’s age than Trump’s. However, they insist that voters are focused on other issues and that age will not be a deciding factor next November.
“I don’t think the campaign should be focused on anything other than the winning record,” said Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia of California, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. “Everything else about people’s bios or when their birthdays are – that doesn’t matter. People want to know, what have they done and what are they going to do?
On Monday, Biden’s birthday will pass without much fanfare. His day should include the time-honored pre-Thanksgiving tradition of the annual turkey pardon. He is also expected to receive briefings from his national security advisers on global crises.
The campaign is not ignoring Biden’s birthday, aides told CNN. A Democratic National Committee official told CNN there were plans to commemorate the occasion with a social media post, as the party has done every year since 2011, except in the three years it was a candidate or candidate potential.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also urging supporters to sign a virtual birthday card for the president.
Both Biden and Trump attempt to refine the age question
The former president, who has openly criticized Biden on just about everything, has shown unusual restraint when it comes to directly attacking the president’s age.
It’s a sensitive subject for both men, and Trump seems aware of the dangers of opposing Biden over their exact age difference – which is three years and five months. In a recent interview, Trump avoided directly attacking Biden’s age.
“He’s not too old, he’s incompetent,” Trump told Megyn Kelly in an interview on her eponymous Sirius XM show last month.
“Age is interesting because some people are very sharp and others lose it, but we also lose it at 40 and 50,” he continued. “But no, he’s not too old at all. He is clearly incompetent.
In turn, the Biden campaign began to show it wasn’t afraid to go there, too.
“Is Donald Trump okay?” an official Biden campaign account said in a job on social media platform X earlier this month. It featured a video laced with Trump gaffes, including confusing the city he was in, calling former President Barack Obama his “primary political opponent” and confusing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s country of origin.
For his part, Biden sometimes makes fun of his age.
“I don’t look it, but I’m 180 years old. I’ve been here a long time,” he joked to donors at a recent fundraiser.
But most importantly, he and other officials view his age as a source of wisdom and experience.
“I have more experience than any president in the history of the United States,” he said at another fundraiser. “I hope one of the things that comes with age is wisdom.”
John Kirby, coordinator of strategic communications at the National Security Council, suggested that Biden’s experience — particularly in the foreign policy area — is positive.
“I’ve never seen the world so turbulent, and in a time like this, where things are as turbulent and uncertain and in some cases – scary – as they are right now, you want someone to bar who has seen the world, who has developed relationships with world leaders, who has experienced similar issues time and time again and who understands the history behind where we are today,” Kirby told CNN.
Biden “brings a steady hand, wisdom and experience to the helm of foreign policy,” Kirby said. “It’s irreplaceable.”
White House aides also point to the president’s ability to participate in grueling trips and high-stakes meetings with world leaders as evidence of his endurance. He often leaves his colleagues exhausted, they say.
Kirby highlighted instances where Biden pressured colleagues to add events or commitments to busy schedules. He added a call with Qatar’s emir Friday morning ahead of the APEC summit meetings in California. He also added an impromptu meeting with reporters on Air Force One after a grueling trip to Tel Aviv, Israel, last month.
The woes of the polls and “Father Time”
Polls show the question persists. In August AP-NORC survey77% of respondents agreed with the assessment that Biden is too old to effectively serve another four-year term as president, while 51% of respondents said the same of Trump.
In a national CNN survey conducted by the SSRS earlier this month, only 25% of registered voters believe Biden has the stamina and acumen to serve effectively as president, while 53% believe Trump does.
And in the new CNN poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, 56% of likely Democratic voters in the Granite State mentioned the president’s age when asked to name their biggest concern about Biden in as a candidate.
When New Hampshire adults were asked more broadly about a list of candidates’ personal attributes, Trump performed worse in all of them (temperament, honesty and integrity, policy positions, decision-making skills). than Biden – with the exception of physical and mental fitness.
A majority of voters — 58% — gave a poor rating of Biden’s physical and mental condition, compared to 53% who gave Trump low marks. These figures nevertheless reflect the obvious concerns of voters on this issue for both candidates.
It is of course possible that Biden faces another opponent in the general election. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is in second place in the New Hampshire GOP primary poll, has proposed “mandatory mental competency testing for politicians over 75.”
The point of view of a younger generation
The age of the president is often one of the first topics discussed conversations with young voters – often as the subject of questions about whether he is up to the job.
“I don’t want to say that it’s his age alone that might be a deterrent for young voters,” said Kerry Singleton, a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “I would say it’s fulfilling the promises that were made to a lot of young voters.”
Rachael Carroll, who graduated last year from Clark Atlanta University, said she thought Biden came from a different era, where he didn’t understand the progressive views of many Democratic voters.
“No offense, but yeah, it’s a little old for me,” Carroll said, adding that Trump’s age should be of equal concern to Americans. “They don’t understand what we’re going through now because we live in two completely different times.”
Nabilah Islam Parkes, who last fall became the youngest woman elected to the Georgia state Senate, said she doesn’t think age is the main concern about Biden. She said questions about the administration’s handling of the Middle East — and its worldview — are far more pressing.
“As long as we think it reflects our values,” she said, “age shouldn’t be an issue.”
And progressive groups working to mobilize young voters said they don’t think Biden’s age will ultimately be a significant factor in whether young voters turn out at the polls.
“It’s so low on the list of things that we think about and things that actually impact our lives,” said Jack Lobel, national press secretary for Voters of Tomorrow, an organization that focuses on voters in Generation Z. “It’s not a major concern.”
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Camila DeChalus, Kristen Holmes and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. company. Discovery. All rights reserved.