Joe Biden’s age, remarkably, hasn’t been much of an issue in the campaign. With three weeks left before the November election, maybe it should be.
For the past four years, Democrats have talked about Donald Trump’s mental competence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is still talking about using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office with an election just weeks away.
Yet Biden’s age and the political risk associated with it is the subject everyone knows about but no one wants to discuss publicly. As we’ve been told a lot this year: we need to listen to the science. And the science around aging is real and well-documented. Let’s start with this: the median life expectancy for a white male in America is 78.6. Joe Biden will turn 78 just after the election and will hit the 78.6 mark next May.
What’s interesting is that just last summer, as the Democratic nomination fight simmered, talk of Biden’s age and cognitive fitness now considered out of bounds remained a percolating theme among those now pushing for his election to the White House.
Democrats and their allies in the media are well aware of the problem.
A Politico feature in May 2019 said questions regarding Biden’s age gathered in both “overt and indirect ways.”
“Questions about the former vice president’s age and vigor are increasingly surfacing within his own party, fueled by the former vice president’s relatively light campaign schedule and attempts to limit his public exposure,” it read.
Fernand Amandi, a pollster and veteran of the Obama-Biden campaigns in 2008 and 2012, said: “It’s the 78-year-old elephant in the room.
“I’m hearing gargantuan concerns among Democratic insiders about Biden’s advanced age . . . ”
Obama insider David Axelrod openly questioned Biden’s age and mental suitability.
Axelrod told CNN that Biden’s “flip-flop-flip” on taxpayer-funded abortions made him question his campaign steadiness.
“Here is the issue with Biden,” Axelrod said almost two years ago. “People don’t like to approach it, but he’s 76 years old, he would be 78 when he became president—and that would be eight years older than the oldest president who has ever taken office, which is Donald Trump.”
“There are questions about that. If you are unsteady on the campaign trail, that is going to intensify those questions,” Axelrod continued. “This is one reason I think they’ve kept him on a relatively leisurely pace on the campaign trail and away from some of the major events and away from reporters, frankly.”
Biden’s sparse schedule is now a talking point exclusively among those planning to vote for President Trump.
Yet throughout the Democratic nomination, sympathetic publications and Biden’s fellow Democrats questioned his light schedule, making their own insinuations.
The Washington Post, perhaps the most virulent of anti-Trump publications, asked in May last year: “Joe Biden’s campaign of limited exposure: How long can he keep it up?”
The feature detailed the teeming Memorial Day schedules of Biden’s rivals. Bernie Sanders planned ice-cream socials with New Hampshire voters. John Delaney was in the “midst of his nineteenth trip to the state and plans an itinerary that includes four barbeques, one parade, and a wreath-laying.” Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand were both gallivanting across Iowa.
Back then, the Post lamented what’s common to Biden’s presidential campaign, now.
“And here’s former vice president Joe Biden’s agenda for the holiday weekend, according to his campaign: ‘Joe Biden has no public events scheduled.’”
“Those seven words are becoming familiar for the Biden team,” the story continued. “Aside from a campaign swing right after announcing his candidacy, Biden has kept his head down while his rivals rush from state to state to state. Even when he has held public events, they have included only a handful of questions from voters or reporters.”
Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist, told the Post: “Voters are going into events with him expecting ‘Uncle Joe,’ but they come out having seen ‘Grandpa Joe.’
“The more people see him live in 2019, the more they realize he might not be the guy they remember from 2008,” Katz said.
This year, Biden’s presidential campaign announced a “lid”—an old-school term for an event-free day—nine times in 24 days of September.
Those now psychically committed to the Biden campaign last year questioned his advanced age, and the health problems which invariably accompany those years.
The statistics are remorseless. Thirty-two percent of the U.S. population aged over 75 have some form of dementia. Half of strokes occur in those over 75. The COVID death rate for people over 75 is around 12 percent and men over 80 are the highest-risk cohort.
Back in February, blood was in the water. Biden slumped to fifth place in New Hampshire, garnering just 8.4 percent of the vote.
What would usually follow such a bloodless result is a mawkish speech thanking one’s staff, and an immediate campaign suspension. But Joe stayed on like the relative who stays too long after dinner for lack of other plans.
Biden’s campaign has kept the same sparse schedule since May 2019. Yet, his staff now excuses this as a precaution owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
His media appearances are often punctuated with memory lapses. He mangles numbers and names, dates, and colleagues. Biden has used a teleprompter to answer even softball questions—answers to which should come automatically to any candidate two years into his campaign.
Presidential runs are famously relentless, serving as both preparation for and proof of the demands of office.
This is not lost on the 38 percent of Americans—including 20 percent of Democrats—who believe Biden is suffering from some form of cognitive attrition.
Diagnoses aside, 59 percent of voters think Biden is unlikely to finish a four-year term—a full 39 percent think it’s very likely that should he win, Kamala Harris will be president before the end of Biden’s first four years.
To discuss the particulars of another’s mortality is unnerving, but for voters considering Biden it is of unquestioned importance.
After watching last week’s vice-presidential debate, one voter identified as Shelley D. told the Axios group: “Biden’s not going to make it four years, so Kamala Harris is going to be president. And I have zero trust she can be president, so I’m just picking the lesser of two evils at this point.”
Everyone else in the group agreed.