In the first Biden-Trump debate, age will be the center of attention

Screenshot, President Joe Biden, 81, and former President Donald Trump, 78, are the two oldest major party candidates for the US presidency.

  • Author, Kayla Epstein
  • Role, bbc news
  • Reporting from NY

For Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the two oldest candidates to ever seek the US presidency, age is an electoral issue that neither of them can escape.

On Thursday, the 81-year-old Democratic incumbent and his 78-year-old Republican predecessor will face off in Atlanta, Georgia, for the first of two debates before the November vote, offering Americans a rare split-screen comparison of the two men’s physical fitness and mental strength.

For 90 minutes, under the glare of high-definition cameras, President Biden and former President Trump, who remain nearly tied in national opinion polls, will discuss topics ranging from the economy and foreign wars to immigration and the future of democracy. One slip, stumble or verbal error could solidify concerns about his advanced age, with the potential to reshape an already tight presidential race as voters begin to pay attention.

But delivering a vigorous performance may be more critical for Biden, the country’s oldest president, who has been dogged by questions about his stamina and mental fitness since taking office.

“You can’t hide the fact that Biden is 81, you can’t hide the fact that Trump is basically the same age,” said Jim Messina, a Democratic strategist who managed Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. “No. “It is a contest of ages, it is a contest of politics and character.”

“Part of what needs to happen Thursday night is just starting the conversation about the differences between them,” Messina said.

Polls show that voters are much more concerned about Biden’s age than his opponent’s. But if Trump wins, he would break Biden’s record as the oldest president before the end of his term.

A New York Times/Siena College poll in March suggested that 73% of registered voters believed Biden was “simply too old to be an effective president.” According to the poll, voters across all age groups expressed these concerns about the president’s fitness for office, including those 65 and older.

Only 42% of registered voters said the same about Trump, despite an age difference of just three and a half years.

“It should be about both, but Biden is looking his age,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Politics Center.

Biden was declared “fit for duty” earlier this year by a White House doctor, but concerns about his age have persisted since he took office. Signs of his aging have become more noticeable in recent years, including a softer speaking voice, occasional memory lapses and a “stiff gait” that his doctor attributes in part to arthritis.

As president, he is “covered almost every moment he is in public,” meaning he endures more scrutiny than his rival, Sabato said.

Videos of routine actions—going up and down the stairs of Air Force One, crossing a stage at public events—are closely followed online and in conservative media.

When Biden tripped and fell at an Air Force Academy graduation in June 2023, the fall made national headlines. After they helped him up, he continued to stand and walk normally. His team said he had tripped over a sandbag on stage, and the president later told reporters at the White House: “They sandbaged me!”

Image source, fake images

Screenshot, President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden disembark from the Marine One helicopter during a D-Day event in France.

The report did not recommend prosecuting him, but Hur’s description of the president as an “old man with a bad memory” made headlines.

But when Biden delivered his annual State of the Union address a few weeks later, experts gave him high marks for a strongly delivered speech.

“The president always delivers in big moments,” Congressman Ro Khanna, a Biden campaign surrogate, told NBC News last week. “He did it at the State of the Union. And people are going to see the difference.”

Biden’s campaign hopes Thursday’s debate will be another moment in which the president shows he can withstand the rigors of governing, drawing a stark contrast to Trump in policy and temperament.

Before the debate, Donald Trump suggested his opponent might exceed expectations, telling the All-In podcast in a June 20 appearance that he assumed Biden was “going to be someone (who) would be a worthy debater.”

“I don’t want to underestimate him,” he added. Trump has separately spread unsubstantiated claims that the president will take performance-enhancing drugs to perform well, which Biden’s campaign has called “desperate lies.”

While scrutiny over Trump’s age is not as intense, the former president has faced questions about his own fitness for office.

He claimed, incorrectly, that Ms. Haley had been “in charge of security” at the time of the January 6 attack on Congress. Haley, Trump’s former UN ambassador, called for “mental competency testing” for politicians over 75 during her failed presidential campaign.

Trump’s personal doctor issued a statement in November saying his “cognitive exams were exceptional.”

At a rally Saturday in Pennsylvania, Trump complained about a double standard between the media’s treatment of him and Biden.

“If I say a word that’s even slightly out of place, they say, ‘He’s cognitively impaired,'” Trump told his supporters. “Whereas Biden can crash into walls. He can fall off the stage. He can fall down the stairs. He falls.”

Image source, fake images

Screenshot, Donald Trump walks down the stairs of his private plane.

Both campaigns have sought to shape the narrative around their opposing candidate through social media, amplifying video clips of verbal gaffes, memes and, in some cases, deceptively edited images.

More recently, Republicans and right-wing media have stepped up attacks on Biden’s mental competence, circulating a flood of edited video clips, including one of the president appearing to wander during the G7 summit of world leaders in Italy. Raw footage showed Biden walking to greet skydivers during a skydiving demonstration.

Days later, conservative critics shared online images of the president at a fundraising event in Los Angeles, standing on stage before Barack Obama took him by the arm and they walked off stage together. Donald Trump and other Republicans claimed it was evidence that Biden had frozen and needed to be removed from the stage. But the president’s allies pointed to longer clips that appeared to show Biden smiling and receiving applause from the crowd.

The Biden campaign has responded with a rapid response effort on social media, sharing content that appears to raise similar questions about Trump’s mental acuity. They have released clips of Trump appearing to leave the stage ahead of schedule and being redirected by others, including former Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Young voters won’t like what they see

However, while some of these videos are easily refuted, voters’ reservations about Biden’s age remain one of his biggest vulnerabilities.

Watching the debate could be an “eye-opening experience” for younger voters, said Amanda Litman, a Democratic strategist and founder of Run For Something, an organization that trains and supports the next generation of Democratic candidates.

“I think it’s indicative of a political structure that has privileged an older generation to remain in power for a long time,” Ms. Litman said of the candidates’ ages. “It’s one of the many reasons why, especially younger voters, feel disconnected. “They don’t see themselves reflected in the leadership.”

Brandt Williams, a 23-year-old Connecticut accountant, said he will support Biden again in 2024. He sees Biden as a statesman who has a strong handle on foreign policy and supports the president’s economic policies.

“This problem is quite common,” Williams said. “His age of him.”

Although she planned to tune in to Thursday’s debate, Williams said she wanted to be able to vote for a “younger person, not just for her vitality, but to represent all Americans, both young and old.”

In critical battleground Georgia, where the first debate will be held, Democrats told the BBC they sense apathy among their party’s young voters, and that age is a sticking point for many.

“Biden is stuck in a position where the younger generation wants action…they don’t want a speech about how we are better as a nation,” said Titus Nichols, a 39-year-old attorney who works in Cobb County. Democratic party.

Although the president “is the most mature and stable person, that is not what people are looking for,” he added.

On Thursday night, millions of people will tune in not only to hear the candidates’ ideas and arguments, but also to judge for themselves the nominees’ stamina.

For Biden, throwing a punch is essential if he wants to calm fears about his age, according to Litman, the Democratic strategist.

“I think he needs to show competence and confidence,” he said. “And a little fighting.”

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