Biden’s Age Could Ultimately Decide Outcome Of US Presidential Election – OpEd


By Dr. Amal Mudallali

One sentence in Special Prosecutor Robert Hur’s report last week caused panic when it came to US President Joe Biden’s campaign for reelection and ignited a firestorm within the Democratic Party.

His report was the kind of nightmare scenario campaigns dread because of its timing and the sensitivity of the issue, the age of the president, and the questions it raised about his mental capacity.

Democrats have had a tough few months trying to prevent Biden’s age from becoming the main issue in the campaign. Then the nightmare fully descended upon them, presenting Republican opponent Donald Trump with the perfect gift.

Hur’s report described Biden as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with poor memory.” This single sentence propelled the age of the president, who is 81 years old, to the top of the election agenda and created a crisis among Democrats, who are worried that the issue of age might cost them the presidency for the next four years.

The special prosecutor was investigating the case of classified documents that were found in Biden’s home. He concluded, following interviews with the president, that there was not enough to charge the president with any wrongdoing. He could have chosen to simply announce his conclusion but instead he decided to comment on the memory of the president.

The report handed Biden a legal victory but wounded him politically. It should have been good news for him but the political damage caused by the language Hur used to describe the president’s state of mind and memory was huge, lending credence to existing concerns about his age.

He described gaps in the president’s memory when asked about specific events and documents, but most damaging for the president was perhaps the assertion that he did not even remember the date of his son’s death.

The report came at a critical time for the president and his reelection campaign. Polls were already suggesting that Americans are worried about his age. Meanwhile, his approval rating has been declining, reaching 37 percent, the lowest it has ever been. Many Americans are not happy about his handling of immigration and border issues, or the economy, even though the economy is doing well. In addition, there is opposition to his stance on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as well as divisions within the Democratic Party on the issue.

The publication of Hur’s report provoked a storm of media coverage and debates about the age of the president. His allies defended him and refuted the comments about poor memory, accusing the special prosecutor of having a political agenda.

Vice President Kamala Harris described the report as “gratuitous, inaccurate and inappropriate.” Other high-ranking US officials insisted the president was sharp, tough and in control.

Republicans naturally jumped on the opportunity to adopt “elderly man with bad memory” as a slogan in their campaigning against him.

The president did not help his own case. During a press conference that was supposed to reassure the American people about his memory and debunk the picture the report painted of him, Biden described President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi of Egypt as the president of Mexico.

This came hot on the heels of two other incidents this month in which he talked about conversations with French President Francois Mitterrand, who died in 1996, instead of Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who died in 2017, instead of Angela Merkel.

The report and the repeated gaffes by the president have resulted in growing concerns among Democrats, strategists, donors and ordinary voters across the US, according to the American media.

The Washington Post captured the mood among Democrats when, after the president’s ill-fated press conference, it said: “The broad conclusion, both inside and outside Biden’s inner circle, is that a dangerous and misleading caricature of the president’s performance is at risk of setting in, pushed by the biting prose of a special prosecutor they suspected of seeking political revenge.”

If Hur’s report was not enough, opinion polls after it was published added to the panic. An ABC News/Ipsos poll on Feb. 11 found an overwhelming majority of Americans that were questioned, 86 percent, thought Biden was too old to run for another term. A smaller majority, 62 percent, believed 77-year-old Donald Trump was also too old to be president again.

Interestingly, 59 percent of those polled believed both Biden and Trump were too old to be president, suggesting that age will be a very important factor in the election.

However, the poll also found that Republicans were not so concerned about the age of their candidate as Democrats were: 73 percent of Democrats said Biden was too old to be president, but only 35 percent of Republicans said Trump was too old to serve. Even among independents, 91 percent said Biden is too old, compared with 71 percent who said the same about Trump.

Republican candidate Nikki Haley, who is challenging Trump for the Republican nomination, criticized both him and Biden over their ages, describing them in a campaign video as “grumpy old men.” She highlighted instances in which both became confused about facts, including one in which Trump mixed her up with Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the House of Representatives.

Haley, who has called for competency tests for candidates over the age of 75 and champions younger leaders, said this week that both Trump and Biden “would use the Oval Office” as a “taxpayer-subsidized nursing home.”

Political pundits close to the Democrats are worried that efforts to ensure the issue of age sticks to Biden is an attempt to distract from his achievements in office, in a similar way to which Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign against Trump in 2016 was derailed by allegations about an insecure computer server and leaked emails.

Others are speculating about whether it is still possible for the Democrats to nominate a different candidate, angering the Biden campaign. A headline in Politico magazine this week, for example, read “Democrats Might Need a Plan B.”

Even though the article was exploring hypothetical scenarios, any such talk is damaging to the Biden campaign and to the chances of the Democrats securing the presidency. On a more practical level, it is unrealistic and difficult to imagine it could happen now.

Democrats are rallying around the president, defending his mental faculties and record. They believe the stakes are too high for the party to consider alternatives this late in the game, as it would be a dangerous strategy to change horses at this point in the race.

Biden believes he is the only Democrat who can defeat Donald Trump because he did it before. The rest of the party is circling the wagons and hoping Trump will implode and scare off voters, pointing to his latest statement about NATO this week, which angered Europe and alarmed Washington.

However, there is no sign the former president has been negatively affected by any of his rhetoric, or his legal troubles. On the contrary, he is growing more confident — and now his campaign has been lucky enough to find fresh ammunition in the form of Hur’s editorializing about Biden’s age.

Biden and his campaign team are struggling to change the subject and ensure the election is a referendum on issues such as the future of democracy in America and, as his campaign ads say, his desire “to finish the job” he began four years ago.

The Republicans, meanwhile, will do all they can to make sure the focus remains on Biden’s memory and not his “sympathetic character.”

  • Dr. Amal Mudallali is a consultant on global issues. She is a former Lebanese ambassador to the UN.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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