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Updated Jan 20, 2024, 6:47pm EST
politics

The attacks on Donald Trump’s age may be at a tipping point

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
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The News

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Donald Trump is 77 years old. After he repeatedly mixed her up with Nancy Pelosi during his speech last night, Nikki Haley wants voters to know that.

“I’m not saying anything derogatory, but when you’re dealing with the pressures of the presidency, we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do this,” she said Saturday in Keene. “We can’t.”

On Fox News, she continued that focus: “These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. Do we really want them throwing out names and getting things wrong when they’re 80 and having to deal with Putin and Xi and Kim and North Korea? We can’t do that.”

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And at a stop in Petersborough, she mentioned Trump’s prior habit of describing Barack Obama as if he’s the current president, a recurring story that drew enough attention late last year for Trump to address it on Truth Social, claiming it was deliberate.

“He got confused and said he was running against Obama — he never ran against Obama!” she said. “Don’t put our country at risk like this.”

Lines like these have been a long time coming: Haley launched her presidential bid calling for politicians over 75 to be required to take a “mental competency test,” a proposal she continues to tout in speeches.

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But since coming in third in Iowa last week, the attack has sharpened. On the campaign trail this week, the former South Carolina governor has repeatedly mentioned Trump’s age, tying him in with President Joe Biden for good measure: “The majority of Americans think that having two 80-year-olds running for president is not what they want,” she told voters on Tuesday. And on Saturday, she noted how he “got confused” when discussing her culpability in security failures on January 6th as if she were speaker — even though “I wasn’t even in D.C. on Jan. 6. I wasn’t in office then.”

She’s not alone either: DeSantis has argued for months that Trump has lost a step. “If you put a side by side between him in 2016 riffing and really at the top of his game versus now in 2024, I mean, it’s just a different guy that you’re seeing there,” he told Iowa radio host Steve Deace earlier this month.

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Shelby and Dave's View

There’s little sign attacks on Trump’s age, let alone his cognitive fitness, have swayed Republican voters — and it’s pretty late for this angle to start working now. But Democrats are watching closely as well for signs they may be able to neutralize Biden’s vulnerabilities on the issue in a general election.

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“Trump is all about projecting,” New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley said. “Trump’s a crook so he calls Hillary a crook. Trump is feeble minded, so he calls Biden feeble.”

Last year, the Biden campaign, frustrated with the ongoing narrative about Biden’s own age and health, began trying to flip the script — or at least bring Trump into the conversation — by highlighting Trump’s gaffes while out on the campaign trail. Their campaign accounts have continuously shared every little example they can find of Trump stumbling on his words or going off on an odd tangent.

The Haley/Pelosi mixup, under the glare of peak primary campaign coverage, may be the most traction this angle has gotten, and Democrats now have clips of Republicans validating the attack.

On Saturday, the Biden campaign even shared Haley’s comments on the episode, writing on X: “Haley reacts to Trump’s delusional and confused rant last night where he suggested that she was Speaker of the House on January 6: He got confused. I question if he’s mentally fit.” (Left out: The part where she directly compared him to Biden).

Making Biden look younger is a tough task. But a critical part of his re-election hinges on convincing some Democratic-leaning voters worried about his age that it should not be a decisive concern relative to the alternative. An encouraging Marist poll this week showed him leading Trump in New Hampshire, thanks to solid support from people who “somewhat disapprove” of his job as president — an example of what a winning map around the country might look like.

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The View From Donald Trump

The former president is (once again) starting to brag about his cognitive abilities on the campaign trail this week. During a speech in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Trump declared that he feels “like I’m about 35 years old.”

“I actually feel better now than I did 30 years ago,” Trump said. “Tell me, is that crazy? I feel better now, and I think cognitively I’m better than I was 20 years ago.”

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Room for Disagreement

After a house party in Concord organized by the Write In Biden campaign, California Rep. Ro Khanna said that Democrats didn’t need to pile on Trump for a moment of confusion.

“I think there are plenty of reasons to campaign against Donald Trump — January 6, his two impeachments,” Khanna said. “This is sort of gotcha politics. Anyone who’s spoken a long time makes mistakes. This is the type of politics they do to Biden, and I don’t think we have to reciprocate.”

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Notable

  • At The Atlantic, McKay Coppins recommended Americans of political stripes visit a Trump rally, which are rarely carried live and unedited this election cycle. One of the biggest changes from 2016 he noticed at a recent event: Trump “often turned rambly, and the crowd seemed to lose interest.”
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