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Jun 27, 2024, 10:40pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

America debated Joe Biden’s age for years before Thursday’s presidential debate

Insights from Politico, The Atlantic, and The New York Times

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Brian Snyder/Reuters
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The News

Policy points were perhaps not the top issue at hand for many voters watching the first presidential debate on CNN on Thursday night: Instead, it was the candidates’ age and, in particular, President Joe Biden’s.

Biden, 81, sounded hoarse speaking at the debate, immediately raising flags for voters already concerned about his health. (A person familiar with the Biden campaign told the Wall Street Journal he has a cold.)

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Former President Trump, 78, appeared hearty by comparison. When asked by the moderators about his age, Biden pointed out that Trump was just three years younger than him. But voters’ concerns about Biden’s age are not new.

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Key Obama operative revealed tension in party over age in 2023

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Politico

In 2023, key Obama operative and Democratic strategist David Axelrod posted on social media that Biden should reconsider staying in the 2024 presidential race. He walked the comments back, but his comments hit on a key question at the forefront of voters’ minds: Is running again in Biden’s interest, or the country’s best interest? Biden allies dismissed the comments to Politico as punditry, but the comments have stuck. Axelrod said “the stakes are really high. [Biden] said so himself.” At the time, he recommended Biden compare himself to the alternative to win over voters, but so-called ‘double haters’ who don’t like either candidate may look elsewhere.

Biden promised to be ‘a bridge’ to a new political era. Voters believed him

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The Atlantic

Biden had promised voters in 2020 that he was “a bridge,” and nothing more: As a vehicle to end Trump’s time in the White House, Biden presented a stability candidate who could ease the transition to a new political era without the aging Trump — and without the also aging Biden, Mark Leibovich wrote in The Atlantic. But he stuck around, perhaps to his detriment. Democratic voters “viewed their past support for Biden as an emergency proposition—and that his ongoing presence violates an implied bargain,” Leibovich wrote. “Biden could be engaging in one of the most selfish, hubristic, and potentially destructive acts ever undertaken by an American president. If he winds up losing, that’s all anyone will remember him for,” he concluded.

Age didn’t affect Biden’s presidency, but it’s affecting his campaign

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The New York Times

“I cannot point you to a moment where Biden faltered in his presidency because his age had slowed him,” the New York Times’s Ezra Klein wrote. “But here’s the thing. I can now point you to moments when he is faltering in his campaign for the presidency because his age is slowing him.” Those are two vastly different jobs, Klein pointed out, and it’s possible to be a good president while not being capable of successfully running for the same office. But Klein, like many others, came to the conclusion that “Democrats denying decline are only fooling themselves.” Ultimately, the proof is in the polling: 77 percent of the public, including 69 percent of Democrats, think Biden is just too old to be effective for four more years.

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