“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” So said Ronald Reagan as he made light of his age in his 1984 debate against Walter Mondale. Even Mondale laughed.
With some modification, President Joe Biden should be doing the same, perhaps emphasizing Trump’s similar age but poor lifestyle.
Of all the negatives Biden faces in the upcoming presidential campaign, his age is the most damaging. It is not just a number that penetrates the voting public’s mind. It is Biden’s outward appearance. Biden looks his age. Donald Trump does not.
With over 70 percent of the country stating we are on the wrong track, any sign of frailty does not play well. Energy, dynamism, and vitality do. They are not outwardly visible in Biden. Republicans love it when he walks onto a stage. Democrats hold their breath.
Attempting to camouflage Biden’s age is foolish. Acknowledging his age, like Reagan did, is an excellent place to start. “I’m old, no doubt about it,” might be a good opening.
Admitting the obvious signs would be a good follow-up “I’m not as steady on my feet as I once was and occasionally tangle my words. Trump is overweight and hides his medical information. But here is the reality. You will have an old president if you vote for Trump or Biden.”
Biden should contrast his appearance with his actions, noting his steadfast, consistent, and long-term behavior. He could emphasize his listening, relationship skills, and a lifetime of political experience working with others. Most importantly, Biden should talk team. He surrounds himself with mostly younger people with experience who have devoted themselves to our Constitution. He should emphasize that his cabinet and appointees have stuck with him. They listen to him, and he listens to them as they work to solve our country’s problems. Not perfect, but guided by the Constitution, not for personal benefit.
He could then contrast that with what Trump brought to the presidency. Trump chose people who fed his ego, not the needs of the American people. He put people into his cabinet and inner circle who didn’t even know their job’s name or purpose. He even brought in those he saw on television. As a result, Donald Trump had the highest staff turnover rate in presidential history. Dozens of his closest confidants have subsequently called the former president a “child,” “untethered,” “unethical, “or an “idiot.” Those who kowtowed or compromised their principles to his wishes are now under indictment, and some are likely to be in prison.
During Trump’s presidency, there was constant chaos in the White House, the same dysfunction we see in the Republican Party right now under his egotistical and misguided influences.
Trump is an old man who looks younger than Biden is perceived to be. However, Trump’s actions are closer to those of an adolescent, one who will do extraordinary harm to our democracy. He has already been convicted of fraud and may yet be imprisoned for other indictments. Biden, by comparison, has acted like a president and upheld the Constitution. He continues the hard work of keeping our democracy intact.
Civility and Constitutional restraints would not be a part of a second Donald Trump presidency. He has already declared that he will shatter the norms he has not already broken and suggested the United States should default on its debts for the first time in history. According to the New York Times and the Economist, Trump plans to replace tens of thousands of career civil servants with Trump loyalists that expand his power.
Biden should make clear the differences between him and Trump beyond age. Chaos and a severe risk to our democracy will occur under Old Man Trump, while Old Man Biden and his team will provide a presidency that will work to keep our democracy safe.
Character, honesty, and loyalty to the American people and the Constitution are more critical in this election than age. Biden should emphatically spell that out.