By Dave Andrusko
In a sense, the headline makes perfect sense, given who we’re talking about: “Biden Won’t Directly Address the Age Issue: Allies want the president to do more to demonstrate his fitness. Some say the best vehicle would be the one he least wants — a primary challenge.”
Why would pro-abortion President Biden feed the steady stream of increasing louder calls for him not to run for a second term? After all, when reporters tepidly inquire about his age (he turns 82 in November 2024), he has a ready made, if tiresome, response: “Watch me.”
Writing for Politico, Jonathan Martin, while wholly sympathetic to Biden, is blunt about this defense: That “is precisely the problem: people are [watching him] and it’s still the overriding issue troubling them the most about his candidacy.”
The most pressing political challenge confronting President Joe Biden as he drifts uncontested toward renomination is that which he can do the least about: voters’ profound misgivings about his age and fitness to serve another full term.
Yet what’s striking, and to his allies increasingly unnerving, is Biden’s unwillingness even to try to fully address questions about his capacity to run for reelection next year, when he’ll turn 82.
What Martin does not mention is the role Biden’s ferocious temper plays. It’s on display every time someone disagrees with him, or when aides try to “handle him.”
Biden takes an exacting interest in the mechanics of his nascent campaign, insisting on approving advertisements and interviewing would-be staffers. He is, however, less willing to be handled, which makes it difficult for his advisers to raise such a sensitive matter.
Biden has conducted little polling on how to reassure voters about his age, complains bitterly about his intra-party critics who raise the issue in public and is unwilling to consider hearing aids, according to Democrats close to him
Does that mean Biden is unaware of the barrage of polls that tell him in no uncertain terms that the public—including many Democrats—does not want him to carry the party’s banner in less than 13 months? He is probably aware, at some level, but stubbornly refuses to admit his age is a major problem. But take these paragraphs from Martin’s story:
Last month at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, many lawmakers watched livestreams of focus groups with voters in Nevada and Michigan. Nearly all of them responded to questions about Biden the same way voters do in every focus group: by bringing up his age. (Though one attendee was heartened that the voters also cited Trump’s age and complained that both are too old.)
Every Democratic consultant I’ve talked to in recent weeks said that’s the only refrain they pick up on Biden.
One pollster, who late last month oversaw a focus group of North Carolina swing voters, said the first word or phrase the attendees used about Biden was “some combination of ‘old, slowing down’ or, if they were harsher, ‘dementia or feeble.’”
This pollster had to push participants to get any more impressions of Biden and there was scant recall of his accomplishments.
It’s a good story, well worth your time to read.
Biden’s unwillingness to publicly address the age issue, while perfectly understandable, has potentially enormous electoral impact downstream. Martin writes
Nobody, at least outside Biden’s inner circle, is more acutely aware of the threat posed by the president’s perceived limitations than those Democrats facing difficult reelections themselves, who invariably hear about voters’ alarm about Biden when at home. Rep. Hillary Scholten, who represents a historically Republican slice of Western Michigan, said Biden could be helped by an intraparty challenge because he’d be able to demonstrate his fitness.
We’ll return to this question which will not go away. Already Biden’s approval ratings are settling in at a dismal 39% or 40%. There is no reason to believe he will rally.