The Two Immovable Objects of 2024
An election about Joe Biden's age and Donald Trump's legal problems
For all the vagaries of presidential contests, we know two things about 2024: Joe Biden’s age and Donald Trump’s legal troubles are the unavoidable dynamics of this election. Both are impossible to ignore, and are the first things everyone brings up about the current and the former president. Absent an incredible legal sprint through the courts or the discovery of the long-rumored fountain of youth in the great marshes of Rehoboth, these two factors are set in stone.
As stories, one clearly overtakes the other in new developments. While the media understands that “Biden trips again” is going to get clicks, it won’t get anywhere near as many as the latest intrigue about Trump. Hence the continued efforts by the likes of wacko-Democrats Joy Behar, Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough to baselessly allege that Trump wasn’t just holding on to documents, he had to be planning to sell them to foreign governments. It’s the collusion malarkey all over again — Trump’s failings are so obvious that they must be too obvious. There has to be some dastardly secret plan, a conspiracy, not just a sloppy guy who believes he can get away with anything.
The age factor, though, is in some ways the less predictable element here. At Biden’s eighty years and seven months, it is no small thing to fall into an orchestra pit and be incapacitated — the work of the presidency alone ages a man, and he was already an aged man when he was sworn in. We are long past the point where the White House has the capacity to seize the cameras and film of anyone who snapped a picture of FDR in a wheelchair — Biden’s decline is happening in front of all of us, at a steady and often embarrassing rate. Much as it may amuse, no one wants a president who seems this out of sorts, particularly when facing so many challenges.
What some Republicans, particularly Trump supporters, seem to assume is that this aging process will significantly undermine Biden’s ability to win re-election. They are wrong. Absent a rapid and sudden health incident, Biden’s infirmities are baked in, and people’s worries, even among his supporters, do not overcome their animosity toward President Trump. As Axios reported on a North Carolina focus group this week:
President Biden’s age is a real problem for some North Carolina swing voters who backed him in 2020, and there’s next to nothing he can do to assuage those concerns, according to our latest Engagious/Sago focus groups. These voters, who backed Biden in 2020 after supporting former president Trump in 2016, said they feel “concerned,” “exhausted” and without “confidence” whenever they watch Biden trip over his words (or a sandbag).
But although they’re hyper-focused on his older age, nine of the eleven focus group participants said they’d vote for the eighty-year-old Biden in a rematch against Trump, who turned seventy-seven on Wednesday.
This is consistent with what a number of other focus groups and polls have found. For all of their concerns, the simple fact that the alternative is Trump drives voters back to Biden once again. As pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson put it: “‘Disapproving 2020 Biden Voters’ who spent eighty-five minutes of a ninety-minute focus group complaining about Biden and saying they don’t think he’s fit to serve through 2028… but the final five mins they say they’d pick him over Trump anyway.”
Because these two issues are inescapable, it’s past time for other candidates to stop speaking in euphemisms about their nature. Do you want to spend four years worried that Joe Biden’s going to keel over and we’ll get Kamala Harris? Do you want to spend four years with Donald Trump distracted by fighting his own personal battles? Or do you want to spend eight years with someone new, someone who isn’t just interested in their personal or legal survival, but who will get things done for you and the country?
It’s a basic proposition, and candidates need to start making that contrast clear. Stop just talking about the need for “a new generation of leadership.” Start talking about why.