President Joe Biden’s reelection prospects have seemed doubtful for months now. Many voters think the nation’s oldest president ever — he turns 80 in November — is too old for the job and is certainly too old for a second term. Many others think he’s simply doing a bad job. Many think both. And that includes Democrats who voted for Biden as well as Republicans who didn’t.
Now, we seem to have reached a turning point. In recent days, the most influential media voice among Democrats, The New York Times, has published two articles that appear to lay a foundation for pushing a reluctant Biden out of a reelection race in 2024.
The first was published on July 9 with the headline, “At 79, Biden Is Testing the Boundaries of Age and the Presidency.” Don’t be fooled by the gentleness of the headline. The article clearly suggested Biden is too old to be president. It reported that Biden’s upcoming Middle East trip was originally going to be part of his European trip last month until aides realized that putting the two destinations together in one trip “would have made for an arduous 10-day overseas trek” and that “such extended travel might be unnecessarily taxing for a 79-year-old president.” One official even called the idea “crazy.”
Biden’s aides acknowledge that he “looks older than just a few years ago,” the Times reported, calling that a “political liability that cannot be solved by traditional White House stratagems like staff shake-ups or new communications plans.” While the Times called Biden’s energy level “impressive for a man of his age,” it nevertheless said Biden’s energy “is not what it was, and some aides quietly watch out for him.”
“[Biden] often shuffles when he walks, and aides worry he will trip on a wire,” the Times reported. “He stumbles over words during public events, and they hold their breath to see if he makes it to the end without a gaffe.” Those public appearances have “fueled” the perception that Biden is too old to be president, the article said. “His speeches can be flat and listless. He sometimes loses his train of thought, has trouble summoning names or appears momentarily confused.” During the European trip, the paper said, Biden’s fellow leaders “protectively treat[ed] him like a distinguished elderly relative.”
In all, Biden’s age has become an “uncomfortable issue” for Democrats, the paper reported. “If he mounts another campaign in 2024, Mr. Biden would be asking the country to elect a leader who would be 86 at the end of his tenure,” the Times said, “testing the outer boundaries of age and the presidency.” Testing the outer boundaries of age? For many Americans, the simpler way of saying that is “too old.”
Now, the Times has published a devastating poll the paper conducted with Siena College. The survey found that 64% of Democratic voters want a different nominee in 2024 — just 26% want the party to renominate the president. On top of that, the poll shows Biden’s job approval among all Americans at just 33%. And, on top of that, just 13% of those surveyed believe the country is on the right track. “With the country gripped by a pervasive sense of pessimism,” the Times wrote, “the president is hemorrhaging support.”
And what is it about Biden that particularly worries his party’s voters? Age. “Concerns about his age ranked at the top of the list for Democratic voters who want the party to find an alternative,” the paper reported. “‘I’m just going to come out and say it: I want younger blood,’ said Nicole Farrier, a 38-year-old preschool teacher in East Tawas, a small town in northern Michigan. ‘I am so tired of all old people running our country. I don’t want someone knocking on death’s door.'” Farrier voted for Biden in 2020 in hopes he might “heal the nation’s divisions,” the Times said, but now “she is preoccupied with what she described as crippling increases in her cost of living.”
The second-highest concern is Biden’s job performance. The Times reported: “He hasn’t done what I think he’s capable of doing as president to help the American people,” said Kelly King, a former factory worker in Greensburg, Indiana. “As a Democrat, I figured he would really be on our side and put us back on the right track. And I just feel like he’s not.”
The poll offered one “glimmer” of good news for Democrats: Even in his weakened condition, Biden could still narrowly defeat Donald Trump 44% to 41%, in a hypothetical 2024 head-to-head matchup. But even Democrats who would definitely vote for Biden against Trump would still prefer another nominee.
What does it all mean? It means Biden is in trouble. But that has been clear for quite a while. Voters have long been concerned about the president’s age. They have been concerned about his ability to handle the world’s most demanding job. And they have wished there were some better alternative.
What is perhaps more newsworthy now is that the media institution most respected among Democrats, especially Democratic opinion leaders, has so frankly put the spotlight on Biden’s problems. From a Democratic perspective, it is one thing when Republicans complain about Biden. It is another when The New York Times does it. And now everyone, except perhaps the most dogged Biden loyalists, is alarmed about the state of Joe Biden.