As Trump turns 78, candidates’ age worries voters

Donald Trump (left) and incumbent Joe Biden are the oldest presidential candidates to seek office.

Donald Trump (left) and incumbent Joe Biden are the oldest presidential candidates to seek office. Photo: AAP

Donald Trump is 78 on June 14 – a milestone that reminds voters that the two major-party candidates running for US president in 2024 are the oldest ever to seek the office.

Age and mental sharpness have been centre of the contest between the Republican Trump and his Democratic rival, President Joe Biden, often getting more attention than substantive policy issues in the run-up to the November 5 election.

Public opinion polls show Americans are more worried about the advanced age of Biden, who is 81.

But at 78, Trump is just three and a half years younger, and he would be the oldest person ever to be inaugurated if he won a second term.

Trump is scheduled to speak on Friday at a birthday party organised for him in West Palm Beach, Florida, by a group of die-hard supporters.

On the campaign trail, Trump has not explicitly made an issue of Biden’s age but has sought to capitalise on his opponent’s every verbal mistake – as well as Biden’s slowing gait – to cast him as unfit for the Oval Office.

Biden has responded to questions about his age by telling voters to focus on his accomplishments in office as evidence of his acuity and strength.

He has also described Trump as a threat to democracy and criticised his sometimes rambling speeches, as well as Trump’s use of inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants.

Still, even some Democrats have expressed concerns about Biden’s ability to complete another term, which would take him to age 86.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll in February, some 78 per cent of respondents – including 71 per cent of Democrats – said Biden, already the oldest president, was too old to work in government.

Some 53 per cent of respondents said Trump, who was president from 2017-2021, was too old for government work.

“It’s not about age, it’s about mental competence,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt, arguing that voters can see the contrast between Biden and Trump, whom she described as “sharp as a tack with elite stamina”.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Presidential historian Timothy Naftali said Trump projects energy in public appearances, making him appear to be more vital physically, but that does not mean he is sharper mentally.

“It’s not clear listening to the two men who’s in better command of his faculties,” Naftali said.

Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University and well-known presidential prognosticator, said Trump had made gaffes and spread false information to an extent that should be raising more questions about his mental fitness.

“People somehow focus on the mistakes Biden has made while totally ignoring the way in which Trump seems to be entirely unhinged from reality,” he said.

Trump and Biden are neck-and-neck in national opinion polls, with Trump ahead in several of the battleground states that could decide November’s contest.

It is unclear just how much age will be a factor in the outcome.

Among issues that voters will be weighing is the strength of the economy, which overall is performing well but is beset by inflation, as well as immigration and abortion rights.

Voters also have Trump’s legal troubles to consider.

In May, a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying business records to cover up a payment to a porn star on the eve of the 2016 election.

He faces three additional criminal cases, although none are likely to go to trial before the election.

The first televised debate on June 27 will be an important test for both Biden and Trump, with voters looking for verbal slip-ups as a possible indicator that they might not be up to the task of leading the country.


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