En el primer debate entre Biden y Trump, la edad estará en el centro de atención.

2 hours ago

By Kayla Epstein, BBC News

AFP

President Joe Biden, 81, and former president Donald Trump, 78, are the two oldest major party candidates for the US presidency.

For Joe Biden and Donald Trump – the two oldest candidates ever to seek the US presidency – age is an election issue neither can escape.

On Thursday, the current Democratic president, 81, and his Republican predecessor, 78, will face off in Atlanta, Georgia, for the first of two debates ahead of November’s vote, offering Americans a rare, split-screen comparison of the two men’s physical and mental strength.

For 90 minutes, under the glare of the high-definition cameras, President Biden and former President Trump — who remain nearly tied in national opinion polls — will spar on issues ranging from the economy and foreign wars to immigration and the future of democracy. One slip-up, stumble or verbal miscue could cement concerns about their advanced age, with the potential for reshaping an already tight presidential race as voters begin to pay attention.

But delivering a vigorous performance may be more critical for Mr Biden, the nation’s oldest president who has been dogged by questions about his stamina and mental fitness since he took office.

“There’s no hiding the fact that Biden’s 81, there’s no hiding the fact that Trump’s basically the same age,” said Jim Messina, a Democratic strategist who managed Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. “It’s not a contest of age, it’s a contest of policy and character.”

“Part of what needs to happen on Thursday night is just to begin the conversation about the differences between them,” Mr Messina said.

Polling shows that voters are far more concerned about Mr Biden’s age than his opponent’s. But if Trump wins, he would break Mr Biden’s record as the oldest president before the end of his term.

A March New York Times/Siena College poll suggested 73% of registered voters believed Mr Biden was “just too old to be an effective president”. Voters of all age groups expressed these concerns about the president’s fitness for office, including those 65 and older, according to the survey.

Just 42% of registered voters said the same about Trump, despite a mere three-and-a-half-year age gap.

“It ought to be about both of them, but Biden looks his age,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Mr Biden was declared “fit for duty” earlier this year by a White House physician, but concerns about his age have persisted since he took office. Signs of his aging have become more notable in recent years, including a softer speaking voice, occasional memory lapses and a “stiffened gait” which his doctor partly attributes to arthritis.

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As president, he is “covered almost every moment he is out in public” which means he endures more scrutiny than his challenger, Mr Sabato said.

Videos of routine actions – walking up and down Air Force One’s stairway, crossing a stage at public events — are watched closely online and in conservative media.

When Mr Biden tripped and fell at an Air Force Academy graduation in June 2023, the tumble made national news. After being helped to his feet, he continued to stand and walk as normal. His team said he had tripped on a sandbag on the stage, and the president later told reporters at the White House, “I got sandbagged!”

Getty Images

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden disembark the Marine One helicopter during a D-Day event in France.

Some Democrats have publicly and privately expressed reservations about the president’s age, but they rallied around him in February, when justice department special counsel Robert Hur released his investigation into Mr Biden’s handling of classified documents after his term as vice-president.

The report did not recommend prosecuting him, but Mr Hur’s description of the president as an an “elderly man with a poor memory” made headlines.

But when Mr Biden gave his annual State of the Union address a few weeks later, pundits gave him high marks for an energetically delivered speech.

“The president always delivers in big moments,” Congressman Ro Khanna, a Biden campaign surrogate, told NBC News last week. “He did in the State of the Union. And people are going to see the difference.”

The Biden campaign is hoping Thursday’s debate will be another moment in which the president demonstrates he can endure the rigours of governing, drawing a sharp contrast with Trump on policy and temperament.

Ahead of the debate, Donald Trump suggested his opponent could exceed expectations, telling the All-In podcast in a 20 June appearance that he assumed Mr Biden was “going to be somebody [who] will be a worthy debater”.

“I don’t want to underestimate him,” he added. Trump has separately spread unsubstantiated claims that the president will take performance-enhancing drugs to put in a good performance, which the Biden campaign has described as “desperate lies”.

While the scrutiny around Trump’s age is not as intense, the former president has faced questions about his own fitness for office.

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At a January rally, Trump appeared to confuse his Republican primary rival, Nikki Haley, with former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for several minutes during his speech.

He claimed, incorrectly, that Ms Haley had been “in charge of security” at the time of the 6 January attack on Congress. Ms Haley, Trump’s former UN ambassador, called for “mental competency tests” for politicians over 75 during her own unsuccessful presidential run.

Trump’s personal physician issued a statement in November attesting that his “cognitive exams were exceptional”.

At a Saturday rally in Pennsylvania, Trump complained of a double standard between the media’s treatment of himself and Mr Biden.

“If I say one word slightly out, they say, ‘He’s cognitively impaired,’” Trump told supporters. “Whereas Biden can run into walls. He can fall off the stage. He can fall up the stairs.

Donald Trump baja las escaleras de su avión privado.

Ambas campañas han tratado de dar forma a la narrativa en torno a su candidato opuesto a través de las redes sociales, amplificando fragmentos de videos de errores verbales, memes y, en algunos casos, grabaciones editadas de manera engañosa.

Más recientemente, los republicanos y los medios de derecha han intensificado los ataques a la competencia mental del Sr. Biden, circulando una ráfaga de clips de video editados, incluido uno del presidente que aparentemente se aleja durante la cumbre del G7 de líderes mundiales en Italia. La grabación sin editar mostraba que el Sr. Biden se dirigía a saludar a los paracaidistas durante una demostración de paracaidismo.

Días después, críticos conservadores compartieron en línea imágenes del presidente en un evento de recaudación de fondos en Los Ángeles, de pie en el escenario antes de que Barack Obama extendiera la mano hacia él y se fueran juntos del escenario. Donald Trump y otros republicanos afirmaron que era evidencia de que el Sr. Biden se había congelado y que tuvo que ser llevado del escenario. Sin embargo, los aliados del presidente señalaron clips más largos que parecían mostrar al Sr. Biden sonriendo y recibiendo el aplauso de la multitud.

La campaña de Biden ha respondido con un esfuerzo de respuesta rápida en las redes sociales, compartiendo contenido que aparentemente plantea preguntas similares sobre la agudeza mental de Trump. Han publicado clips de Trump aparentemente saliendo del escenario antes de tiempo y siendo redirigido por otros, incluido el exvicepresidente Mike Pence y el primer ministro de Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Los jóvenes no les gustará lo que vean

Sin embargo, a pesar de que algunos de estos videos son fácilmente refutables, las reservas de los votantes en torno a la edad de Biden continúan siendo una de sus mayores vulnerabilidades.

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Esto es particularmente cierto para los votantes más jóvenes, que tradicionalmente son un grupo demográfico más importante para los demócratas que para los republicanos en las elecciones nacionales, según dicen los organizadores.

Ver el debate podría ser una “experiencia reveladora” para los votantes más jóvenes, dijo Amanda Litman, estratega demócrata y fundadora de Run For Something, una organización que entrena y apoya a la próxima generación de candidatos demócratas.

“Creo que es indicativo de una estructura política que ha privilegiado a una generación mayor para permanecer en el poder durante mucho tiempo”, dijo la Sra. Litman sobre las edades de los candidatos. “Es una de las muchas razones por las que, especialmente los votantes más jóvenes, se sienten desconectados. No se ven reflejados en el liderazgo”.

Brandt Williams, un contador de 23 años de Connecticut, dijo que apoyará nuevamente al Sr. Biden en 2024. Ve al Sr. Biden como un estadista que tiene un fuerte control de la política exterior, y apoya las políticas económicas del presidente.

“El único problema es bastante común”, dijo el Sr. Williams. “Su edad”.

Aunque planeaba sintonizar el debate del jueves, el Sr. Williams dijo que le gustaría poder votar por una “persona más joven, no solo por vitalidad, sino para representar a todos los estadounidenses, tanto jóvenes como mayores”.

En el campo de batalla crítico de Georgia, donde tendrá lugar el primer debate, los demócratas le dijeron a la BBC que perciben apatía entre los jóvenes votantes de su partido, con la edad como un punto de discordia para muchos.

“Biden está en una posición en la que la generación más joven quiere acción… no quieren un discurso sobre cómo estamos mejor como nación”, dijo Titus Nichols, un abogado de 39 años que es activo en el Partido Demócrata del Condado de Cobb.

Si bien el presidente “es la persona más madura y estable, eso no es lo que la gente está buscando”, agregó.

El jueves por la noche, millones de personas estarán sintonizando no solo para escuchar las ideas y argumentos de los candidatos, sino para juzgar la resistencia de los nominados por sí mismos.

Para el Sr. Biden, entregar un golpe es crítico si quiere calmar los temores sobre su edad, según la Sra. Litman, la estratega demócrata.

“Creo que necesita mostrar competencia y confianza”, dijo. “Y un poco de lucha”.