Biden Is Old and Feeble, Says Old, Feeble Man

Trump is making verbal gaffes while making fun of Biden's verbal gaffes.

NYT correspondents Michael C. Bender and Michael Gold combine reporting, analysis, and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking in their report “How Trump’s Verbal Slips Could Weaken His Attacks on Biden’s Age.”

One of Donald J. Trump’s new comedic bits at his rallies features him impersonating the current commander in chief with an over-the-top caricature mocking President Biden’s age.

With droopy eyelids and mouth agape, Mr. Trump stammers and mumbles. He squints. His arms flap. He shuffles his feet and wanders laggardly across the stage. A burst of laughter and applause erupts from the crowd as he feigns confusion by turning and pointing to invisible supporters, as if he does not realize his back is to them.

But his recent campaign events have also featured less deliberate stumbles. Mr. Trump has had a string of unforced gaffes, garble and general disjointedness that go beyond his usual discursive nature, and that his Republican rivals are pointing to as signs of his declining performance.

On Sunday in Sioux City, Iowa, Mr. Trump wrongfully thanked supporters of Sioux Falls, a South Dakota town about 75 miles away, correcting himself only after being pulled aside onstage and informed of the error.

It was strikingly similar to a fictional scene that Mr. Trump acted out earlier this month, pretending to be Mr. Biden mistaking Iowa for Idaho and needing an aide to straighten him out.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has also told supporters not to vote, and claimed to have defeated President Barack Obama in an election. He has praised the collective intellect of an Iranian-backed militant group that has long been an enemy of both Israel and the United States, and repeatedly mispronounced the name of the armed group that rules Gaza.

While I hope this is indeed how most Americans will view Trump’s stumbles, I’m not sure. It’s been obvious to me for years that he’s not as mentally sharp as he was decades ago. I never watched “The Apprentice” and the like but I’ve seen clips of interviews from the 1990s and Trump was just a completely different communicator.

Regardless, it just hasn’t seemed to matter. Biden is visibly frail and his verbal decline has been more rapid and public. We don’t have to compare him to old video clips from decades past but from his Vice Presidency.

To be clear: Biden strikes me as obviously more lucid and fit to serve as commander-in-chief than Trump. I’m just skeptical that that’s how folks who aren’t already dug in for one camp or the other see it.

This is one hopeful sign:

“This is a different Donald Trump than 2015 and ’16 — lost the zip on his fastball,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida told reporters last week while campaigning in New Hampshire.

“In 2016, he was freewheeling, he’s out there barnstorming the country,” Mr. DeSantis added. “Now, it’s just a different guy. And it’s sad to see.”

I think it’s too little, too late. But it would be helpful if Republican candidates other than Chris Christie were hammering Trump’s obvious flaws. Not that it’s going to deny him the nomination—that seems baked in at this point—but it could spill over into the general election narrative.

It is unclear if Mr. Trump’s recent slips are connected to his age. He has long relied on an unorthodox speaking style that has served as one of his chief political assets, establishing him, improbably, among the most effective communicators in American politics.

But as the 2024 race for the White House heats up, Mr. Trump’s increased verbal blunders threaten to undermine one of Republicans’ most potent avenues of attack, and the entire point of his onstage pantomime: the argument that Mr. Biden is too old to be president.

Again, though, I’m skeptical of this. Fears that Biden was too old dogged him in 2019. The fact that he has turned 80—we fixate on milestones like that—and would be 82 at a second inauguration and 86 before his second term ends are simply daunting. That Trump is a mere three years younger should, reasonably, offset that but that hasn’t happened to date.

Even though only a few years separate the two men in their golden years, voters view their vigor differently. Recent polls have found that roughly two out of three voters say Mr. Biden is too old to serve another four-year term, while only about half say the same about Mr. Trump.

If that gap starts to narrow, it’s Mr. Trump who has far more to lose in a general-election matchup.

Sure. But that’s just pure speculation, not reporting or analysis.

This, however, is more interesting:

According to a previously unreported finding in an August survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 43 percent of U.S. voters said both men were “too old to effectively serve another four-year term as president.” Among those voters, 61 percent said they planned to vote for Mr. Biden, compared with 13 percent who said the same about Mr. Trump.

Last week, similar findings emerged in a Franklin & Marshall College poll of registered voters in Pennsylvania, one of the most closely watched 2024 battlegrounds.

According to the poll, 43 percent of Pennsylvanians said both men were “too old to serve another term.” An analysis of that data for The New York Times showed that Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump among those voters by 66 percent to 11 percent. Among all voters in the state, the two men were in a statistical tie.

Berwood Yost, the director of the Franklin & Marshall poll, said that Mr. Biden’s wide lead among voters who were worried about both candidates’ ages could be explained partly by the fact that Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to identify age as a problem for their party’s leader.

“The age issue is one that if Trump gets tarred with the same brush as Biden, it really hurts him,” Mr. Yost said.

One would think that, given a binary choice between two candidates that most people think are too old, age would be a wash. Thus far, though, it hasn’t been.

Mr. Trump’s rhetorical skills have long relied on a mix of brute force and a seemingly preternatural instinct for the imprecise. That beguiling combination — honed from a lifetime of real estate negotiations, New York tabloid backbiting and prime-time reality TV stardom — often means that voters hear what they want to hear from him.

Trump supporters leave his speeches energized. Undecided voters who are open to his message can find what they’re looking for in his pitch. Opponents are riled, and when they furiously accuse him of something they heard but that he didn’t quite precisely say, Mr. Trump turns the criticism into a data point that he’s unfairly persecuted — and the entire cycle begins anew.

This may be the equivalent of reading tea leaves and have little real-world impact. People who go to Trump rallies are Trump acolytes. Riled opponents are, well, opponents. Neither group are persuadable voters.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mattbernius says:

    Agreed on all points James. I expect that most Republican primary voters will see such reporting as “whataboutism” and regurgitate right-wing talking points about “how protected Biden is.” If fact I expect we’ll see at least one, if not more, of those comments in response to this thread.

    This may impact the general more. It’s also entirely possible that this could be the first Presidential Election without any debates.

    And as with you, I ultimately don’t think this will matter much–unless one of his lead Primary Opponents decides to go hard on this. Given that it looks like some of them are running for VP, that seems less than likely.

    Beyond that, I expect most people will treat this like a Flight 93* election and partisan sort based on that.

    * – In all seriousness, I have to admit I see it this way. I don’t buy into the idea that this would be the final US election. However, I think Trump would do exceptional and generational damage to our overall Federal Bureaucracy. He’s more or less saying that out loud at this point. I also acknowledge that for his supporters–including some commenters here–that’s a feature, not a bug.

  2. drj says:


    I don’t buy into the idea that this would be the final US election.

    Probably not the final election, but almost certainly the final meaningful election (for a good long while, at least).

  3. Joe says:

    @mattbernius: I am more and more convinced that there is a growing in influence segment operating in the Republican party whose goal is to make the federal government fail as an institution. Government shut down? Yes, please. Default on debt? Music to my ears. Federal bureaucracy gutted? Definition of success.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Neither group are persuadable voters.

    This is, of course, totally correct, but I’m not sure it matters. As Steven has so often pointed out, while the committed acolytes make up a significant chunk of primary voters, they make up a much smaller proportion of the general. If something like this has an impact it will be on those who normally pull the lever for Republicans but have little real interest or awareness of what’s at stake and only a vague understanding of what is real and what is spin. I hold out some hope that some of them will decide it’s not worth the line at the voting booth, or the detour from their route to work to cast a vote for an old codger.

  5. Kathy says:


    The final free election, maybe.

    I can see the 2028 Democratic candidate not appearing in the ballot in some swing states, for example.

  6. KM says:

    Have you ever seen anyone old and obese meanly chide a younger person for gaining some weight as they get older? Heard a Boomer complain about “fat kids these days” while spilling over the seat of their Rascal rental? It’s that same nasty, gossipy, hypocritical energy. Yes, the statement may have some truth but who it’s coming from completely negates the point. Of course Biden is old – he’s freakin’ 80! 80 year olds, contrary to what a media that panders to older generations tells you, are not normally that articulate and mobile. Puttering around the house (or gold course) is not the same as leading a government so he’s clearly in the upper percentile for retaining autonomy and function; Biden’s kicking ass in the famously high-stress, visibly ages the holders office to only show the slips we’ve seen.

    Meanwhile Trump’s farting around & blathering at people as he pleases but looks terrible. Of course, he’s gonna attack Biden’s age because in his mind, he’s still that 35yr “mogul on top of the world” and not a sad sack in God’s Waiting Room. And the attacks will work for the same reason it always does – we see the flaws in our enemies we ignore in ourselves. The older generations refuse to concede power and positions, halting the natural progress of life and sticking us with ever-elder choices.

  7. CSK says:

    Isn’t “burning it all down” the goal of the Freedom Caucus?

  8. inhumans99 says:


    I know what I am about to say will sound a bit flippant, but we really only have to worry about this being the last fair election if we simply let the inky blackness of midnight embrace us with not a care in the world as we are enfolded into her inescapable darkness.

    It sounds so eye rollingly silly and immature of me to say this, but it is not just MAGAts that have that much loved constitutional solution they like remind us liberals of at all times of the day, the 2A Constitutional solution. The last time I checked, it was not just folks who would be considered MAGA that fought and won the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War for that matter.

    Trump is old and feeble, and shall pass sooner than later, and what is that you say, well then we will be under the thumb of J Jordan, or DeSantis, and I say to that wait, what…why??? We will only be under their thumb if we do absolutely nothing to push back against their words and actions.

    Look, hopefully, us Liberals/Progressives make some good decisions because if we make decisions like those critters in that great Geico If you’re in a scary movie, you make bad decisions commercial, than we deserve what is coming to us.

    We just prevented what was supposed to be an inevitable “red wave election,” and if we did it once we can do it again.

    That is my Pollyannaish statement for the day. Have a great Monday folks, just think that we are this much closer to Friday once the day is up (lol).

  9. CSK says:


    And isn’t this what Trump has repeatedly promised to do?

  10. gVOR10 says:

    I believe the Poli Sci term is “electoral autocracy”, which we already have to a degree in heavily gerrymandered, vote suppressing states.

  11. JKB says:

    There are several younger candidates in the process to replace Trump if he’s determined too old.

    But Democrats are betting all on Old Joe with the idea that they’ll anoint Newsom sometime next September.

    That’ll be fun

  12. Rick DeMent says:

    Biden is the same age as Mick Jaggers who just put out a charting rock and roll record.

  13. Andy says:

    Biden’s problem is that he looks and acts old much more than Trump does. That’s what people see. And Trump getting worse in the same way doesn’t stop that perception.

    As I’ve been saying for some time now, either candidate could have some kind of McConnell or Howard Dean moment that kills their candidacy because of their age. Or they could drop dead. I think this could be the decisive issue for the election more than anything else.

    Yes, there are hard-core partisans and a high degree of negative partisanship such that either one will get a non-trivial number of votes even if they were in a coma. There are a large number of dead-enders who will vote for a sack of potatoes with the right letter next to it, but they don’t matter in this calculus – the voters who matter are the leaners, independents, and swing voters who are and have been decisive in close elections, which looks to be the case again this time around.

    And neither candidate has really started to campaign in earnest – which, judging from history – is pretty grueling and relentless. Grueling and relentless is not something old people are good at handling.

  14. mattbernius says:


    Biden’s problem is that he looks and acts old much more than Trump does.

    I really want to see this unpacked a bit. Beyond letting his hair be white and choosing not to wear bronzing make-up* what does “look and act old” mean?

    Granted some of this may be an aspect of seeing more photos of Biden being active than most people, but I hope that I’m engaging in physical activities like biking when I’m his age.

    * – For the record the make-up really goes a long way towards making Trump look younger. Whenever you catch a photo of him without it, it really ages him (see:

  15. inhumans99 says:


    While I agree with you for the most part, the reality is that it will be grueling for BOTH candidates, so maybe we will see much less direct campaigning from the both of them. A plus in my book.

    Let the President Biden and Trump surrogates/cheerleaders work the margins to get “independents” to lean one direction or another.

    It could even work to Biden’s benefit that he stays out of the limelight more often than Trump, so while Trump will be eager to hog the spotlight and want to constantly take digs at President Biden, it is pretty much inevitable that this will take its toll on Trump and folks (even some folks on his own team) are no longer simply laughing off every verbal gaffe by Trump, and are starting to wonder about his health.

    As DeSantis of all people noted, today’s Trump is not the one from 2015/16, and perhaps outside of his hardcore fans, indications of a real problem with his mental and physical health will not simply be dismissed at Trump being Trump.

    Trump’s harping on President Biden’s age could be a double edged sword that also cuts him nearly as deep as his opponent(s).

  16. gVOR10 says:

    @Rick DeMent: Not sure that’s a helpful comparison. Have you seen a recent picture of Mick Jagger?

  17. Lounsbury says:

    @mattbernius: This is a true observation but at once baffling that the Republicans lack any sense

    –unless one of his lead Primary Opponents decides to go hard on this. Given that it looks like some of them are running for VP, that seems less than likely.

    As it has been obvious that for their own long-term good as an electoral loser (given the party candidates are not en gross deluded to think Trump excuses are true), and it is in their collective interest to gut him. As even being his VP as Pence shows is an excercise in humiliation.

    Perhaps it is the effect of parliamentarianism but it is hard to imagine Trump in another party structure not being savaged on his weak points (not from the Left flank in general).

    @drj: don’t be ridiculous drama llama, for God sake, weaker newer democracies like Poland have recovered. Your situaiton is bad enough without being overly dramatic.

    Gross damage that takes years if not decades to recover from is already quite bad.

    Mr Bernius is reasonably on point for you.

    However, I think Trump would do exceptional and generational damage to our overall Federal Bureaucracy. He’s more or less saying that out loud at this point. I also acknowledge that for his supporters–including some commenters here–that’s a feature, not a bug.

    Peeling off percentages in key states becomes critical, not ramping up the vote in blow-outs / non-competitives.

    @mattbernius: I believe it must be indeed his not colouring his hair, and wearing his age properly – he is a properly sprite and in good shape man for any age over 65 really.

    [Of course for the entertainment value you might cocnsider your country descending to the depths of the Algerian case, putting forward Bouteflika as candidate in a wheelchair, a stroke victim unable to actually give a speech]

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Democrats: Show of hands, how many of you would be less worried about Biden’s age if his running mate wasn’t a…

    Nope, not gonna go there, just for today.

  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Funny you should start in that direction. I believe for many Dems who follow politics as they do sports, the concern with Harris isn’t that she wouldn’t be a competent president, it’s that she’s been an awkward candidate with poor political instincts. I’ll venture that the best thing that could happen for a future Harris presidential campaign would be for Biden to be forced from office soon, so that she has the opportunity to demonstrate her abilities and competencies.

  20. Andy says:


    I really want to see this unpacked a bit. Beyond letting his hair be white and choosing not to wear bronzing make-up* what does “look and act old” mean?

    It’s not his physical looks but his mannerisms and the way he speaks – much less fluid and confident. His gait is less steady. There’s a reason he now usually uses the shorter set of stairs to board Air Force 1. Just watch any recent videos of Biden and compare them to even 5 years ago – the difference is not subtle.


    Trump’s harping on President Biden’s age could be a double edged sword that also cuts him nearly as deep as his opponent(s).

    Definitely true, which is why I mentioned this is a risk for both candidates.

  21. Slugger says:

    We should have Trump and Biden race for a mile, play a game of Go, and take a twelfth grade civics test. Winner of two events gets to be Prez. We should be ruled by the Aristoi, the best people in the world. This should determined objectively and not by a popularity contest. I’m open to adding other events.

  22. al Ameda says:

    A few points:

    (1) Age and appearance are going to be an issue here, there is no getting away from that. Both guys are old, but Biden just doesn’t project the energy and unrelenting stupidity of Trump.

    (2) Related to the aging issue is the dogwhistle part of this which is (((pssst))) do you all realize that if something happens to Joe, a really scary Black woman is 2nd in line? Yeah, that’s part of this.

    (3) Everyone knows Trump is garbage. But Republicns are determined to ride the garbage train back to power.

    (4) Look, I’d love to see a credible alternative to Joe Biden – maybe Gretchen Whitmer or Josh Shapiro, someone like that – but it’s not going to happen. So I’m voting for Joe, I can’t waste my time supporting the alternatives. Too much is on the line now.

    There’s a long way to go and who knows what the news cycle is going to bring us today or tomorrow let alone 6 or 8 months from now. Me personally? I hope a smallish asteroid hits Mar-A-Lago.

  23. Kathy says:

    Political power has a strong attraction many are loath to let go of. Having spent decades attempting to win the presidency, Biden is just not going to let it go until he has to. Either by completing a second term, or by dying in office (hopefully during said second term).

    I had half expected him to decline to run for reelection after the midterms. This would mean leaving the road to the nomination clear, and a promise to fully back the winner in the general election.

    This did not happen. Possibly by what I said above. A more charitable take is because Benito is running and will likely be the opposing candidate. Biden has defeated him once, and may think he’s certain to do so again (gods willing), whereas any other candidate might not.

    One way to check the second interpretation is if Biden steps down at some point in his second term, not due to some incredibly obvious development like a stroke or a major cardiac event.

  24. gVOR10 says:

    The electoral bottom line on Harris is that she helps secure Black support and turnout. The presidential bottom line is that if something happened to Biden, Harris inherits his team. With a Trump successor VP, or Trump himself, we’d get the clown act Trump would assemble.

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    Biden should go straight at it.

    “Look, I’m old, I’m 80 years old. I can’t run up and down stairs like I used to. And when I fly 16 hours to visit a war zone, the jet lag does take a toll. But I’ve been lucky: I’ve kept my weight down because being overweight exacerbates all the effects of age. I suppose I could use bronzer to try for that youthful glow, but I don’t really think I would look good in orange.”

  26. Lounsbury says:

    @al Ameda: Indeed, you lot need to play MAGA style instead of engaging in intellectual hand wringing and scenarios analysis.

    Although frankly Biden to date has been a globally effective president not to be ashamed off.

    As Mr Perry, an age peer for myself at least, reminds, death comes as a thief in the night.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    the concern with Harris isn’t that she wouldn’t be a competent president, it’s that she’s been an awkward candidate with poor political instincts.

    At least that’s what they say it is.

    Nope, still not gonna go there.

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @al Ameda:

    a really scary Black woman is 2nd in line? Yeah, that’s part of this.

    I want to go on record: I DID NOT SAY THIS.

    ETA: “But Republicns are determined to ride the garbage train back to power.”
    If all you have is the garbage train (look at what they want to do, ffs!) that’s what you have to ride.
    AETA: Considering where Maga-lardo is, even a large asteroid would be karmic.

  29. Rick DeMent says:


    I have but you can’t discount the energy the three surviving members have. I was on a 5 week tour in the 80’s and after that I quit being in a band because I realized I didn’t have the energy at 24 for that lifestyle. These guys are going on a world tour next year and while I get that people at the level of the Rolling Stones are much more pampered, I still can’t understand how they do it at their age.

    Some people are different.

  30. Lounsbury says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: strike through pseudo coyness is quite leaden and lacking panache.

  31. de stijl says:

    I have been to both towns. “To” is not precisely correct. I have driven through both Souix Falls and Souix City. In Trump’s defense it is pretty easy to confuse the two. They are remarkably similar on a surface level.

    Both mid-sized cities in fly-over parts no one really cares about.

    I had a project manager originally from Souix Falls who used to work for Gateway (computer manufacturer long dead oddly headquartered in SD) who was a solid dude and a decent PM. Knew his business.

    I had a direct report originally from Souix City, but mostly she was seconded full-time to a project I was not a part of. I would stop by for a brief chat two or three times a week to see if she needed anything, but she was always okay. It was an odd relationship: she kind of, but didn’t report to me. She seemed competent.

    There is also Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids, and also very easy to confuse. Cedar Falls is the home of University of Nortern Iowa. Cedar Rapids has the Grant Woods museum. Easy to confuse – they are about an hour away from each other.

  32. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    Sioux City, IA, is famous for hosting the almost-controlled crash landing of United 232 in 1989.

    Just south of it you can find the town of South Sioux City, Nebraska. I know it exists for the sheer coincidence of having corresponded briefly with a resident of this town in the early internet days, whom I chanced upon on some message board.

  33. de stijl says:


    One of my favorite movies is Fearless.

    The opening is basically the Sioux City crash but told from the passenger perspective. Jeff Bridges knows he is going to die in a horrible plane crash, but somehow survives, incidentally saves some folks on his way out, and walks away unharmed.

    The leading up to the crash scene is stunning.

    The rest of the movie is Jeff Bridges trying to cope with being alive after he reckoned “I will die in twenty seconds.” and then he unexpectedly did not die. He survived on a whim, an odd happenstance. He copes with that circumstance oddly.

    I really love that movie until the last minute. Highly recommended movie. Top ten lifetime (except for the last minute.)

    The most intense airplane crash I have ever scene in a movie. Astonishingly intense, there, effective.

  34. just nutha says:

    @Lounsbury: Flights of rhetorical banality being highly superior?

  35. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    I vaguely recalled hearing about that movie. I didn’t get to see it.

    A bit over half of the people on board survived, including the flight crew. A handful of passengers, maybe 15 or so, had only minor injuries.

  36. Kathy says:

    Back on topic, among Benito’s many verbal blunders, one stands out.

    And that’s saying a lot, considering his narration of how the Continental Armies took the airports, or how little help the Kurds were in WWII, and using the wrong name for a candidate in the Georgia Senate runoff, among others.

    The one I’m thinking about wasn’t just egregious, but it also had real consequences. I don’t recall the exact words El Cheeto used, but it was the time he suggested drinking bleach to treat COVID.

    Remember that?

    Consequences: it was embarrassing enough that he cut down on his rantings masked as COVID briefings.

  37. CSK says:


    Trump actually was proposing a bleach injection.

  38. Kathy says:


    I figure about the same lethality.

    BTW, one I left out, when he said on camera he’d own the shutdown.

  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB: There are several younger candidates in the process to replace Trump if he’s determined too old.

    Who? Please, name one you fucking idiot. I will thoroughly enjoy trump tearing them to shreds for having the audacity to challenge his godly claim upon the throne.

    Jeebus you are deluded.

  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @just nutha: To quote the immortal EF Goldman, “Fuck ’em.”

  41. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I don’t think America would vote for a Black woman.

    It’s more of the “well, not this one…” than outspoken racism and misogyny.

    If Biden drops dead after the inauguration, people would accept Harris as President and relax (or go insane, as they will), but a majority would never vote for her before that.

  42. JKB says:


    Reading comprehension. I said “if he’s determined to old”, i.e., the electorate makes such a decision. In that case, there is a whole line up of primary candidates who have been debating and campaigning.

    On the other hand, if such happens to Biden, the Dem voters will be given no say in whom the party elite installs. But the general election voters will have a say on whether they are acceptable.

  43. Jax says:

    @JKB: It appears your base only wants one guy, as well. They’re not going to accept anyone but Trump. So if he chokes on a hamberder, which one will they follow?

  44. Lounsbury says:

    @just nutha: one cannot account for taste but no comparison was made, nevertheless, leaden dated petit bourgeois attempts at pseudo coyness are lacking in panache.

    On the other hand the leaden and ponderous attempts by JKB to sow doubts amongst his opposition as likev”Dem voters will be given no say in whom the party elite installs” are so rote and off as to even rise to the level of not having panache. They rather give one the impression he is working off of an Party talking point list, with all the intellectual engagement of a wind up Bolshevik

  45. al Ameda says:


    @al Ameda: Indeed, you lot need to play MAGA style instead of engaging in intellectual hand wringing and scenarios analysis.

    What so-called ‘intellectual handwringing’?
    What ‘scenario analysis’ seemed especially egregious to you?