Voters are skeptical of Biden's age. But Trump's notable flubs risk drawing unwelcome attention, too

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President Joe Biden salutes as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, en route to Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel)

WASHINGTON – To hear Donald Trump tell it, President Joe Biden is so senile that he doesn't know where he's speaking and feeble enough that others are making decisions for him.

Yet Trump has made notable flubs of his own. The former president mixed up the city and state where he was campaigning last weekend and had to be corrected by a local official. He recently called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the leader of Turkey and has repeatedly mispronounced the militant group Hamas as “hummus.”

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Biden is now 80 and Trump is 77. Trump was the oldest person elected to a first term — until Biden was. Today, the age factor is shaping up as an important issue in a possible rematch in 2024 of their first race, in 2020.

Yet polls consistently show that Americans view the Democratic president's age as more of a liability, even as some of Trump's rivals for the Republican nomination are stepping up efforts to use the issue against him.

An August poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 77% of U.S. adults, including 69% of Democrats, viewed Biden as too old to be effective for four more years. The same poll found that 51% of adults — and just 28% of Republicans — said Trump is too old.

“Looking at videos of Biden and really reading into it, I just — he mentally just can’t handle, I think, an election at all,” said Skylar Swan, 23, who attended a recent Trump rally in Summerville, South Carolina. As for Trump, she said, "When you look at him, yeah, he says things that are crazy, and he’s a little hardcore. But it’s also like, that’s the type of guy I wouldn’t want to mess with.”

Melody Crowder-Meyer, a political science professor at Davidson College in North Carolina who studies the characteristics of elected leaders, including their age, said such perceptions are tied to different expectations for each man.

“For Joe Biden, there is some expectation of normal governance,” she said. "Your concern is more, 'Does this person have the capacity to accomplish my policy aims, accomplish the things that they’ve said they’re going to accomplish?'”

By contrast, “so much of Trump’s base of support has been willing to overlook much more significant flaws than simply age,” Crowder-Meyer said, including four indictments totaling 91 criminal counts and persistent lies about widespread fraud costing him reelection in 2020.

Trump can often give the impression of a younger politician while campaigning. In Iowa over the summer, he doled out Blizzard ice cream treats to customers at a Dairy Queen and hung out at a fraternity house while tossing footballs into the crowd.

Biden has attended just one campaign rally since launching his reelection bid in April. But he has traveled extensively, in the United State and abroad, for official events and attended dozens of fundraisers.

Cecelia S. Curtis, a Democrat who lives in Summerville, plans to vote for Biden in 2024 but said she worries about his health based on her own experiences.

“I’m 75 myself, and I’m almost falling over my own feet, you know?” Curtis said.

Another notable difference is the length of time that Biden and Trump speak.

Biden often keeps most of his official speeches — and even looser remarks at fundraisers, where he often is more candid about policy and biting in his criticism of Trump — to around 30 minutes or less. Trump frequently talks for more than 90 minutes, a freewheeling style that can backfire.

Taking the stage in Sioux City, Iowa, over the weekend, Trump gave a hearty welcome to Sioux Falls, city that is more than 80 miles north in South Dakota. Only after he was awkwardly pulled aside on stage and informed that he was in Sioux City did he make a correction.

It was a scene strikingly similar to one of Trump's long-standing bits about Biden, in which he casts the president as too confused to know in which city he’s speaking.

Trump's Sioux flub caught the attention of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign, which recently released a “Trump Accident Tracker” that resets with each new gaffe.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has known Trump for more than 20 years and is now running for the GOP presidential nomination as one of Trump's sharpest critics, said he doesn't blame Trump's age for the gaffes.

“I don’t think he’s senile. But what I do think is that the pressure that he is under, at his age, is starting to get to him,” Christie said in an interview, pointing to Trump’s mounting legal woes. “And those of us who have known him for a long time know it. And I think that’s what’s affecting him more than anything else.”

Trump's flubs haven't stopped him from making fun of Biden, though they risk undermining Trump's strategy of painting the president as doddering. At rallies, Trump frequently performs a lengthy routine that draws hoots from the audience as he pretends to stumble around, squints and waves in directions where there are no people.

A Trump spokesperson noted that Trump hasn’t criticized Biden directly on age, and Trump has long argued that Biden's problem isn't actually his age but his mental state. Trump frequently says he's known plenty of people who are sharp well into their 80s and 90s.

Biden has taken a different tack, trying to defuse the age issue with humor. For weeks, his campaign privately has pushed the idea that Trump is getting older and slipping mentally. But the campaign says it is not planning to use the age issue to go on the political offensive over the long term.

Still, Biden-Harris HQ, the campaign's rapid-response account on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has been more aggressively highlighting Trump’s miscues. That mirrors the Republican National Committee’s RNC Research account, which notes when Biden trips or when he or leading members of his administration misspeak.

Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin said Trump’s comments about Biden’s age could backfire in moments when Biden looks especially presidential, such as when he delivered an impassioned defense of Israel amid the war in Gaza that began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks.

“The reality is when voters see — like they did in the Oval Office speech recently — President Biden being a strong, compelling leader, who can legitimately string sentences together and isn’t the Fox News caricature that Donald Trump would like people to believe, it makes them realize that they’ve been lied to and it makes them open their eyes,” Schwerin said.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations and is now a 2024 rival, has suggested that any politician over 75 undergo cognitive testing, something that would apply to both Biden and Trump. Haley is 51.

But at a Trump rally in Derry, New Hampshire last week, Heidi Morin, 63, said she was excited about the prospect of Trump returning to the White House.

“To be totally honest, if there was somebody that was presenting themselves, then I would like somebody younger that would stick around probably a little longer and everything else," she said. "But at this time, there’s nobody.”

“Trump’s only 70, right? So I think maybe in four years, like somebody younger? Fine,” interjected Kristin Brand, 52, who lives in Bourne, Massachusetts, and was standing next to Morin in line.

But when a reporter noted Trump’s actual age, neither woman saw it as problem.

“Well, he looks 70,” Brand said.

“That’s all we need,” added Morin's friend, Janine Whitcomb, 69. “We need that one term.”

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Colvin reported from Epping and Derry, New Hampshire, and Summerville, South Carolina.