No cemeteries, no ice cream parlors. Some have experienced advice on how Biden should handle the age issue

(ERIC DRAPER/Associated Press)

No cemeteries, no ice cream parlors. Some have experienced advice on how Biden should handle the age issue

Election 2024

Mark Z. Barabak

February 14, 2024

NOTE TO THE COPY OFFICE: I’m purposely not putting 1996 in subtitles because I’ve been told it hurts us when searching because the robot assumes it’s an old story.

A cemetery is not the best place for a presidential candidate facing questions about his age.

But there was Bob Dole, slightly hunched over as he examined a gravestone during his bid for the White House in 1996. Nearby, in the window of an antique store, a handwritten sign urged the 73-year-old Republican candidate to show his younger rival, President Clinton, that


was not ancient.

Joe Biden does


The youngest presidential candidate faces doubts about his mental and physical abilities. Before Dole, there was Ronald Reagan, a relative sapling in 1980 when, at age 69, he was confronted with the age issue during his third presidential election.

which gives Z the columnist’s permission to use Presidenten-jp’s first names

But the issue is particularly acute for Biden, who at 81 years old is the oldest president in history, as special counsel Robert Hur blatantly reminded voters last week in his pseudo-diagnosis of the president as “a well-meaning older man with a meager income ‘. memory.

Veterans of those previous presidential campaigns have some advice on how Biden should handle the age issue, which will not go away and, they emphasized, cannot be ignored.

“He walks across the White House lawn looking like an old man,” said Stu Spencer, who was Reagan’s top political adviser and turns 97 next week.

‘He needs to show more energy. Like he did last year in the State of the Union message.”

“You have to address it head-on,” said Scott Reed, who managed Dole’s presidential campaign. (To be clear, the stop at Dole’s cemetery was not something his strategists planned. The candidate wanted to lay flowers on the grave of a


family member.)

But, Reed said,

Biden should not confront the issue as he did at a cranky news conference Thursday night.

Biden summoned reporters at short notice after Hur cleared him of criminal wrongdoing for mishandling classified documents and painted him as a moth-eaten, avoidant geriatric man. “He looks shocked,” Reed said of the president’s grumpy demeanor. “He looks bad and he looks terrible.”

Of course, Biden is only a few years older than his almost certain November opponent, former President Trump.

Trump, who turns 78 in June, is the second-oldest candidate to ever run for the White House and has struggled with memory loss and unclear moments, such as confusing Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi. But the age issue has not plagued him as much as Biden, in part because Trump is louder and more forceful, even as he threatens to suspend the Constitution and surrender our allies to Russia.

Life isn’t fair, to quote one of the nation’s youngest presidents, John F. Kennedy.

So how else can Biden overcome the biggest hurdle standing between himself and a second term?

Some advice is obvious.

“I wouldn’t go to a nursing home or senior center,” said Don Sipple, who produced Dole’s presidential ads. “Ever.”

And, Reed suggested, no more “ice cream stops,” a key Biden photo opportunity. “Going for ice cream reminds everyone to go with their grandparents.”

It’s better, Reed said, to put Biden in an environment where he does his job. “More photos in the Oval Office,” Reed suggested, “or a meeting with his Cabinet.”

Sipple agreed. He has spent decades looking through a camera lens at candidates George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, among others.

“What would be really interesting to me would be a fly-on-the-wall treatment of a day in the life of a president. Where all you see is a candidate, a real, non-contrived, almost documentary-like display,” Sipple said. . ‘Does he swim laps in the pool? Is he on a treadmill? You really must have a day in your life where you implicitly attack the precept that this man is not up to the task.

“It’s something you’ve never seen before,” Sipple said, “and I think it could get some attention.”

There is no end to the free advice.

In December, I sat with a group of Biden’s generation in a 55-and-older community in the hills of the East Bay, just outside San Francisco. They ranged in age up to 92 and had many suggestions for the president. Among them: Raise and project your voice and stop jogging to the stage.

But reaching a candidate who is set in his ways isn’t easy, as Dole’s cemetery in rural Ohio suggests. (He not only addressed the message of the day, about the virtues of agriculture, but offered a case study of how


to solve a fun problem.)

The late senator was seriously injured in World War II and underwent painful physical therapy for years. For that reason, a former adviser recalled, Dole was unhappy about being told what to do.

Biden could be the same way. At his ripe age, there are few colleagues with his longevity and even fewer with his more than fifty years of political experience, that is, the status to command him.

Another Washington veteran, George HW Bush, closed conversations by saying, “If you’re so smart, why am I president and you’re not?”

To reach Biden, Sipple offered another piece of advice. “You have to speak truth to power,” he said.

“You can’t hide something like that from the American people. All you have to do is say, ‘Mr. President, if you want to continue in your job and earn a second term and serve a second term, you’re going to have to pivot to something new.’ Because the polling data couldn’t be clearer about ‘He’s too old, he’s not acting like a lively human being.’”

Call it an appeal to ego, vanity or grim political reality. Biden has one foot in his political grave. He doesn’t want to be buried in November.


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