- Concerns about President Joe Biden’s fitness and age have been raised by voters.
- Those issues were compounded by a Special Counsel report painting him as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”
- Polls suggest a different Democratic nominee could fare better against Trump in a general election.
Concerns about President Joe Biden’s age and fitness go back years, and polling has consistently shown voters of both political parties are concerned about his age.
Biden is 81, and would be 82 if he was sworn in for another term.
Still, the Democratic Party has stuck by him, refusing to consider another candidate for 2024 — a gamble that feels increasingly risky in light of the Special Counsel report painting the president as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
Biden held a furious, last-minute news conference on Thursday in which he insisted his memory is fine and scolded reporters who pressed him on it.
His reaction seemed to support what some political strategists are saying — that this could be a major issue for him.
In the aftermath of the Special Counsel report, there was panic among Democrats, who feared that it could consolidate voters’ biggest concerns about Biden, according to NBC News.
The characterization of the president as a forgetful old man led one Democratic House Member, who spoke to NBC News anonymously, to describe it as a “nightmare” that weakens him electorally.
Another unnamed Biden ally told the outlet that it was “the worst day of his presidency.”
They added: “I think he needs to show us this is a demonstrably false characterization of him and that he has what it takes to win and govern.”
And one Democratic operative, speaking anonymously, told NBC News that it “confirms every doubt and concern that voters have.”
When questioned by NBC News if it changes the calculus for Democrats expecting Biden to be their party’s nominee, the person responded: “How the fuck does it not?”
Although Republicans have relentlessly blasted Biden on his age and mental acuity, it’s not yet clear how voters will respond to the same concerns when they’re raised in a Special Counsel report.
A recent NBC News poll showed 76% of voters, including half of Democrats, have concerns about Biden not having the necessary mental and physical health for a second term. But Business Insider’s Bryan Metzger doesn’t expect it to affect 2024 significantly.
Biden’s age is essentially baked-in to voters’ expectations, in the same way that Trump’s scandals are baking into the expectations of Republican voters, Metzger wrote.
Regardless, the Democratic Party could have avoided this altogether.
There have been some signs that another Democratic nominee for president could fare better than Biden in a general election match-up against former President Donald Trump.
But the same poll suggested that if the choice was between Trump and another Democratic candidate, 40% would probably vote for Trump and 48% would vote for the Democratic candidate.
David Axelrod, a former strategist for Barack Obama, said at the time the polls would “send tremors of doubt” through the Democratic Party.
“Only @JoeBiden can make this decision. If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” he wrote on X. “What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?”
Despite concerns, most Democratic leaders have stood by Biden. There’s not even a clear successor if, for some reason, Biden could not run.
As one senior Democratic official told Reuters in November: “There is no Plan B.”
While some may see Vice President Kamala Harris as a reasonable backup candidate, polls also suggest she’s unpopular with voters.
That same official told Reuters that if Biden backed out “everyone you know would run,” adding: “The VP scares no one.”
Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democratic lawmaker from Minnesota, is challenging Biden in the primary, but he’s failed to gain the support of other leaders in his party, and a CNN poll from January found him polling at only 7%.
The Democratic Party did not seriously consider putting up a candidate other than Biden in 2024, and it’s left them with next to no alternative options.