In presidential campaigns, the age issue is oftentimes the elephant in the room that few people want to talk about. It’s an uncomfortable but sometimes necessary issue to discuss in the context of deciding who will be the next person to preside over the country.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, who was 73 at the time, faced age questions when he won the Republican presidential nomination in 1996.
When the late Sen. John McCain officially accepted the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he was 72 years old. Concerns were quietly raised in media reports and among rival campaigns about his age and health, but his campaign worked to reassure voters he was physically fit enough to be president of the United States.
Had he been elected, he would have been the oldest president elected to serve since the late Ronald Reagan, who was 69 at the start of his first term in 1981.
When the question of age came up during a 1984 presidential debate with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, Reagan famously and humorously said, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Those same questions have surfaced again in the 2020 presidential election cycle, mainly about Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden.
The top three candidates for the Democratic nomination as of this writing are all 70 and over, including Biden (77) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (70) and Bernie Sanders (78).
Though the age question has gently come up for Sanders while on the campaign trail both in this campaign and in 2016 when he ran against Hillary Clinton, it’s become more of an issue for Biden thanks to a series of high-profile gaffes and flubs committed since he declared his candidacy in April.
The combination of Biden’s campaign trail miscues and poor debate performances have even other Democrats openly questioning whether or not President Barack Obama’s former veep has the stamina to go the distance in a tough presidential campaign, much less lead the nation.
Some, like fellow presidential candidate and former Obama HUD director Julián Castro, have even insinuated that Biden is starting to forget things.
As it turns out, Biden himself is reportedly considering making a pledge to only serve one term if elected president. Numerous unnamed advisers close to Biden told the Politico news site that he was reluctant to make a public pledge of that nature, but instead he was “quietly indicating that he will almost certainly not run for a second term,” perhaps setting himself up as a “transitional” president.
Biden has long been considered a more “middle–of–the–road” candidate than most of those who have run or who are still in the race. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), failed presidential candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and failed Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams have been floated by political commentators and even Biden himself as potential running mates should he win the nomination.
All of them are much further to left than Biden is on issues like abortion and gun control. Should Biden pick Warren, she is arguably more to the left than any of the above-mentioned candidates, which might appease the party’s more “woke” wing.
But picking her would also mean the top of the Democratic ticket would consist of two septuagenarians at a time when activists within the party are looking to younger Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow “Squad” members Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib for leadership and direction.
Biden would be 86 at the end of his second term if elected and then reelected. With all this talk swirling now of him contemplating serving only four years, who he picks as his running mate just took on new importance.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.