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As questions swirl about President Biden’s age and whether he should seek a second term, one former Democratic lawmaker said attacking him mostly on age over substance won’t defeat him despite multiple policy failures.
“The Five” co-host and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., a Memphis Democrat who preceded current Rep. Steve Cohen., said Republicans should heed a warning from past attacks on one of their own – because ageist critiques can backfire.
“I think there’s no question Democrats and Biden have to get better. If they don’t get better, Republicans are going to be able to not only launch a serious campaign, but maybe a winning campaign in two years,” he said.
Ford however noted there was once “a guy named Mondale who lost to Reagan saying he was too old of a guy.”
During the 1984 campaign, Reagan was – at 73 – the oldest presidential nominee of any major party up until that point. Donald Trump and Joe Biden both surpassed that mark during the 2020 contest.
In a key debate moment, Baltimore Sun journalist Hank Trewhitt asked – in the vein of the youthful President Kennedy handling the Cuban Missile Crisis on low sleep – if Reagan would have trouble with another four years in office at his age.
“Not at all, Mister Trewhitt,” Reagan replied. “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.”
The Democratic nominee, former Vice President Fritz Mondale (then 56) chuckled at the exchange. The former California governor went on to win a record 49 states – Mondale’s Minnesota excepted – in a landslide.
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On “The Five,” Ford noted Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., one of Biden’s top supporters in the 2020 campaign, defended the president in a recent interview, but lacked the “burst of ‘we are fully behind, and we can’t wait for Joe Biden to run again’.”
Clyburn was instrumental in Biden winning the Palmetto State, which many observers note kept his presidential hopes alive at the time.
“I do think that it’s hard for me to imagine the president not seeking reelection; that some Democrats are concerned about his age,” Ford said.
“But I think Democrats need to stop worrying so much about the mental and physical acuity of the president. What we need to be focus on is the policy acuity: If policies were working to the extent that some around the table would agree with… we wouldn’t mind a few stumble over words or even a stumble up the stairs.”
Biden raised eyebrows last weekend when he fell off his bicycle as he stopped to chat during a ride through Cape Henlopen State Park in Sussex County, Del. over the weekend.
In 2021, Biden appeared to fall up the steps of Air Force One twice during what then-Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said was a particularly windy day at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.