Age is always on the mind in Washington—a town that likes to remind us that each election is the most consequential in a generation, and that still genuflects upon the Kennedy–Nixon debate, the Lloyd Bentsen quip to Quayle, the Reagan retort about Mondale’s youth and inexperience, etcetera. But age is really on the town’s mind at the moment, as the country faces down a presidential rematch between a septuagenarian and octogenarian. The latest AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs survey poll, featured at the top of Mike Allen’s Axios newsletter, noted that 77 percent of Americans think Joe Biden is too old to be effective for four more years, including 69 percent of respondents who were Democrats. In his newsletter, Allen called him “the unwanted candidate.”
Privately, some Democrats are fretting that the party is willfully ignoring these warning signs, and that their candidate might be as electorally vulnerable as Trump. Biden’s ham-fisted response to the devastating Maui fire hasn’t helped, and might end up in opposition ads down the line. “It’s going to become apparent this fall or the winter… that there’s a problem,” said a Democratic operative close to party leadership. “Winter is coming.” On a recent episode of my new podcast, Somebody’s Gotta Win, the Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson noted that Biden’s most significant political strength—the long-held view that his decades of experience have made him a steady and reliable hand—could evaporate as the electorate is bombarded with reminders of his advancing age and examples of mismanagement, like the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The next generation of Democratic leaders—Gavin Newsom and J.B. Pritzker chief among them—have continued to quietly cultivate campaign infrastructure, while trying to avoid getting caught with their hands too deep in the cookie jar. Indeed, even the perception of attempting to take on a sitting president would almost certainly result in condemnation from the likes of Hillary Clinton, Jim Clyburn, and the Obamas, and probably all of the other Democratic governors, and undercut their ability to fundraise.