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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump dances
One complicating factor for Trump is that he isn’t free from age concerns himself. Matt Rourke/AP

Trump Loves to Knock Biden, but Has Been Muted on His Age

Republicans are betting Biden’s age concerns will stick in voters’ minds even without Trump highlighting them.

This weekend, while the political world was abuzz over federal investigators’ comments on President Joe Biden’s age, Donald Trump nabbed headlines for suggesting he wouldn’t defend NATO allies and for warning Taylor Swift that it would be “disloyal” for her to support his opponent.

It reflected a paradox of Trump’s 2024 campaign: The former president loves to take shots at his opponents but has been muted when it comes to criticizing Biden as old on the campaign trail.

Many Trump allies hope Biden’s age will be his downfall, but the ex-president — who is only four years younger — is an imperfect messenger. And many Republicans are betting Biden’s age concerns will stick in voters’ minds even without Trump highlighting them.

“In the practice of law we say, ‘You don’t have to club the baby seal in front of the jury,’” said Jared Craig, legal counsel for Veterans for America First. “It’s more powerful for them to reach the conclusion themselves than to be force-fed something.”

Trump raged over what he called a “two-tiered system of justice” when special counsel Robert Hur’s report cleared Biden of wrongdoing when it came to retaining classified documents. At a South Carolina rally, Trump also said the Hur report showed Biden as a “mental basket case” and frequently questioned Biden’s mental acuity, calling for presidential candidates to take cognitive tests. But Trump barely mentioned the report’s stunning comments about Biden’s age that painted him as old and forgetful, tapping into one of voters’ biggest concerns about the president as he runs for reelection.

“The report itself was damning on its own,” GOP strategist Paul Shumaker said. “Quite frankly, when it comes to Biden’s age, his actions are the main validator for the public’s concerns about him.”

Republican strategists said Biden is doing the work himself to convince voters he is not physically capable of being the president. To them, the Hur report is simply confirmation of a belief already held by the American public. A new poll conducted by ABC News found 86% of Americans believe Biden is too old to be the president.

“There is a school of thought where you just let them twist: Donald Trump doesn’t need to convince anyone of what’s going on with Biden,” said GOP strategist Scott Jennings.

One complicating factor for Trump is that he isn’t free from age concerns himself. The same ABC News poll also revealed that 62% of voters say Trump is too old to serve as president. And he’s had plenty of his own mental hiccups: He recently mixed up Nancy Pelosi and Nikki Haley and previously called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the “leader of Turkey.”

On Friday, several Democrats told NOTUS they were happy to compare Biden to Trump and that Biden’s policies would win out.

But GOP strategist Doug Heye says there’s a difference in the age concerns between the two candidates that Trump could capitalize on.

“It seems an obvious place for Trump to go,” Heye said. “When he has events and rallies, people see that he’s a vigorous person. When they see Biden, they don’t see that.”

Though Trump’s comments on NATO countries stirred controversy in the media as well, his allies say it won’t do much to move the needle because this kind of rhetoric is somewhat his norm and that those who have decided not to vote for Trump have already made up their minds.

“Trump makes sure that every time he says something, it spins the media’s head off,” said Brian Pritchard, first vice chair of the Georgia GOP. “It will not hurt him at all.”

Ben T.N. Mause and Calen Razor are NOTUS reporters and Allbritton Journalism Institute fellows. Maggie Severns is a reporter at NOTUS.