Joe Biden is really old, but so is Donald Trump:
Even assuming both are fit for the presidency at this point, the harder question for voters to evaluate is whether they will be in five years. And the dilemma for the country would be what to do if a president slips mentally or physically in a way that affects his ability to do the job but will not admit it or voluntarily step aside.
History suggests that presidents do not willingly give up power no matter how impaired they may be, and the constitutional mechanism for removing them enshrined in the 25th Amendment is politically problematic. Among other things, it requires a vice president and majority of the cabinet to declare that a president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” which loyal appointees may be reluctant to do if the president does not agree. Even if they did, a defiant president could appeal to Congress, requiring a two-thirds vote by both houses to sustain his removal.
Some of Mr. Trump’s own cabinet members when he was president contemplated invoking the 25th Amendment to unseat him, but his vice president, Mike Pence, refused to go along. The 25th Amendment provides an alternative: A panel created by Congress could declare a president unable to serve, but lawmakers have never formed such a body. When Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, tried to create a bipartisan panel of outside experts during Mr. Trump’s presidency, the initiative went nowhere.
There’s a legitimate issue here, which is that Congress has never bothered to provide the kind of mechanism that would allow the 25th amendment to potentially function effectively, in a case of significantly diminished capacity, matched with a president’s refusal or inability to recognize it. This is a far more troubling issue than the possible sudden death of a president, and one that is far from hypothetical in the case of eightysomething office holders, which of course Biden and Trump would both be during their second terms.
But precisely because of that, age is simply not a relevant consideration in the 2024 presidential campaign. Biden is three and a half years older, but chronological and cognitive age are separate things, and there’s absolutely no basis for believing that advanced age is a more troubling factor in Biden’s case than it is in Trump’s, given Trump’s terrible lifestyle and propensity to avoid exercising his brain, which is a massive risk factor in terms of age-related cognitive decline.
So focusing on the fact that both candidates are really old is pointless, given that it’s not a distinguishing factor between them, unlike say the fact that one of them wants to install an authoritarian cult of personality in the service of primarily, keeping himself out of prison, and secondarily, theocratic ethno-nationalism, and the other doesn’t.
That Biden is very old is a huge negative in the abstract. In the concrete present of America 2024, it’s totally meaningless — not that this will stop Peter Baker et. al. from talking about it endlessly for the next nine months.