Make Trump's Mental Acuity a Campaign Issue
Too many voters have forgotten that Trump is a deranged clown who isn't up to the job
The fact that Donald Trump is leading Joe Biden in news reports from The New York Times and other sources is puzzling for many of us. How could a chaotic criminal who spews conspiracy theories be on the cusp of returning to the White House? There’s not just one simple answer to how we ended up in this situation; it’s a combination of Biden’s low approval rating, divisions in the democratic coalition, dissatisfaction with the economy, a historic level of cynicism and institutional distrust, and radicalization of the Republican Party. The polarization and demographic makeup of the Electoral College mean that upcoming elections will continue to be closely contested. However, one specific finding in The New York Times/Siena College poll explains Trump’s strength and offers a particular strategy for defeating him again in 2024.
There is no sugarcoating it: Joe Biden’s age is a significant political obstacle. Many people across the country think he’s too old for the presidency, and even among Democrats, a lot of folks tell pollsters they’d rather have a younger candidate. In one sense, Biden’s age is an insoluble problem. There is no way to make him younger; he will get older as the campaign continues. Certainly, there will be high-leverage moments such as the State of the Union, the Democratic Convention, and the debates where the President can showcase the stamina and vigor required for the job.
There has been a lot of internal debate among the Democratic Party about how to approach the age issue. Handle it with humor, lean into it by emphasizing that wisdom comes with experience, highlight the younger members of Biden’s team, or ignore it entirely. There are merits to all of those approaches. But I think the best way to defuse concerns about Biden’s age is to focus on Trump’s temperament.
Trump’s Temperament Is No Longer the Issue
One particular quote from a participant in The New York Times poll has lingered in my thoughts:
Ms. Fermin, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic as a teenager, worried that Mr. Biden’s immigration policies have put additional economic strain on the country. She voted for Mr. Biden in 2020 over concerns about Mr. Trump’s temperament, but this time around her concerns are largely focused on Mr. Biden. “Biden is too old and doesn’t have the capacity mentally,” she said. “We need somebody stronger. I think Trump can deliver this time.”
Trump’s temperament—his erratic behavior—was always his biggest weakness. I remember seeing focus group reactions in 2019 and 2020 where many voters' biggest concerns about Trump were his tweets. I know that sounds ridiculous. I thought so at the time. But Trump spending all of his time airing petty grievances on social media was a metaphor for what concerned voters about his temperament. He was focused on the wrong things at the wrong time,
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