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On the cusp of his 45th birthday, DeSantis plays the age card against Biden, Trump

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On the cusp of his 45th birthday, DeSantis plays the age card against Biden, Trump

Sep 13, 2023 | 2:28 pm ET
By Michael Moline
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On the cusp of his 45th birthday, DeSantis plays the age card against Biden, Trump
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You can sign Gov. Ron DeSantis' birthday card on his campaign website. Source: Screenshot

Ron DeSantis was a wee lad of six when Ronald Reagan, then 73, performed jiu jitsu on questions about his age as he campaigned for reelection as president in 1984.

“I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” Reagan said of Democratic contender Walter Mondale.

On the cusp of his 45th birthday, DeSantis plays the age card against Biden, Trump
Ronald Reagan. Public domain

We might forgive DeSantis for not being mindful of the way Reagan’s joke disarmed the age question, setting up “The Gipper” for a landslide victory.

Now DeSantis, who turns 45 on Thursday (you can sign his birthday card on his campaign website but he’ll ask you for money), is toying with the age issue in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination against Donald Trump, 77, who enjoys a double-digit lead over DeSantis in presidential primary polls, and possibly Joe Biden, 80, in next year’s general election.

Should they win reelection, Trump would be 82 at the end of his term in 2019 and Biden 86. Reagan was old for a president in his day, but now Biden is the oldest president to assume the office; Trump No. 2; and Reagan No. 3.

In an interview this week with CBS News, Florida’s governor insisted the advanced ages of Biden and Donald Trump are “absolutely a legitimate concern.”

“The presidency is not a job for someone that’s 80 years old,” DeSantis said.

Lest that also be seen as a dig at the elderly who comprise nearly 22% of Florida’s population, DeSantis stressed: “And there’s nothing, you know, wrong with being 80. Obviously, I’m the governor of Florida. I know a lot of people who are elderly. They’re great people. But you’re talking about a job where you need to give it 100%. We need an energetic president.”

Old guard

Noting that many political leaders in Washington are 75 years old or older, DeSantis also suggested that the Founders, if given another chance, “probably would’ve put an age limit on some of these offices.”

Note: The age expectancy in 1788, when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, was around 36. The minimum age qualification for the presidency is 35 but there’s no upper limit.

On the cusp of his 45th birthday, DeSantis plays the age card against Biden, Trump
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) arrives for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 6, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Fair point: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 81; Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 90. Both have been ailing. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who running for reelection to her House seat, is 83. The median age in the U.S. Senate is 65; in the House, it’s around 58, according to the Pew Research Center.

Rick Scott, Florida’s junior U.S. senator, is 70; Democratic former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was 76 when Scott defeated him in 2018. Senior U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is a dewy 52. Maxwell Frost of Central Florida is the youngest member of the U.S. House, having taken his seat at 26. (He was elected at age 25.)

“I think Americans — if Biden’s the Democrat nominee, I’m the Republican nominee — I think there’s going to be a lot of Americans that are going to want to see a generational passing of the torch,” DeSantis said.

Health

Biden remains healthy for a man of his age, at least as of February, when he was assessed by the White House physician. Republicans like to portray Biden as a dotty old man, yet he managed high level diplomatic talks during a recent trip to India and Southeast Asia. Trump, known for his appetite for fast food and overcooked red meat, is clinically obese and there are questions about his physical and mental health.

Here’s another thing to think about from the Reagan era. Reagan died of Alzheimer Disease at 93 in 2004. He’d announced his diagnosis nine years earlier but aides noted that he may have exhibited symptoms including mental confusion while still in office; see this 2011 report in Psychology Today.

On the other hand, here’s another thing Reagan said during that 1984 debate: “It was Seneca or Cicero — I don’t know which — that said if it was not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young there would be no state.”

He may have been thinking about this from Cicero: “Rashness is the product of the budding-time of youth, prudence of the harvest-time of age.”