Joe Biden under pressure to abandon re-election race because he is too old, but so is Donald Trump

When Joe Biden first unveiled his intention to seek four more years in the White House, the announcement led to a collective shrug of the shoulders within his Democratic Party. In a three-minute video released in late April, he told Americans he wants to “finish this job” and insisted that the country remains locked “in a battle for the soul of America”.

Five months later, the President’s strategy may be running aground, with fresh questions being asked about the wisdom of America’s oldest-ever president seeking to remain in the Oval Office until the age of 86.

Adding to the concerns, an ABC News/Washington Post poll on Sunday put Mr Trump ten points ahead of Mr Biden with registered voters, at 52 per cent to 42 per cent.

It isn’t just that Biden has demonstrably slowed down over the last few months, although his recent appearances at a news conference in Hanoi, where staff intervened to end a somewhat stumbling performance, and this week’s often-circuitous speech at the UN General Assembly both contributed to that conclusion.

The President is also hampered by a whispering campaign among fellow Democrats who fear the outcome of the seemingly-inevitable Biden/Trump re-match, and worry that the party’s younger generation of middle-aged potential leaders are being needlessly forced to shelve their own presidential aspirations.

Earlier this month, veteran Washington Post columnist David Ignatius decided it was time to articulate the quiet stuff aloud. A fixture in the US capital for decades, he is a widely respected figure within the city’s elite, and he is now urging Biden to abandon his re-election bid.

In his newspaper column, Ignatius acknowledged that he finds it “painful” to encourage the President to stand aside. But he argued that Biden, working alongside his Vice President, Kamala Harris, is not guaranteed to beat former president Donald Trump, 77, next year, and risks tarnishing his legacy in the process.

“Biden has never been good at saying no,” wrote Ignatius, claiming that the President’s withdrawal from the race “might not be in character… but it would be a wise choice for the country”.

In a later interview on MSNBC, he went even further. “Throughout the summer, I haven’t gone anywhere in the country where this issue of whether President Biden should run again hasn’t been a centerpiece of conversation… and I thought it was time to raise that question,” he said.

By raising it, Ignatius opened the floodgates for open discussion about Biden’s future. New York Magazine quickly weighed in, with political columnist Jonathan Chait observing that “there is strong demand among Democrats for a different and younger nominee”, and pointing to polling that suggests two thirds of the party’s supporters want Biden to remove himself from the race.

However, many of them do not want Harris to replace him. She remains a drag on the party’s presidential ticket, with polls showing that Trump would handily beat her in the event that she becomes his opponent.

The White House has deployed the President’s allies to defend him. On Tuesday, former National Democratic Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile told her social media followers that “I’m fine with Biden’s age because I’m fine with a President Harris”.

But amid growing discussion, time for change is ebbing away. If Biden is going to U-turn on his presidential bid, he needs to act rapidly so that Democrats can organise a competitive primary contest to replace him. Harris would face several likely opponents, including Governor Gavin Newsom of California, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

Republicans are watching events cautiously. Trump knows that any successor to Biden might prove harder to beat, and a younger opponent would make the Republican front-runner’s own age a bigger campaign issue.

Voters’ anxiety about Biden’s age remains one of his biggest drawbacks. Last month, a stunning 77 per cent of voters told an AP/NORC poll that Biden is too old to govern effectively until 2028. Even among likely Democrat voters, 69 per cent expressed concern about Biden’s age, with large majorities of all Americans backing term limits and age restrictions on key elected office-holders.

But as Chait observes in New York Magazine, Biden’s advancing years are a problem that “by almost definition cannot get any better and may well get worse”.