President Joe Biden speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington Image Credit: AP

President Joe Biden and his team need to acknowledge there’s a problem. “My memory is fine,” President Joe Biden said at a press conference designed to refute claims that he’s “an elderly man with a poor memory.”

Americans have observed the following: Biden is 81. He has memory problems. Sometimes he gets names wrong. Sometimes he gets dates wrong. He pauses for uncomfortable stretches, seeming to search for a word or thought that’s not quite there. He has a faraway gaze that makes him look out of it.

In a recent NBC News poll, 76% of voters said that Biden “not having the necessary mental and physical health to be president for a second term” was a major or moderate concern for them. Yet to voters Trump, who despite being just three years younger, appears less frail. Only 48% of voters have the same concerns about Trump’s age and fitness.

Biden can’t keep telling Americans to believe him, not what they’re seeing. He must acknowledge what everyone sees and is talking about, then succinctly pivot to his real strengths. He is a fundamentally decent man. He has restored America’s reputation as a reliable ally.

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Not about legislative accomplishments

He pulled the American economy out of a ditch. The Biden economy has seen higher wages and lower unemployment. The Biden economy added 353,000 jobs last month. Millions of students no longer have burdensome student loan payments.

While former President Donald Trump was often derided for his need to show off obsequious cabinet meetings, those meetings helped burnish his image as the leader of a loyal team. Biden should borrow from Trump’s playbook. The presidency is not only about legislative accomplishments, it’s also about the visual display of strength, power and leadership.

The White House must put him out there. His constant presence and engagement will be its own answer. He will surely make mistakes, but the stakes will be much lower.

His ability to connect with ordinary, struggling Americans is unmatched — his call with the family of a fallen soldier was incredibly moving and authentic. His genteel, pastoral and grandfatherly manner is an asset in a fractured and angry country. His campaign must look for ways to highlight this strength.

Democrats have for many months been privately frustrated with the way the White House has dealt with the age issue. They have pressed the president’s team to do more.

Democrats like to say that the campaign hasn’t started yet — but it has. Democrats are downplaying the flashing warning signs. Their coalition is fraying and unenthused. They’re relying too heavily on the spectre of “crazy Trump.” And they’re full of hubris about their political skills and a Covid-fuelled 2020 victory.

Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump attends a "Get Out the Vote" Rally in Conway, South Carolina, on February 10, 2024

A Trump victory in November?

The big difference this year is that if Trump wins in November, nobody will be surprised.

Democrats must accept that Biden isn’t getting any younger. Embrace his age, amplify the Dark Brandon theme, tout his successes and his experienced team and stop pretending that it’s a made-up issue.

They can’t argue that they are in touch with the concerns of average Americans, while ignoring voters’ concerns over the president’s age. Instead, they must show that they hear them and try to ease their discomfort.

They should be constantly hammering Biden’s many successes and Trump’s litany of failures. Ignoring the issue will only allow voters’ doubts to fester and help pave the way for a Trump victory in November. — Bloomberg

Nia-Malika Henderson is a columnist. She has covered politics and campaigns for 20 years.