Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks to members of the Club 47 group at the Palm Beach Convention Center on June 14, 2024, in West Palm Beach, Florida. Trump celebrated his 78th birthday during the event. Image Credit: AFP

West Palm Beach: Donald Trump, whose attempted White House return is based in part on attacking President Joe Biden as old and feeble, turned 78 Friday - just three years younger than his election rival - with growing questions over his own health.

Whoever wins the November election will set a new age record. At 81, Biden is already the oldest man to hold the office and would continue to be so, while if Trump wins, he would become the oldest ever at an inauguration.

Trump, aided by the right-wing media ecosystem, has carefully worked to build an image of vigor, in attempted contrast to an opponent he routinely claims is "sleepy" or even senile.

Whether staging photo-ops with martial arts personalities or performing his trademark short dance at the end of rallies, Trump spares little effort to come across as an energetic showman.

Heavy use of cosmetics and hairspray typically give him a look - at a distance - of a tanned and younger man.

Trump aimed to maintain that image at a party in West Palm Beach, in his home state of Florida, as he gave an hour-long campaign speech before a throng of paying guests.

Club 47 USA, a Trump supporters' group, hosted the event near the ex-president's Mar-a-Lago residence and golf resort, with the crowd singing "Happy Birthday" as he stood on stage before a row of American flags.

"Wow, is that a nice crowd," he said, before launching into his boilerplate speech.

Invitations, featuring a picture of Trump grinning and hugging yet another US flag, referred to him as "the best president ever."

The former president is used to the flattery, with almost the entire Republican party now lined up behind him.

On Thursday, he received a rousing happy birthday message in Washington from Republican members of Congress.

They included senior figures who only three years ago had denounced him after cowering in fear as a mob of Trump supporters tried to storm the Capitol to overturn Biden's 2020 election win.

Unflattering Trump photo

There were no warm wishes from the Biden camp.

The president's reelection campaign put out an unflattering close-up photograph of a sweaty, disheveled Trump, titled: "Ah, another year around the sun for Donald Trump."

Underneath, a list of 78 lifetime "accomplishments" was provided, ranging from Trump's multiple bankruptcies to instances of far-right rhetoric, alleged sexual misconduct, cheating at golf, his encouraging of the Capitol assault, and recent felony conviction for business fraud in New York.

"Happy birthday, Donald. You're a crook, a failure, a fraud, and a threat to our democracy, economy, rights, and future," Biden campaign spokesman James Singer said. "Our early gift for your 79th: Making sure you are never president again."

In response, a Trump spokeswoman described Biden as a "weak and incompetent candidate" who has been "shuffling around like a brain-dead zombie at the G7 summit" in Italy this week.

Trump exposure grows

Polls show that a big majority of Americans think Biden is too old, while a small majority think the same of Trump.

But Trump - who has already had many a well-documented verbal slip - now faces months of intense media exposure, increasing the risk of more focus on the same kinds of gaffes that have plagued Biden.

Just Thursday, a mini firestorm blew up when Trump was quoted as saying that Milwaukee - where the Republicans will hold their convention to nominate Trump in July - is a "horrible" place.

Attention is also growing on his often bizarre, meandering comments during speeches, including a recent tirade against electric vehicles that involved a sinking boat, a shark and being electrocuted.

Trump appears conscious that attacks on Biden risk backfiring, given their similar ages.

"He's not too old at all," Trump said in an interview last September. "Age is interesting because some people are very sharp, and some people do lose it."

Biden on Friday said he agreed there are nuances to the age question.

"Happy 78th birthday, Donald. Take it from one old guy to another: Age is just a number," he posted on X. "This election, however, is a choice."