One of Donald J. Trump’s new comedic bits at his rallies features him impersonating the current commander in chief with an exaggerated caricature mocking President Biden’s age.
With his eyelids drooping and his mouth open, Trump stammers and mutters. He narrows his eyes. His arms wave. He shuffles his feet and wanders lagging around the stage. An explosion of laughter and applause erupts from the crowd as he feigns confusion by turning and pointing at unseen followers, as if he doesn’t realize that his back is turned to them.But his recent campaign events have also featured less deliberate missteps. Trump has made a series of unforced gaffes, confusions, and general dislocations that go beyond his usual discursive nature, and that his Republican rivals point to as signs of his declining performance.
On Sunday in Sioux City, Iowa, Trump mistakenly thanked supporters in Sioux Falls, a South Dakota city about 75 miles away, and corrected himself only after he was pulled to the side of the stage and informed of the mistake. .
It was strikingly similar to a fictional scene Trump acted out earlier this month, pretending to be Biden, confusing Iowa with Idaho and needing an aide to clear it up.
In recent weeks, Trump has also told his supporters not to vote and claimed to have defeated President Barack Obama in an election. He has praised the collective intellect of an Iran-backed militant group that has long been an enemy of both Israel and the United States, and has repeatedly mispronounced the name of the armed group that rules Gaza.
“This is a different Donald Trump than in 2015 and 2016: He lost control of his fastball,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida told reporters last week while campaigning in New Hampshire.
“In 2016, he was free, he was taking the country by storm,” DeSantis added. “Now he’s just a different guy. And it’s sad to see.»
It’s unclear whether Trump’s recent missteps are related to his age. He has long relied on an unorthodox speaking style that has served as one of his greatest political assets, establishing him, improbably, among the most effective communicators in American politics.
But as the race for the 2024 White House intensifies, Trump’s increasing verbal gaffes threaten to undermine one of the Republicans’ most potent avenues of attack, and the central goal of their onstage pantomime: the argument for that Biden is too old to be president.
Biden, a grandfather of seven children, is 80 years old. Trump, who has 10 grandchildren, is 77 years old.
Although only a few years separate the two men in their golden years, voters view their vigor differently. Recent polls have found that about two in three voters say Biden is too old to serve another four-year term, while only about half say the same about Trump.
If that gap begins to narrow, it is Trump who has much more to lose in a general election.
According to a previously unreported finding in an August poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 43 percent of American voters said both men were “too old to effectively serve another four-year term as president.” . Among those voters, 61 percent said they planned to vote for Biden, compared to 13 percent who said the same about Trump.
Last week, similar findings emerged in a Franklin & Marshall College survey of registered voters in Pennsylvania, one of the most closely watched 2024 battlegrounds.
According to the survey, 43 percent of Pennsylvanians said both men were “too old to serve another term.” An analysis of that data for The New York Times showed that Biden led Trump among those voters by 66 percent to 11 percent. Among all voters in the state, the two men were statistically tied.
Berwood Yost, director of the Franklin & Marshall poll, said Biden’s wide lead among voters concerned about the ages of both candidates could be explained in part by the fact that Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to identify their age. as a problem. for the leader of his party.
“The age issue is such that if Trump is treated with the same brush as Biden, it really hurts him,” Yost said.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung noted that the former president maintained a commanding lead in Republican primary polls and that in the general election, several recent polls had shown Trump with a slight lead over Biden.
“None of these false narratives have changed the dynamics of the race at all: President Trump still dominates, because people know he is the stronger candidate,” Cheung said. “The contrast is that Biden falls on stage, mutters during a speech, doesn’t know where to walk and trips on the steps of Air Force One. That can’t be corrected and will be etched in voters’ minds.”
Trump’s rhetorical skills have long relied on a combination of brute force and a seemingly supernatural instinct for the imprecise. That seductive combination, honed from a lifetime of real estate deals, New York tabloid critiques and prime-time reality TV stardom, often means voters hear what they want to hear from him.
Trump supporters come out of his speeches full of energy. Undecided voters who are open to your message may find what they are looking for in your speech. Opponents are irritated, and when they furiously accuse him of something they heard but that he did not say precisely, Trump turns the criticism into a fact that he is being unfairly persecuted, and the whole cycle begins again.
But Trump’s latest gaffes are not easily classified as calculated vagueness.
During a Sept. 15 speech in Washington, a moment after declaring Biden “cognitively challenged, not fit to lead,” the former president warned that the United States was on the brink of World War II, which ended in 1945.
In the same speech, he boasted that presidential polls showed him ahead of Obama, who, in fact, is not running for an illegal third term. He again mistakenly referred to Obama during an anecdote about his victory in the 2016 presidential race.
“We did it with Obama,” Trump said. “We won an election that everyone said couldn’t be won, we won…” He paused as he seemed to realize his mistake. «Hillary Clinton.»
At a rally in Florida on October 11, days after a brutal terrorist attack that killed hundreds of Israelis, Trump criticized the country for being unprepared and lashed out at his prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump appears to have become angry with Netanyahu, once a close ally, after the Israeli leader congratulated Biden on winning the 2020 election.
In the same speech, Trump relied on an inaccurate timeline of events in the Middle East to criticize Biden’s handling of foreign affairs and, in the process, attracted headlines for praising Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group.
Last week, while speaking to supporters at a rally in New Hampshire, Trump praised Viktor Orban, Hungary’s strongman prime minister, but referred to him as «the leader of Turkey,» a country hundreds of miles away. distance. He quickly corrected himself.
At another point in the same speech, Trump launched into a confusing riff that ended with him telling his supporters, «You don’t have to vote, don’t worry about voting,» and adding, «We have a lot of votes.»
Trump campaign spokesperson Cheung said the former president was “speaking clearly about election integrity and making sure only legal votes are counted.”
In a speech Saturday, Trump sounded like he was talking about hummus when he mispronounced Hamas (huh-maas), the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip and carried out one of the biggest attacks on Israel in decades on Oct. 1. . 7.
The former president’s pronunciation caught the attention of the Biden campaign, which published the video. shorten on social media, noting that Trump seemed “confused.”
But even Republican rivals have sensed an openness on the age issue against Trump, who has maintained unshakeable control of the party despite a political record that in years past would have forced conservatives to consider another standard-bearer. Trump lost control of Congress as president; he was kicked out of the White House; he failed to help generate a “red wave” of victories in last year’s midterm elections; and, this year, there were 91 felony changes in four criminal cases.
Nikki Haley, the 51-year-old former governor of South Carolina, opened her presidential bid this year by requiring candidates 75 and older to pass mental competency tests, an initiative she has renewed in recent weeks.
On Saturday, Haley attacked Trump for his comments about Netanyahu and Hezbollah, suggesting in a speech to Jewish donors in Las Vegas that the former president did not have the power to return to the White House.
«Let me remind you,» he added with a small smile. “With all due respect, I’m not confused.”