It wasn’t exactly a birthday card, but when Joe Biden turned 81 this month his erstwhile presidential rival Donald J Trump did send him a note.
Rather than wishing the president happy returns of the day, however, the missive was in the form of a glowing doctor’s report issued by the Trump campaign and penned by his personal physician giving the would-be Republican nominee a clean bill of health.
The missive was designed to highlight concerns over Biden’s frailties – episodes in which the president appears unsteady on his feet, or struggles to grasp for a phrase. In contrast, his doctor, Bruce Aronwald, lauded Trump’s “exceptional” cognitive ability and “daily physical activity”.
But might the somewhat vague if emphatic doctor’s report of Trump’s “excellent” health serve a second purpose beside taunting Biden?
Because for all his claimed virility the fact remains that at 77, Trump is only three and a half years behind the president on the ladder of years. And if he does secure the presidency for a second time next November, he would be the oldest person ever to do so.
So far, while Biden’s age has attracted endless comment and speculation about his capacity to serve a second full term, Trump seems to have been given a free pass about the fact he is no spring chicken – a situation Aronwald’s benign assessment of his health is clearly designed to perpetuate.
But, whisper it, in Republican circles some are beginning to question whether an octogenarian Trump in the Oval Office is an optimal turn of events.
On more than one occasion in the last few years, Trump has had lapses, mental and physical, which would normally be forgiven in a person his age but ring alarm bells when that person is bidding for control of the nuclear codes.
Who can forget him gripping Theresa May’s hand to steady himself as they walked down as slope?
At a campaign rally in Iowa recently, he mixed up Sioux City with Sioux Falls – which is in another state; he invariably refers to the Hamas terror group as “hummus,” and frequently references the “Obama administration” when he means to refer to Biden.
Trump’s parents Donald Sr and Mary Anne were relatively long lived, surviving to 93 and 88 respectively, but time’s arrows travels fast in the later years, and the latter’s death came only six years after the age her son would be on leaving his second presidency, should he win.
The next generation of the family is not markedly long-lived; Trump has already buried three of his siblings, including a younger brother and his older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who died two weeks ago at the age of 86.
So why are Americans seemingly unconcerned that they have not one but two old men running for the presidency? (A recent Monmouth University poll for the New York Times showed that while three-quarters said Biden was too old to be an effective commander in chief, less than half felt the same way about Trump.)
The Atlantic writer David A Graham suggests it is because, whether consciously or not, Biden, white-haired and softly spoken, appears to lean into his aging, whereas Trump with his fake tan and ridiculous orange combover rails against it.
“Trump has calculated that it’s better to be mocked as a fraud than to be patronized as a fogey,” he wrote in a recent article.
It’s a strategy that may not work so well verses a younger, fitter opponent, even if so far it hasn’t seemed to harm him against his moribund Republican rivals. The Ron DeSantis campaign did tweet a thread of Trump’s senior moments earlier this month, suggesting the gloves may come off on the age front as they enter the business end of the campaign.
Some strategists suggest that with his simple language and tangential rambles, Americans are used to a style of speech from Trump which would appear alarmingly close to senility in a more intellectual figure, meaning voters see little change from the man they elected in 2016.
But eight years – the length of time between his first and proposed second elections – is a lot in your 70s and 12 years, the distance between the day he began his first presidency and when he hopes to end his last, even more.
Whether or not both Biden and Trump have a doctor’s note attesting to their current state of rude health, US voters may come to regret the battle of the octogenarians.