Age, mental capacity dominates US presidential campaign trail after report questions


WASHINGTON: The mental ability and age of the United States’ presidential candidates took centre stage on the campaign trail on Saturday (Feb 10), following a report that suggested US President Joe Biden was suffering from memory lapses.

Former president Donald Trump accused both Biden, the Democrat he will likely face in November’s general election, and Nikki Haley, Trump’s last remaining rival for the Republican presidential nomination, of lacking the mental capacity to be president.

Haley – like Trump, campaigning in South Carolina where the two will meet in a primary election on Feb 24 – went after both men, calling Trump mentally deficient and saying Biden is too old to be president.

Meanwhile, the White House, responding to the report on Thursday from a Department of Justice special counsel that said Biden had a poor memory, continued its full-scale attack on Trump’s age and mental acuity after Trump recently mixed up names and made other verbal gaffes.

“Every single time Donald Trump opens his mouth, he’s confused, deranged, lying, or worse,” T.J. Ducklo, a Biden spokesman, said in a statement released by Biden’s reelection campaign.

The issue of mental competency has become a major topic in this year’s presidential campaign.

Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, are the two oldest men respectively to have been elected US president. In recent days, Biden has mixed up the names of some world leaders.

The issue is a vexing one for Biden’s reelection campaign. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in September, 77 per cent of respondents said they agreed with a statement that Biden was too old to work in government, while 56 per cent said the same of Trump.

Haley, 52, has called for mental competency tests for presidential candidates over 75 years old.

The issue was thrust front and centre again after Special Counsel Robert Hur, a former US attorney in Maryland during Trump’s administration, said in his report that he chose not to bring criminal charges against Biden following a 15-month investigation into his handling of classified documents because the president cooperated.

Hur said the Democratic incumbent would be difficult to convict and described him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”, who was not able to recall to investigators when his son, Beau, died.

Biden angrily denied Hur’s allegations about his memory, saying in a White House appearance on Thursday night that “my memory’s fine”.

Trump, at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, said Hur’s report showed Biden “is not fit to serve as our commander in chief”.

Trump – who faces four state and federal criminal trials, including one for mishandling classified documents – is close to clinching the Republican nomination, and the prospect of a likely general election rematch with Biden in November.

Haley, who has no clear path to the nomination after Trump’s consecutive wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, is refusing to quit the race, making a potential last stand in her home state of South Carolina, where she trails badly in opinion polls behind Trump.

Trump on Saturday called his former UN ambassador “bird brain” and “brain dead”, suggesting she did not have the mental capacity to enter the White House.

Haley, beginning a two-week bus tour of South Carolina, called Biden “diminished”. She also cited a recent Trump speech where he confused her with former Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“It’s bigger than just Joe Biden. Whether it’s Donald Trump getting me confused with Nancy Pelosi … it’s time for a new generational leader,” Haley told reporters.



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