After presiding over the Air Force Academy commencement ceremony for hours and handing out the last diploma, President Joe Biden was seen bounding off stage, unaware of the sandbag below. This moment, which many close to the president had privately feared, was caught on video and quickly went viral online. White House communications director Ben LaBolt took to Twitter to downplay the incident, stating that Biden was fine and that there was a sandbag on stage while he was shaking hands. Despite being helped up quickly by Air Force officials, the incident may have lasting implications in a highly polarized political environment where the president, at 80 years old, is seeking re-election. While the week showcased Biden’s strengths, including a debt ceiling deal that passed with more votes than expected, it also highlighted his vulnerabilities.
According to David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Joe Biden has a strong record and his experience in navigating negotiations, such as the debt ceiling negotiation, highlights his wisdom. However, Axelrod acknowledges that age is a liability, as incidents like Biden’s recent fall receive greater attention and concern than they would if he were twenty years younger. This ongoing challenge is not helping Biden’s approval rating, which remains around 40 percent, and recent polls show that a majority of Americans would prefer a different Democratic candidate next year. Even if Republicans renominate former President Donald Trump, who is also in his 70s, Biden’s age could still be a deciding factor for voters. Republicans quickly seized on Biden’s fall to exploit this issue, tweeting out video footage of the incident. There are calls to open up the primaries and debates to ensure fairness for all candidates.
Biden’s allies inside and outside the White House quickly came to his defense following his fall. Despite typically ignoring Twitter conversations, they quickly responded to the incident by portraying Biden’s fall as not unusual and emphasizing his stamina for standing on stage and shaking hands with graduates for almost two hours. Former Chief of Staff Ron Klain tweeted his support, urging people to calm down. Kate Bedingfield, the former communications director, also tweeted about the incident and shared a video of Obama’s fall on stage during a rally. While Team Biden’s quick response may have contradicted their expressed nonchalance about the incident, it is not uncommon for presidents to fall or slip on the job. Past presidents, such as Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, have also faced public discussion about their health and fitness for office. Trump also faced speculation about his own fitness after his slow walk down a ramp went viral in 2020.
Commenting on news of President Biden’s fall during a campaign stop in Iowa, former President Trump expressed his disappointment and lack of inspiration, while also showing some self-awareness by referencing his own experience. He hoped that Biden was not hurt and emphasized the importance of being careful to avoid falling. Biden has had previous falls, including a notable incident in March 2021 while boarding Air Force One. Although his advisors claim that his age is irrelevant and tout his energy, Biden has physically slowed down since his election, with a stiffened gait and more cautious movements due to a foot injury. Despite this, those around him attest to his mental sharpness and attribute his perceived frailty to fatigue and occasional stuttering. To prevent overburdening him, his schedule is carefully managed with frequent breaks.
Andrew Bates, the Deputy White House press secretary, rejected the claim that President Biden’s age is affecting his work performance and cited his travel schedule as evidence. According to Bates, Biden has traveled more than Obama did at the same time in his presidency, including visiting a Ukrainian warzone to restore America’s global status. Bates also praised Biden’s leadership skills, citing his ability to prevent Republicans from cutting Medicare during the State of the Union address and meeting with 921 Air Force cadets despite briefly tripping over a sandbag.Biden himself has addressed concerns about his age and framed it as an advantage, citing his extensive political experience. He has confidently stated that he can handle the job for another six years, saying “Watch me.” This response has caught the attention of many, as a video of Biden’s statement has already been viewed more than 8 million times just three hours after it was tweeted by an RNC researcher.