How old is too old to be president?

If Joe Biden runs for reelection in 2024 and wins, he would be 86 years old at the end of his second term. If Donald Trump runs and wins two years from now, he would be 82 years old on Jan. 20, 2029. 

Would they be too old for what is viewed as one of the most stressful jobs in the world?

According to the life expectancy data published by the Social Security Administration, a 79-year-old male (Biden’s current age) can expect to live 8.97 more years, or just shy of 88 years old. A 76-year-old male (Trump’s current age) can be expected to live 10.71 more years, or 86.71 years old. Both men would be pushing the edge of their life expectancy at the end of a second term.

However, no one is just a statistic. They may live longer or shorter than the statistical life expectancy. Family history, current health and the impact of working in a stressful environment impact a person’s health.

The Constitution does not specify a maximum age for the president, only a minimum. When the Constitution was crafted in 1787, the life expectancy for a male born that year was just 38.

It’s helpful to view the age of older presidents in a historical context.

When William Henry Harrison took the presidential oath of office on March 4, 1841, as our nation’s ninth chief executive, he was 68 years old. He was the oldest president up to that point by a decade. He died a month after his inauguration and served the shortest presidential term of office.

Harrison’s record as the oldest inaugurated president endured for the next 140 years until 69-year-old Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981.

Reagan’s record lasted for the next 36 years until Donald Trump was inaugurated in 2017 at age 70 — almost eight months older than Reagan was at his first inauguration. Joe Biden pushed the age record even further when he was inaugurated at age 78, making him the oldest man to ever occupy the White House.

If Biden lives to 86 years old at the end of a second term, he would have outlived all but seven presidents (Harry Truman at 88, Herbert Hoover at 90; John Adams at 90; Ronald Reagan at 93; Gerald Ford at 93; George H.W. Bush at 94; Jimmy Carter still alive at 97). Of the 45 men who have served as president, just seven (15 percent) have lived longer than 86 and none of them lived the eight years before their death as president.

If Trump lives to be 82 at the end of a second term, he would have outlived all but 16 presidents or 35 percent of the 45 men who have served as president.

It is a huge gamble that pushes the record of presidential longevity to bet these older candidates would live through a second term. Even if they lived to the end of a second term, it is legitimate to ask whether they would have the mental and physical stamina for the presidency, or if their age would impair their ability to competently perform the duties of the office.

In both Biden’s and Trump’s cases, they are nearing the end of their life journeys. In the polarized, stressful and dangerous world in which we live, is it wise to elect a significantly older president?

When men hit their 80s, they often begin to slow down physically and mentally, and it takes longer to heal from injuries.

It’s sometimes harder to remember things as people age. For some, dementia begins to creep in. Dementia runs in Trump’s familySome have speculated, based on Trump’s public appearances and often incoherent statements, that he might be in the early stages of dementia.

Likewise, some speculated that Ronald Reagan was in the early stages of dementia during his second term in office, although that has not been proven. Out of office, he confirmed he had Alzheimer’s disease.

Candidates should release their PSA blood test results, measuring the presence of a prostate-specific antigen in their bloodstream that can be indicative of whether a man has prostate cancer, which is one of the most common cancers, especially as men age.

Trump has been famously secretive about his actual health. His sudden trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in November 2019 has never been fully explained. Perhaps it was for a colonoscopy or some other condition. The fact that Trump never candidly released records about the purpose of the visit raises serious questions about whether he is physically fit for the presidency. Trump meets the technical definition of obesity, has at times slurred words, and has had trouble walking.

Biden has been more forthcoming about his health than his predecessor. In 1988, he suffered two brain aneurysms. The report from Biden’s doctor in 2019 stated he had an “irregularly irregular” heartbeat, high levels of fat in the blood, acid reflux that frequently causes him to clear his throat and seasonal allergies.

The American people should insist upon reliable, independent and official tests and examinations from qualified medical professionals. These should be interpreted by the medical community and made public.

When someone runs for president — the most powerful position in the world — it is important that the health of the candidates is disclosed. It is an important part of making wise decisions about who to vote for.

It has been almost 60 years since a president died in office when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Our world is infinitely more complex and our nation is significantly more polarized today than it was in 1963. A transition to the vice president would be disruptive and dangerous.

Regardless of the president’s age, it is important to pay more attention to the health and qualifications of vice-presidential candidates who are, unfortunately, often afterthoughts.

More than simply voting for the candidate of your political party, the president’s age becomes an American question. Our safety, health and economic well-being as individuals and as a nation are tied up in the person we elect as president. 

We must put personal and party preferences aside and think about the consequences of electing a significantly older president. 

Mike Purdy is a presidential historian, the author of the “Presidential Friendships: How They Changed History,” and the founder of PresidentialHistory.com.

Tags 2024 election dementia testing Donald Trump Joe Biden Politics of the United States president joe biden terms president transition future 2024 election run Ronald Reagan

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