Joe Biden (left) and Donald Trump (right).
Michael Ciaglo via Getty Images; Scott Olson via Getty Images
A special counsel report cleared Biden of charges related to his handling of classified documents.But the report also calls in to question the president’s memory — a sticking point for voters.It’s a weary reminder to voters: They’re stuck with two 2024 candidates they don’t want to see.
The 2024 presidential race offers voters two main choices: a 77-year-old man who has been charged with 91 felony counts (he denies any wrongdoing) and an 81-year-old man accused of memory issues by special counsel Robert K. Hur.
On Thursday, Hur announced that prosecutors won’t file charges related to the president’s handling of classified documents. Good news for President Joe Biden.
The bad news for Biden: The report called into question his mental acuity, bringing one of the top concerns voters have about Biden to the forefront of the race.
Special counsel Hur’s report includes allegations that Biden forgot what year he was vice president or exactly when his son Beau died during interviews with prosecutors.
Biden, during a fiery press conference on Thursday in response to the report, denied that he forgot the year of his son’s death.
Hur wrote that part of the reason his team is not pursuing charges is that Biden “would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” adding that it would be hard to convince the jury to convict him of a “serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”
Biden’s age and memory have been a frequent target for his opponents — largely Republicans — who argue that the 81-year-old is not fit for a second term in office.
Shortly after the report was released, Donald Trump shared an article on Truth Social with a headline that led with Biden’s apparent forgetfulness in his interviews.
The details raising concerns about Biden’s mental sharpness dig deeper into voters’ begrudging anticipation for the 2024 election: a contest between two candidates they don’t really want to see.
Age and fitness vs. legal liability
Voters have already expressed dread for a second Trump-Biden matchup, with 67% of respondents in a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll saying Biden shouldn’t seek another term, while 57% say the same for Trump.
And both candidates also come with baggage — at least according to the voters.
For Biden, voters not only feel that he’s performed poorly on the economy, despite signs that say it’s thriving, but they also raise concerns about his age.
A recent NBC News poll found that 76% of voters, including Democrats, had major or moderate concerns about Biden’s age. The special counsel report and the subsequent media gaffes the president made in his Thursday press conference to defend his mental acuity don’t help.
“It’s a nightmare,” one Democratic House member told NBC News under the condition of anonymity.
For Trump, constituents are apprehensive of another four years with what they have longed viewed as a highly divisive president.
There’s also the litany of legal troubles that have yet to be fully addressed. After all, voters are looking at a candidate who faces over 90 felony counts, who, if found guilty of the more serious charges, could go to prison.
The same NBC News poll that showed voter concerns about Biden’s age also found that 51% of voters had major concerns about Trump’s legal battles, and 10% said they had moderate concerns.
Politics experts told Business Insider that, overall, criminal charges are much more of a liability than accusations of memory loss.
“I would say it’s probably better to be forgetful than illegal,” Christian Grose, a political science professor at the University of Southern California specializing in electoral behavior, told Business Insider.
“If I were Biden or the White House, I would contrast what he did and what he’s been cleared of with the Trump documents, which are much more exhaustive and extensive and would be hard to forget,” Grose added when asked how Biden should respond to the special counsel report.
Investigators found about 11,000 documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and resort, with about 300 documents marked as classified. Biden, in comparison, has been accused of taking about 20 classified documents.
Trump was subsequently indicted on 40 felony charges related to the documents case, including charges of obstruction of justice and violation of the Espionage Act for willfully retaining national defense information. He has denied any wrongdoing, claiming that he, as president, declassified sensitive documents and that he should be immune to prosecution. A judge ruled Tuesday that even the president can be punished.
“I think it would be overplaying it to talk about this report totally hurting Biden,” Grose said.
Aaron Dusso, associate professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, told BI that it may not be helpful for Biden’s campaign to play into Trump’s criticisms about his age by trying to prove somehow that he is mentally fit for office.
“You’re basically playing the tune of the other campaign,” Dusso said, adding that Biden could turn the problem back to Trump as the former president is nearly the same age at 77 years old.
Voters have also expressed concerns about Trump’s age, with about 48% of respondents to the NBC News poll saying they had major to moderate concerns.
“Both candidates are way too old,” Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultant firm, said on both X and Threads. “One is wholly unfit.”
The special counsel report does raise some important questions about 2024.
“This is obviously a serious charge for anyone who wants to be president,” Dusso said, referring to concerns about Biden’s age. “I would expect that his campaign is going to have to come out swinging.”