Supporters of President Donald Trump on Fox News have begun speculating about presidential candidate Joe Biden’s health and physical aptitude, as the 2020 race begins heating up.
The move mirrors a similar Republican strategy from 2016, when conservatives, trolls, and the Trump campaign questioned Hillary Clinton’s physical fitness and well-being.
The Daily Beast reported Monday that both Fox News host Sean Hannity and Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery (who goes by “Kennedy”) have started needlessly speculating about Biden’s health.
During an episode of The Five in late May, Kennedy, a frequent Fox News panelist, claimed without any evidence that Democrats were “whispering” that “there is something wrong with the former vice president.” Kennedy followed up on her show last week, claiming Biden staffers were trying to keep him off the main stage because he “slurs” and “look[s] very tired.”
In early June, Hannity — no doubt taking his cues from Trump, who has nicknamed Biden “Sleepy Joe” — also decided to add to the baseless speculation about the former vice president’s health. “Joe Biden’s tired. He does not have the energy for this,” Hannity said. “They’re already hiding him like they hid Hillary. They don’t want him out there.”
Clinton’s health was the subject of endless speculation during the 2016 campaign. In August that year, Trump declared that Clinton “lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS, and all the many adversaries we face,” a point he reiterated during a presidential debate later that September.
Hannity at the time parroted that claim. In August that year, he used a “Fox News Medical A-Team” to conclude that Clinton’s true medical state was being hidden from the public, including the knock-on affects of a 2012 concussion that Clinton had suffered.
“I’m very concerned about the long-term latent effects of the concussion that show up as things such as memory loss, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating,” neurologist Daniel Kassicieh told Hannity at the time. “Things [like a video] that showed her pausing for a very long time as though she were searching for the right words, losing track of what you’re thinking about.”
Clinton’s health was also the subject of numerous conspiracy theories from fringe outlets like Infowars, and Trump adviser Roger Stone’s January indictment showed he allegedly wanted to push questions about Clinton’s health onto social media.
The attacks on Biden’s health and age come at an opportune time for conservatives, as more and more voters see age as a detriment for presidential candidates. According to a Pew Research Center poll published in May, just 3% of Democratic voters think that a candidate in his 70s is at the best age to become president. In a similar poll by Reuters/IPSO released Monday, 48% of voters said they would be “much” or “somewhat” less likely to support a presidential candidate if that candidate were older than 70.
Others in the Democratic field, like South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, are seizing the opportunity. While he didn’t call out Biden by name, Buttigieg, who is 37, recently alluded to his youth as a strength, saying he could bring a certain kind of energy to the White House that others could not.
“What’s helpful, I think, with the generational energy that a young candidate can bring, is being able to put a very quick face on the urgency of dealing with things for the future,” he told The New York Times. “When we’re trying to design that world, substantively, it points you to a place that’s more favorable turf for Democrats.”