Memo to swing voters: The next president will be old — and facts still matter | Mike Kelly

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Dear voters,

Three weeks ago, my column addressed several “realities” that Democrats must face if they hope to be successful in the November presidential election. Two weeks ago, it was the Republicans’ time for a reality check.

Today’s column looks at so-called swing voters who don’t fit neatly into the Democratic and Republican silos.

This is not an easy time for voters in general. Yes, party stalwarts find comfort in their partisan echo chambers. MAGA-world promotes Taylor Swift conspiracies while the uber-progressives who seek to take over the Democratic Party dream of open borders and a world of wokeness. Compromise is akin to treason.

But what about so-called swing voters — that often-disrespected breed who see themselves as independents and refuse to handcuff themselves to party loyalties? Theirs is a world of trying to balance their own needs against the ebbs and flows of politics and the cultural winds that blow relentlessly across the nation. They represent a key pillar of diverse American life, yet they often feel homeless in America’s polarized politics.

A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll reveals that many Georgia voters are dreading a rematch this year between Democratic President Joe Biden, left, and former Republican President Donald Trump. (Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll reveals that many Georgia voters are dreading a rematch this year between Democratic President Joe Biden, left, and former Republican President Donald Trump. (Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

A variety of surveys over the past four years suggest swing voters make up as much as one quarter of the American electorate. What this means is that these voters will likely decide who the next president will be — especially in such swing states as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia.

Who are the voters in the middle in 2024?

So who are these voters?

Two years ago, New York magazine theorized that “swing voters hold an idiosyncratic mix of priorities and values that scramble the common liberal-conservative divide.” I agree. Such voters, I find, are neither entirely liberal nor conservative, blue or red. Invariably, they come off as purple and embrace a tossed-salad view of politics.

For example, they may oppose abortion for themselves but are open to the pro-choice views of others in certain circumstances, such as when a woman is raped or a mother's life is endangered. They favor a crackdown on crime but not at the expense of filling our prisons with African American men. They want strong police forces but not cops who embrace a warrior culture. They value the role of immigrants in America but reject the asylum game now being played on the southern border.  They favor reasonable climate regulations but also understand that fossil fuels will be here for a generation or more. They support fairness, not woke tokenism. They have the courage to admit that some of Trump’s ideas are smart but also feel the same about Biden's policies.

In other words, they don’t fit easily into the red-state, blue-state map.

Defining these voters requires an acceptance of nuance — not easy in American politics now, when the so-called “Squad” of progressive Democrats receives more airtime than the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, not former Rep. Liz Cheney or Sen. Mitt Romney, is seen as the face of Republicans.

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Swing voters seem to fall into the gaps between the polarized fringes of American politics. As New York magazine also noted, many swing voters are “economically liberal and socially conservative” and often seem like “holdouts from another political era: conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans who no longer feel at home in their party.”

In other words, this segment of the American electorate lives on a complicated landscape. But welcome to reality.

With that in mind, here are two realities that swing voters now face. How they contend with these challenges may become one of the most important factors in the November elections:

1. Accept the reality that an old dude will be president

Sorry, folks, it’s probably going to be Biden versus Trump on Election Day. Yes, we all know about Nikki Haley’s quixotic campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.  And, yes, there is RFK Jr. on the Democratic side — or perhaps as a third-party candidate.

But barring some major change, the choice seems clear: Biden or Trump.

But here’s the problem: They’re both old. Worse, each is showing his age.

Biden is 81 now. He’ll be 82 if he wins reelection. Trump is 77 now — and 78 if he wins.

Most Americans don’t want either guy in the race.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on a $95 billion Ukraine Israel aid package being debated in Congress, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in Washington.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on a $95 billion Ukraine Israel aid package being debated in Congress, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in Washington.

An ABC News/IPSOS poll released this week revealed that a whopping 86% of Americans say Biden is too old to serve another term. A near-whopping 62% feel Trump is also too old.

Those figures represent a dramatic increase in how voters have refocused their attention on the age of Biden and Trump. Just two weeks ago, a Reuters poll found that 70% of respondents — including about half of Democrats — felt that Biden, who is already the oldest president in U.S. history, was too old to seek reelection. Likewise, 56% — including about one-third of Republicans — said Trump was also too old.

This is not a comforting trend — especially in light of what we have witnessed from Biden and Trump in recent weeks. What's more, it's only February. We still have eight more months before Election Day.

Biden’s press conference last Friday after the release of a special counsel’s report on his mishandling of classified documents will likely go down in history as an epic political train wreck. Democrats are still trying to sort through the rubble.

Special Counsel Robert Hur, in his 388-page report to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, described Biden “as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” Hur’s investigative staff even found in their interviews that Biden “did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended (‘if it was 2013 — when did I stop being vice president?’), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began (‘in 2009, am I still vice president?’)."

Perhaps most devastating was the revelation in Hur's report that Biden “did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died.”

Biden, in a hastily organized press conference at the White House, angrily denounced the report, then launched into several gaffes — all of which seemed more in keeping with an angry old man yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn than the president of the world’s most powerful nation.

I read the report. (I highly recommend it.) What’s significant here is readers need to understand what Hur was tasked with doing.

Hur is a prosecutor. And it’s the job of a prosecutor to report to his boss the pros and cons of a criminal investigation — in this case, whether charges should be filed and whether a trial would result in a conviction. These are basic questions that all prosecutors weigh.

In his report, Hur was trying to justify why he felt that federal charges should not be filed against Biden. And while Biden’s supporters can rightly argue that the revelation in Hur’s report about the death of Biden’s son, Beau, might seem like a cheap shot, it was nonetheless clear evidence of a new reality for Biden and needed to be reported. Simply put, Biden’s memory is slipping.  Age does that. Hur concluded that an aging Biden should not face trial. Such a trial would be unfair.

Trump, meanwhile, has his own regular memory lapses. In just the last few weeks, he mixed up actions by his GOP rival Nikki Haley and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also misidentified the leaders of Turkey and Hungary. We could cite plenty of other memory slips — along with a litany of Trump's wacky, off-the-cuff comments such as this week's remarks about NATO. But you get the point.

Whether these memory lapses and other verbal slips by Biden and Trump are evidence of mental decline in each man remains to be seen. It would be nice if both submitted to independent cognitive tests — with the results publicized.  But that probably won’t happen. America wants its presidents to be experienced. In this case, Biden and Trump are redefining the meaning of experience.

Voters, however, face a no-win choice. No matter who is elected, the mental decline of Biden and Trump will likely continue during the coming four-year presidential term. And you don’t need a doctorate in political science or history to understand the potential pitfalls.

Biden’s supporters say he is lucid and alert — and gaffe-free — during day-to-day, give-and-take meetings at the White House.  In large gatherings, his mental and physical frailties seem to blossom. That may be true. But voters need more assurance than just the words of Democratic insiders. Independent voters should demand to see and hear more from Biden — up close and personal.

Memo to Joe: There’s a booth in a local diner waiting for you to sit down and talk to voters over coffee.

Trump has another set of problems, ranging from his gross exaggerations to his outright fabrications and the meandering vagueness that frames his policy shell game. Remember "infrastructure week?" How about that border wall? And the revisions to Obamacare?

Like Biden’s loyalists, Trump’s supporters routinely find all manner of excuses to avoid the obvious flaws with Trump. Evangelical Christians are especially notable in their willingness to forgive Trump’s moral transgressions, seeing him as a once-flawed character, similar to St. Paul, doing God’s will.

Independent voters have been far too quiet on Trump. In the coming months, they need to speak up — maybe attend a few Trump rallies.

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2. Accept the reality that facts no longer matter for too many people

You probably know this scenario all too well:

You’re having a conversation with a neighbor about Trump and Biden. Suddenly, your neighbor mentions a “story” that doesn’t seem to make sense in your mind. You challenge it. But your friend pushes back with this retort: “You just can’t trust the mainstream media. I get my news from (fill in the blank).”

That “fill in the blank” source of information is now part of American culture.  Whether it’s the one-sided journalism of Fox News or MSNBC or a completely ridiculous website known as “Babylon Bee,” which brands itself as “fake news you can trust,” America’s voters are pummeled with a daily cyclone of half-facts, slanted facts and completely fabricated facts that may or may not be satire.

Republican presidential hopeful and former US President Donald Trump gestures during an Election Night Party in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024.
Republican presidential hopeful and former US President Donald Trump gestures during an Election Night Party in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024.

Trust in news is now a moving target. Far too many “facts” are just old-fashioned “fibs.” And yet, they all are placed in the same informational basket for voters to sort through. Meanwhile, “The Daily Show” on the Comedy Central network is viewed as a credible source of information.

It’s no wonder that voters have largely given up and don’t demand a better set of standards from such established news organizations as Fox and MSNBC — or even Comedy Central. Political slants are now little more than a branding strategy in search of the right audience. Real facts are tossed around like sprinkles on an ice cream cone — all in the name of ratings or laughs.

When Trump moved into the White House in 2017, the Washington Post established a daily fact-checking procedure of whatever he said. By the end of four years, the Post found 30,573 false or misleading claims by the president — an average of 21 each day.

Did it matter? Hardly.

After Trump left office, his followers demanded that he run for president again.  His popularity rose. Facts and falsehoods seemed meaningless. Trump's critics were considered part of a "witch hunt" against him.

All politicians exaggerate, mislead and fudge the truth. Biden’s career is replete with examples. But what passed for political “spin” or bluster only a few years ago was often tempered by a news media that could raise legitimate cautionary flags that would allow ordinary voters to ask their own questions — and, in turn, weigh enough information to make up their own minds.

Now, with Trump on the scene, that system has been turned upside down. Whether it’s social media platforms or just the clumsy machinations of amateurs who run “news websites” from their basements, voters now face increasingly ominous challenges in their search for truth. Simply put: There is too much junk to sort through.

Expect this problem to worsen as we approach the tumult of the fall election season.

As I suggested in previous columns, Democrats need to face the realities of how the party deals with such issues as the economy and immigration, not to mention Biden’s isolation and the party’s overall drift toward elitist, woke politics. Likewise, Republicans need to face up to Trump — his penchant for lying, his business cheating and his habit of covering up his mistakes.

For independent, swing voters who eschew party loyalties, the choices now are just as daunting. They face the reality that the two leading presidential candidates are past their prime — and brimming with flaws. They also face the reality of an information system that is broken and overflowing with toxicity.

I could have cited more issues that swing voters need to face. But the two highlighted here are formidable — and carry major significance for the election and the presidency itself.

How independent voters deal with these challenges will determine the outcome of the most important presidential election in decades.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for, part of the USA TODAY Network, as well as the author of three critically acclaimed nonfiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in the Northeast, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


This article originally appeared on Presidential election 2024 swing voters: Trump, Biden are old; facts matter