Trump turns 78, a birthday he says he’d like to pretend ‘doesn’t exist’

In a rare speechless moment Sunday, Donald Trump stepped back from the microphone as his Las Vegas supporters spontaneously broke into a disjointed rendition of the world’s most recognizable song.

“There’s a certain point at which you don’t want to hear ‘Happy Birthday,’” the former president said when they finished. “You just want to pretend the day doesn’t exist.”

The day does exist, and it was Friday.

Trump is now 78 years old. It’s an age that has clearly occupied space in Trump’s mind for some time.

“Just remember what I’m telling you: 78 is not old,” Trump asserted to a New York Post gossip columnist almost two years ago. The offhand remark came during a conversation about his first wife, Ivana, upon the occasion of her passing at age 73.

The significance of 78 is unmistakable. It’s the same age his opponent, President Joe Biden, turned shortly after winning the election in 2020. Concerns about Biden’s fitness for office have followed him ever since, accentuated by a physical decline and diminished appearance that Trump’s allies and his campaign have gleefully amplified.

Yet, if Trump wins, he would be the oldest president at his swearing in at 78 years and 219 days, surpassing Biden’s previous record of 78 years and 61 days. (Biden, of course, would break his own record on inauguration day if reelected.) And amid his third White House bid – for which he has maintained a notably light travel schedule and has appeared tired at times during court appearances – Trump’s own mental acuity has faced intense scrutiny from political foes, including Biden.

“But let’s all remember Donald Trump is just a flatulent old man with an orange spray-tan who fell asleep at his own trial,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at the Wisconsin Democratic convention last weekend.

There’s this too: For the remainder of the presidential race, just three years will separate the ages of Trump, 78, and Biden, 81, on paper — a reminder that the two men are indeed of the same era. Born to parents of the Greatest Generation, they each grew up in the aftermath of World War II in a country forever changed by the threat of nuclear war, the proliferation of television and America’s post-war boom. They would’ve overlapped in high school, at least for a time. Through a combination of medial and student deferments, they both avoided serving in the Vietnam War. They’re both grandparents.

In the rematch between the two oldest presidents to ever serve, the advanced age of the presumptive presidential nominees has been a much-discussed factor. More than half of US adults say both are too old to serve another term, according to an April ABC/Ipsos survey, 10 points higher than a year ago.

The same surveys persistently show there are more reservations about the abilities of Biden than Trump — chiefly because Democrats are far more likely to express concerns about the incumbent’s age and fitness than Republicans are willing to say about their own nominee.

Trump, though, does not sound like a man convinced voters see much of a difference. Rather, in his public appearances, the former president has labored to project his age as just a number and not a starting point for comparing him to Biden.

“I don’t feel 77,” he asserted during a freewheeling soliloquy at Trump Tower the morning after a Manhattan jury convicted him on 34 felony counts. Earlier this year, Trump similarly told an interviewer, “I feel like I’m about 35 years old. I actually feel better now than I did 30 years ago. Tell me, is that crazy?”

At his rallies, Trump regularly mocks Biden’s cognitive abilities, and his campaign and allies have made a sport of sharing selectively edited clips of the president’s appearances to unflattering effect.

Trump, though, has experienced his own gaffes and verbal slips. Earlier this year, Trump confused former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He has misstated his location and once mistakenly compared his polling numbers to former President Barack Obama, not Biden.

His Republican rivals seized on these missteps during the primary, hoping to convince GOP voters that the former president was a shell of the man who first stepped into the political arena nine years ago. Haley called Trump “totally unhinged” and “diminished” as she battled him for the nomination. The campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted Trump’s perceived blunders by publishing a “Trump Accident Tracker” while the candidate insisted Trump “lost the zip on his fastball.”

“What Donald Trump does now is, he is wedded to the teleprompter,” DeSantis said at one point. “He can’t get off that teleprompter.”

Increasingly, Biden’s campaign and its surrogates are stepping up attacks on Trump with criticisms similar to those once levied by the former president’s Republican opponents. They notably took a more aggressive turn following Trump’s Las Vegas rally, where his teleprompter malfunctioned causing the former president to ad lib some of his remarks.

During one stretch, Trump delivered a 600-word riff about his concerns over battery-powered boats that included an extended stream-of-consciousness debate over whether it would be better to die by shark attack or electrocution.

“So there’s a shark 10 yards away from the boat, 10 yards, over here,” Trump said. “Do I get electrocuted if the boat is sinking, water goes over the battery, the boat is sinking? Do I stay on top of the boat and get electrocuted, or do I jump over by the shark and not get electrocuted?”

Trump ultimately concluded: “I’ll take electrocution every single time. I’m not getting near the shark.”

Biden’s allies pounced on social media, sharing the diatribe widely. At a private fundraiser in New York this week, second gentleman Doug Emhoff told donors Trump these days lacked comprehension.

“This is a degraded version of an already horrible person,” Emhoff said in reference to Trump’s Vegas speech. “He is degrading before our eyes.”

The chirping continued on the eve of Trump’s birthday as the former president met with Congressional Republicans. In private meetings Thursday in Washington, Trump veered across topics, ranting about Taylor Swift potentially endorsing his opponent to claiming Pelosi’s daughter said the former House Speaker could have dated Trump, which one daughter denied and called “unhinged.” He offered muddled political advice on how Republicans should discuss abortion, bragged about House members who lost seats after voting to impeach him and called the GOP convention host city of Milwaukee “horrible,” spurring conflicting accounts of what he meant from Wisconsin Republicans.

Many in the meetings who talked to reporters afterward raved that Trump had presented as unified and strong. The Biden campaign called Trump “feeble” on social media when the former president ended a post-meeting news conference after five minutes without taking questions.

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung in a statement to CNN replied to recent attacks by saying that Biden “and his floundering campaign have resorted to becoming parodies of themselves.”

“Aside from trying to explain away losing his declining memory, shuffling his feet like a short-circuited Roomba, and falling on his ass over and over again, they’ll have to take responsibility for their out-of-control border, runaway inflation, and surging crime rates that have decimated every American,” Cheung said.

But the observations about Trump’s age and mental state are not just coming from inside the Biden campaign.

Alyssa Farah Griffin, who resigned as communications director in Trump’s White House in December 2020, said on “The View” there are “glaring warning signs about Trump.”

“Listening to him now does not sound like him in 2016 and he was not ever particularly eloquent,” Griffin, a co-host on the show and a CNN contributor. “I’m recognizing and seeing a decline in him. Others who’ve known him have said it and I think that that matters.”

Notably, Trump’s allies see his age as a potential factor that could keep him out of jail following his felony conviction. Asked about the likelihood of Trump ending up behind bars, Jonathan Turley, an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School friendly to the former president, said it would be “absurd.”

One of the reasons?

“He is an elderly first offender,” Turley said.

Amid the constant questions about Trump’s longevity, though, he has told his supporters not to worry. He has good genes.

“My father lived a long time. My mother lived a long time and they were happy and they were great,” Trump told the Vegas crowd. “So maybe we’re gonna live a long time.”

This headline has been updated.

CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere, Ariel Edwards-Levy, Kristen Holmes, Annie Grayer, Melanie Zanona, Lauren Fox and Kit Maher contributed to this story.

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