Republican presidential debate in Alabama on NewsNation

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis participates in the NewsNation Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama Moody Music Hall in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he hopes to have someone younger than Donald Trump in the White House in 2024. But he refused to answer a challenger’s question about whether he thought the former president was qualified.

Asked by NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas about ads showing Trump acting confused in his campaign, DeSantis said, “I think we should have someone younger” and that 80-years-old is too old to be president.

“The idea that we’re going to put someone in there who’s almost 80 years old so there’s no consequence — we all know that’s not true,” DeSantis said.

The country needs a new generation of leaders and a president who can serve two terms, the GOP candidate said.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie attacked DeSantis for not directly answering if he thinks Trump is fit to be president.

“You have to be willing to hurt the truth and answer the question: appropriate or inappropriate,” Christie said.

DeSantis responded that this was not meant to offend Trump, but rather to indicate whether he would prefer to elect someone older than Biden when he takes office after winning in 2020.

“I don’t think he’s as bad as Biden,” he said, referring to Trump. “But I don’t think it’s a job for someone who’s pushing 80 in four years.

Some background: As the 2024 election season begins, questions such as the extent to which voters should try to judge politicians’ mental intelligence — and whether to disqualify someone from public office — boil over.

Biden, the oldest president at 81, launched his re-election bid in April. Current GOP front-runner Trump, 77, will be 82 at the end of a non-consecutive second term.

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After a bitter 2020 campaign, the duo’s advanced age has done nothing to dampen their ambition and mutual animosity. But this poses risks for both parties and calls it time to move on from a couple born in the 1940s.

CNN’s Stephen Collinson contributed to this post.

This post has been updated with details of the back-and-forth between DeSantis and Christie.

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