Republicans Should Be Careful In Bringing Up Hillary Clinton’s Age

A Presidential candidate's health and fitness for office are legitimate issues. When it comes to bringing up Hillary Clinton's age in the context of 2016,, though, Republicans need to proceed with caution.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Rand Paul, who continues to look like a candidate for President more and more each day, made a not subtle at all reference to Hillary Clinton’s age during an interview with Politico that seems to suggest it may end up being a theme for any Republican who ends up running against her in 2016:

In a POLITICO interview, the 51-year-old senator talked unblinkingly about the possibility of a run, and sought to draw a sharp contrast between himself and Hillary Clinton — none too subtly raising the issue of her age. At 67, she is 16 years older than he is.

“I think all the polls show if she does run, she’ll win the Democrat nomination,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s for certain. It’s a very taxing undertaking to go through. It’s a rigorous physical ordeal, I think, to be able to campaign for the presidency.”

On some level, of course, it is likely inevitable that the issue of Cinton’s age, and her health and fitness for office, would become issues in the 2016 campaign should she choose to run. After all, if Clinton wins, she would immediately become the second oldest person in American history, with only Ronald Reagan, at 69 years, 349 days, exceeding her age on Inauguration Day 2017 which would be 69 years, 87 days. While Clinton has not displayed any history of health problems other than the concussion that she suffered near the end of her time after falling in her home due to apparent fatigue and dehydration as the result of a viral infection, it will be legitimate to ask questions about her health status and whether she would be up for the rigors of a job that is, not unfairly, described as the toughest job in the world. This is especially true given that the Presidency is known to have real physical impacts on the men who have held the job. One need only observe the obvious aging over the course of their two terms in office we saw with Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to see the physical manifestation of that stress. Thankfully, none of these men had any real health problems during their time in office, and even President Reagan displayed remarkably good health for his age notwithstanding surviving an assassination attempt that nearly killed him and undergoing surgery related to pre-cancerous signs of what could have been colon cancer.

It strikes me, though, that there is a difference between legitimate questions about the health of a candidate for President, and the kind of nudge that Paul gives here, and that I have seen from other Republicans over the past six months or so, and I have no doubt that it is a theme that conservative pundits will hit on as we get closer to 2016. However, while it is is perfectly acceptable for a candidate of any age, and especially Clinton’s age, to be asked about their health and fitness for office, leaning on the age issue too much carries with it serious political risks. Democrats tried it in 1980 against Ronald Reagan, and it failed miserably. It came up again in 1984 when Reagan was four years older , and seemed to gain some currency when the President performed poorly at his first debate with Walter Mondale. President Reagan, however, put the issue to bed with perhaps the best moment in the history of American Presidential debates:

Then, later, in that same debate, the President further put the issue to rest with an answer on defense spending that could hardly have been said to demonstrate any age related issues regarding his second term:

So, be careful how you raise the age issue, Republicans, because it could come back to bite you in the end.

(On an unrelated note, I would also say that if you go through YouTube, you’ll find clips of this and other debates from earlier in American history. Compare them to what we call Presidential “debates” today and you’ll become quite depressed.)

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Paul L. says:

    Odd, I can not find the word Mccain in this post.
    But that is different

    Back in 2008, some guy over at the Huffington Post attacked McCain for being a mentally incompetent senior citizen. Yes that was the guy’s argument. He claimed John McCain was too old and senile to be President.

    Yesterday, that same guy declared me the worst person in the world for pointing out Hillary Clinton will be old.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Hillary will actually be younger than Mr. Reagan by a more substantial amount given that a 70 year-old white American female can expect to live another 16.5 years, as opposed to the male who will likely just stagger along another 14.2 years.

  3. John425 says:

    To steal a phrase often used by Democrats to belittle Republicans: She’s a “doddering old fool!”

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Paul L.:

    So your point is that other people at different blogs hold different views…?

    @John425:

    That phrase isn’t used to belittle Republicans, it’s used to belittle doddering old fools of a Republican.

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    Reagan is the best argument against people with that age being President.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Yes, but what fun watching Republicans try to make it.

  7. John425 says:

    @michael reynolds: Your avatar photo and your comments suggests you are well beyond being a doddering old fool. Senile and dementia come to mind.

  8. Tillman says:

    Age and health are perfectly fine measures to use when judging someone’s candidacy. Still recall the blood clot scare some years back. That said, the age question was more applicable to John McCain in 2008.

  9. anjin-san says:

    Does this mean that Paul has gotten past his ebola panic?

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @John425:
    You’re absolutely correct. Senility has advanced to such a point that I’ll only write two books this year. And a spec script or two. And package a third book series.

  11. David in KC says:

    @michael reynolds: Slacker 🙂

  12. anjin-san says:

    @John425:

    dementia

    If you had every watched someone you love suffer from dementia, you might not bandy the word around in a lame attempt at an insult.

  13. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds: Your avatar makes you look like that guy in the ole Six Flags commercial*. But then again, who am I to talk about avatars?

    On the subject of the post, I think Republicans should avoid talking about Hillary entirely. It would be a smart move politically and it will allow them to avoid making complete asses of themselves.

    * Sorry if you heard that music in your head after bringing that up…

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Okay, now I’m changing my avatar.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    There, now I look cool. Right?

    Right?

    Hello?

  16. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    See Spot run. Run, Spot. Run.

  17. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds: Yeah, buddy. Badass.

    Larry David gets a better haircut, then gets kicked off the golf course for cursing. Own it.

  18. charles austin says:

    Good thing I’m not a Republican. But it’s not her age that concerns me.