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.
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.)