With all signs pointing to Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016, several conservatives have tried to make her age and health an issue. For instance, no less an authority than Washington Times editor emeritus Wesley Pruden suggested that Hillary would be “past her sell-by date” if she won the presidency, since she’d be three months past her 69th birthday on inauguration day. Fox News’ Jim Pinkerton thinks that Chelsea’s recently-announced pregnancy was intended to deflect questions about whether Hillary is too old for the White House. And just last week, Karl Rove suggested that Hillary may have suffered a severe brain injury from a blood clot she suffered in 2012.
Most decent Americans on both sides of the political divide would consider this despicable. But apparently, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus thinks such tactics are just fine. On today’s edition of Meet the Press, Priebus said that if Hillary does indeed run in 2016, it’s more than acceptable to bring up her age and health as issues. “I think health and age is fair game,” he said. “It was fair game for Ronald Reagan. It was fair game for John McCain.” He also claimed that there was “never a graceful way” to ask questions about a presidential candidate’s health.
Priebus was comparing apples to oranges in both cases. While it was pointed out during the run-up to the 1980 campaign that Reagan would be 69 on Inauguration Day 1981, Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York that most of the attacks on Reagan’s age initially came from Republicans–George H. W. Bush, John Connally and Phil Crane. And McCain’s age was never a significant issue until he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate–and only then was it pointed out that Palin would be a 72-year-old heartbeat from the presidency.
When host David Gregory asked whether Rove should apologize for his comments, Preibus hedged, saying that was a decision Rove would have to make. “Rove is a political operative,” Preibus said, “and I understand that he plays hardball.” Gregory pointed out that Rove was throwing red meat to the base, and wondered whether Preibus, as the operating head of the GOP, wanted to “step away from this or double down.” Priebus replied that if Hillary does indeed run, it was taken for granted that issue would come up. That contrasts sharply with Reagan’s 1984 campaign manager, Ed Rollins, who told the New York Post that Rove was wrong to raise the issue. “Sometimes you talk out loud when you shouldn’t,” Rollins said. This coming from a guy not exactly known for leaving the padding in his gloves himself.