TheDC’s Alex Pappas sparked controversy recently when he reported on the proliferation of rumors that Hillary Clinton “will not run for president again because of health concerns.” The story grew legs when Politico’s Roger Simon penned a piece about the piece about the rumors. (To his credit, Simon didn’t throw stones — which was good, inasmuch as reporting on the existence of rumors is pretty widespread.)
As anyone in DC can attest, the rumors, of course, are whispered about in green rooms and at parties and dinners. And why not? Hillary is assumed to be running for an incredibly demanding job as leader of the free world, has, despite (or because of ) being a public figure, led a cloistered existence for decades, and would, upon entering office, be the same age as Ronald Reagan when he became president.
The fact that this is a legitimate concern does not mean it’s a winning political issue. If the “war on women” thing — or the proliferation of older voters (who actually show up at the polls) — isn’t enough reason to tread carefully, then the fact that Republicans nominated Reagan (and Bob Dole and John McCain) should make them think twice before playing the age card.
But I think the health of any candidate for president is a legitimate concern. It’s a fair issue to raise. And assuming she is healthy, these rumors are easily overcome. Like humor, health is best demonstrated (if you have to say you’re funny, then you’re probably not).
The good news for Hillary is that the best way she can overcome these concerns is to eschew the inevitability strategy that doomed her in 2008, and instead, campaign aggressively and vigorously.
In fact, overcoming this challenge could easily be the comeback story of her campaign — reminiscent of Reagan’s response when Henry Trewhitt raised the age issue during a 1984 presidential debate.
And make no mistake, while the existence of rumors is real, it’s entirely possible this is merely the result of some perverse wishful thinking on the part of her enemies. If that’s the case, there is a real danger that Republicans will talk themselves into believing this is true, when it’s not.
This is not a new phenomenon. Consider this excerpt from Michael Lewis’ book Losers, about the 1996 presidential campaign:
“When I sit down to a meal with [Pat] Buchanan and a small band of young men who travel with him, the conversation drifts onto the subject of Bob Dole’s health… This kind of talk plays into every Republican candidate’s fantasy: everyone of them has a scenario wherein Dole drops out for reasons of health and he wins. “
Last time I checked, Bob Dole was still kicking.