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Can the GOP convince America that Hillary Clinton is too old?
That seems to be their strategy, according to Jonathan Martin in The New York Times. Bring it on, say Democrats
 
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago on June 13.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago on June 13. REUTERS/Jim Young

Hillary Clinton may or may not run for president in 2016. But if she does, she's starting in an unusually strong position, says New York Times political stats prodigy Nate Silver.

"From the standpoint of the party primary, it's almost as though she's an incumbent president," Silver said at the Aspen Ideas Festival over the weekend. "If you look at polls, you know, 60 to 70 percent of Democrats say they prefer Hillary to be the nominee. There's no kind of non-incumbent in history with those types of numbers."

Republicans have noticed. Karl Rove's American Crossroads even released an attack ad against Clinton, hitting her on her handling of the September 2012 attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya. But now, Rove has moved on from Benghazi, and he's not alone, says Jonathan Martin in The New York Times. Now, "Republican strategists and presidential hopefuls, in ways subtle and overt, are eager to focus a spotlight on Mrs. Clinton's age."

Martin compiles some recent quotes from leading Republicans: Clinton, who's 65, "been around since the '70s," says Romney 2012 chief strategist Stuart Stevens; the 2016 Democratic field is starting to look like "a rerun of The Golden Girls," says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; and Rove now argues that "the idea that we're at the end of her generation and that it's time for another to step forward is certainly going to be compelling."

Add it all up, says Martin, and "despite her enduring popularity, a formidable fundraising network and near unanimous support from her party, Mrs. Clinton, Republican leaders believe, is vulnerable to appearing a has-been."

Could this strategy work, especially if the GOP nominates one of its young rising stars — Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), or Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.), for example? Democrats don't seem too worried.

If Republicans insist on trying to "paint Clinton as 'old news' — or, rather, old," says Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic, then "the party should just concede the election now." While they're at it, they might try "focusing on how Clinton dresses, make an effort to refer to her as shrill, question her likeability, and even raise the issue of whether women are too emotional for the presidency."

Obvious sexism aside, this is a little rich from the party that reveres Ronald Reagan — 70 right after he took office — and nominated 72-year-old John McCain in 2008 and 73-year-old Bob Dole in 1996, says Doug Barry at Jezebel. "Honestly, does anyone think this strategy won't backfire horribly?"

The short answer is "yes." First, there is some otherworldly retribution due here, says Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney:

Second, this is a changing-of-the-generations argument, says The Daily Caller's Tim Miller. Republicans aren't really calling her "old":

Republicans do have a history of nominating not just old white men but also the candidate who, like Clinton, is "next in line," says David Frum at CNN. So take it from a Republican: "Democrats would be poorly served by following the Republican example when President Obama's term ends."

Hillary Clinton is 14 years older than Barack Obama. A party has never nominated a leader that much older than his immediate predecessor.... Parties have good reasons to avoid reaching back to politicians of prior generations. When they do, they bring forward not only the ideas of the past, but also the personalities and the quarrels of the past....

Yet the biggest risk to Democrats from a Hillary Clinton nomination is not that it would be generationally backward-looking — or that it would reopen embarrassing ethical disputes — but that it would short-circuit the necessary work of party renewal. After eight years in the White House, a party requires a self-appraisal and a debate over its way forward. [CNN]

The age attack does have some political merit, says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. After her fainting spell last December, Clinton will need to answer questions about her mental and physical health, "and she probably can't quip the issue away" like Reagan famously did by promising not to hold Walter Mondale's relative "youth and inexperience" against him. But "where the planned attack melts into comedy" is the part where the GOP thinks young voters will be repulsed by Clinton's actuarial age rather than attracted to her policies.

Republicans make the same mistake all the time with groups they don't normally talk to and know much about, whether it's African Americans or Latinos or young people. They think they'll change loyalties on the basis of symbolism. But people turn out not to be that stupid. They actually pay some attention to substance, and the GOP stands against what young people support in almost every particular. [Daily Beast]

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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