Is Hillary too old to run?

What better way to spend a slow Friday afternoon than with some uninformed 2016 navel-gazing?

To answer the question: No, she’s not too old. But that’s not the relevant question.

Is Hillary Clinton really a 100 percent lock to run? I think it is a pretty good bet, maybe 70 percent chance or so; but that also means there is an approximately 30 percent chance that she doesn’t throw her hat in the ring. The current political environment certainly argues on behalf of a Clinton run, and it would be very difficult—but not impossible—for anyone to beat her for the nomination. However, these choices can never be considered 100 percent political decisions. Clinton turns 67 this October. At that age, she will likely be making her candidacy decision, and if nominated Clinton would turn 69 two weeks before the 2016 general election, notably the same age Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected in 1980. The choice to run for president is effectively a nine-year commitment: one year to run, another four years if she wins a first term—finishing up that term at age 73—and then, assuming she runs for reelection and wins, serving four more years to end a second term at 77 years of age. None of this is to say that the age issue could successfully be used against her. After all, Reagan won the presidency at the same age. But how many 67-year-olds make nine-year commitments, and what concerns have to be addressed if they do?…

A law school friend of the Clintons’ put it to me this way to me last year: “If Bill and Hillary are healthy, she will run,” a subtle reminder to me that her husband will be 70 by Election Day 2016, having already gone through quadruple cardiac bypass surgery and two heart stents. He looks healthy, as she now does, but it does remind us that these are team efforts, and how they both are doing is relevant to the equation. When the 30 percent guestimate of her chance of passing up a race was run by a former senior Clinton staffer, the response was something to the effect of, “That sounds about right.”

Age won’t hurt her. If anything, it buoys up her core campaign pitch: She’s been around Washington for 25 years, she knows where the bodies are buried, and she’ll advance her agenda more effectively than the political parvenu who beat her in 2008 ever did. Are you an independent who mostly agrees with Democrats but got tired of Obama leading his initiatives into oblivion? Then the Clintons have just the candidate for you. If she can do another two years on the famously grueling presidential campaign trail, she’ll defeat all doubt that she’s physically up to the job.

And even if her health is poorer than we know, she might go for it anyway. A possibility that no one’s considering, including Charlie Cook in the excerpt above: What if she runs resolved (privately, not publicly) to serve only one term? Hillary doesn’t have some long policy wishlist that she’s burning to enact; even now, more than 20 years after the fact and despite her constant presence in the upper tiers of government, the only policy she’s closely associated with is the HillaryCare failure in Bill’s first term. She’s an icon not because of her ideas but because her public life is a sort of album of post-war feminist advances — accomplished lawyer stifled by the traditional trophy-ish role of First Lady runs for office and proves herself the equal of America’s most powerful legislators and diplomats. She won’t be running to kickstart some sort of new liberal revolution, nor do Democrats necessarily want her to. She’ll be running to become the first woman president and Democrats will back her because she’s their best chance to extend the party’s grip on the presidency for four more years, a would-be Bush 41 to Obama’s Reagan. Bill ended George H.W. Bush’s dream of four consecutive presidential terms for Republicans; if Hillary wins in 2016, she may see a lesson in that and decide not to press her luck by trying again in 2020. She wants to be a historical figure and she’s well positioned to do it. Why not do it then quit while you’re on top? Mission accomplished.

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