McCain primary challenger Kelli Ward: He's old and weak and "is falling down on the job"

The media’s doing some heavy breathing about this today. Watch below at 4:55. This isn’t the only case of Ward attacking McCain on this point lately either. She brought up Maverick’s age and alleged frailty in an interview with Politico too:

“I’m a doctor. The life expectancy of the American male is not 86. It’s less,” Ward said in an interview here…

“There are things that happen physiologically with the body and the mind. One of them is control over your anger and he’s already known as an angry man,” Ward said, munching on a baked potato at Durant’s, an old-school Phoenix steakhouse. “It becomes more and more difficult to control those kinds of outbursts. And we have to have someone with a steady hand, someone with the ability to think on their feet. Someone who can problem-solve.”

She’s a doctor by trade, which Chuck Todd notes in asking her whether she thinks it’s proper to diagnose someone from afar. Ward has a clever comeback for that: “Diagnosing him as an 80-year-old man? Yes, I do.” You don’t need a pro to tell you that an 80-year-old is apt to slow down. She’s not “diagnosing” McCain, in other words, she’s merely noting a basic fact of life. Except that elsewhere she says “He has gotten weak” and “I see the physiological changes that happen in normal aging, in patients again and again and again over the last 20, 25 years. So I do know what happens to the body and the mind at the end of life.” (End of life? McCain’s mother Roberta is still around at age 104.) The same goes for what she says in the excerpt, linking McCain’s reputation for having a short fuse to mental deterioration. It’s a fine line between saying he’s destined to slow down soon and hinting that there are already signs that he’s begun to fade physically and mentally. Voters might be less inclined to roll the dice on reelecting a candidate in the latter case than in the former.

Or they might not be. I can’t think of any cases in modern political history where there was credible evidence that an elderly candidate lost an election purely because of age. If anything, it’s the opposite: Elderly candidates are always longtime incumbents and incumbents usually win by dint of pure name recognition. Frank Lautenberg ran for reelection to the Senate in New Jersey in 2008 at the ripe old age of 84 and won by double digits. (He did in fact die in office, in 2013.) Trump, at age 70, would be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency if he wins in November. Voters just don’t seem to care about this, especially with life expectancies ever rising. That’s the main problem with this attack, I think, not that it’s too dirty but that it’s lame and certainly won’t work. McCain’s age and health are already priced into his political stock — much more so than the average Senate incumbent, in fact, since his age and medical history were topics during the 2008 presidential election. Which Arizona voters were prepared to vote for him, knowing that he’s an old man who’s been in Washington for decades, but have now flipped because Ward is telling interviews “He’s 80!”?

Speaking of the primary, this is a fair point:

The evidence that Trumpism as a movement extends beyond Trump himself is awfully thin right now. Trump endorsed Renee Ellmers before her primary this spring and Ellmers got stomped. Trumpers went all-in on Paul Nehlen’s challenge to Paul Ryan, with even Trump himself making some approving noises about Nehlen before he was pressured into endorsing Ryan, and Ryan destroyed Nehlen in their primary. Polling on the McCain/Ward race is mixed, with Gravis having recently found Ward leading 45/36 (with 20 percent undecided) and an even more recent CNN poll having found McCain blowing her out at 55/29. I’m going to guess the latter is closer to Ward’s internal polling or else she wouldn’t be kitchen-sinking him with age attacks right now. Ward has tried to connect herself to Trump too, asking for votes at one of his rallies and taunting McCain to stop referring to him as ‘the nominee” and to say his name. (“We need vigorous supporters of Donald Trump.”) McCain was potentially a much more vulnerable target for Trumpers in a primary than Ryan was, I think, partly because he lacks Ryan’s likability, partly because a statewide race is tougher for an incumbent than a small House district where he’s well known and popular, and partly because Trump won Arizona handily in the primary. There’s no better symbol of the “old” GOP than the elderly pro-amnesty former 2008 nominee whom Trump has criticized repeatedly in the past. And yet, McCain looks poised to win his primary easily. When does Trumpism, rather than Trump himself, start knocking off incumbents?

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