I foresee no peril in national Republicans pushing a message that focuses on the age of the first woman nominee from a major party.
Place your bets now: Which dumb GOP member of Congress will say something crass about the “old lady” and catalyze War on Women 2.0?
“Perhaps in the Democratic primary and certainly in the general election, there’s going to be an argument that the time for a change of leadership has come,” said the Republican strategist Karl Rove. “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.”
A yesterday-versus-tomorrow argument against a woman who could be the last major-party presidential nominee from the onset of the baby boom generation would be a historically rich turnabout. It was Mrs. Clinton’s husband, then a 46-year-old Arkansas governor, who in 1992 put a fellow young Southerner on the Democratic ticket and implicitly cast the first President George Bush as a cold war relic, ill equipped to address the challenges of a new day. Mr. Clinton then did much the same to Bob Dole, a former senator and World War II veteran, in 1996…
Alarmed over President Obama’s success with younger voters in the last two White House campaigns, Republican officials are bickering over how to appeal to them, with some advocating moderation on social issues like same-sex marriage and others focusing on improving tactics and the use of technology. But there is an emerging consensus that the party stands a better chance by contrasting a younger nominee with Mrs. Clinton, a Goldwater girl turned Watergate investigator…
What could also bedevil Republicans is that by 2016, Mrs. Clinton’s maturity could be more of an attribute than a liability. American voters have a tendency to elect presidents with the traits that their predecessors lacked, and if Mr. Obama’s term ends on a sour note, the electorate may look fondly upon a candidate with deep experience.
Like Matt Lewis I think it’s nutty to push this message overtly, given how fraught with danger it is, when voters will be thinking about it anyway. (Unlike Lewis, I don’t think it’s yet another reason to support the glory that is pro-amnesty, pro-interventionist Marco Rubio. What’s more “old news” than nominating the policy successor to John McCain?) Nearly every top-flight contender for the GOP nomination, with the notable exception of Jeb Bush, is many years younger than Hillary; voters will notice the age difference without being told to. The “old news” message is really just an anti-establishment message at base: The problem with Hillary isn’t that she’ll be almost 70 by election day, it’s that she’ll have been a Beltway institution for close to 25 years at that point. If, like many Americans, you’re disgusted with the federal government generally and Congress in particular, why nominate someone who’s been a “co-president,” senator, and Secretary of State, and not particularly effective in any role?
Lots of pitfalls with the “old news” message, though. One: The more that term becomes a byword for her age, the more Reagan’s and McCain’s ages will be thrown back in the GOP’s face. Two: Obviously, it’s a non-starter if we nominate Jeb. There’s only one family in America at this point that’s more of a Beltway establishment than the Clintons. Leave it to the GOP to seriously consider nominating someone from that family to face her. Three: It’s inherently difficult to push an “old news” message against a candidate whose nomination would represent a historic first. Hillary herself may be old news, but the prospect of America having its first woman president isn’t. The Democratic “old news” counter-message, about the “party of men” nominating yet another man, writes itself. Four: Winning women’s votes will be challenging for Republicans with the first woman nominee on the ballot (especially a woman as popular as Hillary), but one constituency where the GOP does relatively well is older women. If someone says something stupid mocking Hillary for not being up to the job because of her age, the backlash — even if it’s small — among those older women could be ruinous.
Five: As noted in the Times piece, “old news” might not be the worst platform to run on if Hopenchange collapses in a heap over the next three years. “We tried the untested young ‘change’ candidate,” Hillary’s team will say. “Look how it turned out.” It’s the “3 a.m. phone call” message all over again — and Republicans will play right into it by nominating someone like Rubio, who’ll be running the GOP version of a Hopenchange campaign by arguing that what America needs now is a young, charismatic, optimistic (and inexperienced) executive. Hillary may be especially immune to an “old news” campaign, in fact, because part of the “old news” on her resume is being First Lady to a guy who’s enjoyed high approval ratings since forever. That gives her special leeway in crafting her own message. If Obama’s popular when he leaves office, as unlikely as that seems right now, she can run on his record. If he isn’t, she can run on Bill’s and say that the “old” prosperous post-war America of the 90s really wasn’t so bad.
Exit question: If this doesn’t end up as the GOP’s main line of attack on her, what will? Benghazi? You’re betting an awful lot in that case on Americans caring about foreign policy. Think carefully.