All this might be different with an older female candidate, who would almost definitely be viewed differently. In 2016, conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s health were driven largely by her age and gender, and she’s younger than Trump, Biden, and Sanders. No similar theories emerged when Sanders, in March, fell in the shower while on a campaign swing in South Carolina. Though he had to appear at several events with a large gauze bandage on his forehead, covering several stitches, most people likely didn’t even know the accident happened.
The question about age isn’t just a political one. Multiple White House alumni have told me over the past few years that they worry about how an older person could handle the job, given the stress and the schedule involved. While they’re generally wary of saying anything publicly for fear of insulting the specific candidates or being accused of ageism, one former aide joked to me in December about wanting to write an op-ed with the headline, “In Defense of Ageism at the White House.”
Others have been more open in grappling with this. “Can politicians our age be effective presidents? It’s a question that can provoke strong, often pained reactions from my contemporaries,” wrote Robert Kaiser, a 76-year-old former Washington Post editor, in an op-ed earlier this month. He called into question the mental acuity and stamina of people in their 70s and older.