The Republican Party, which has not been been popular with the kids of late, has a not so innovative strategy for taking the youth vote from Hillary Clinton if and when she decides to run for President in 2016: Remind the public that she is an older woman. Like all of us, Clinton, who is currently 65 years old, will have aged by about four years by the time the next election rolls around, and the GOP is hoping that that will somehow make her look totally decrepit when compared to the Party’s serious contenders, most of whom are more than a decade younger than she is. As the New York Times notes, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul are both 50, and Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator Marco Rubio are 42. (Plus, Rubio has the youth-intoxicating ability to “[drop] the names of rappers like Pitbull and Jay-Z,” while Paul came up with the term “Facebook Generation” and is very into legalizing pot and calling out the surveillance state.)
And, to hear Republican strategists tell it, Clinton’s sheer oldness is more than just an opportunity to point out that she has wrinkles — it’s a tool for labeling her “a has-been.” As Republican Governor Scott Walker said in a reference to Bill Clinton’s 1992 Fleetwood Mac campaign song, “If you want to keep thinking about tomorrow, maybe it’s time to put somebody new in.” And last year, Senator Mitch McConnell compared the prospect of Joe Biden or Clinton running to “a rerun of The Golden Girls,” an idea that might actually be appreciated by both 71-year-olds like himself and legions of 18- to 34-year-olds.
Of course, the “time for a new generation” idea has worked before. President Kennedy used it to beat Nixon in 1960, as did President Obama when he ran against John McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012. And then there were Mr. Clinton’s baby-boomer victories against two members of the Greatest Generation, the first President George Bush and Bob Dole. But there are many ways this strategy could backfire when it comes to Clinton, not the least of which would be charges of sexism for focusing on a woman’s age, especially when that woman is trying to become the first female president of the United States.
Additionally, as the Times points out, “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.” And if the Obama term ends well, then Clinton can point to her contributions as part of the administration, as well as all the other things she’s done and will do in between now and 2016. Plus, unlike the Republicans’ patron saint and oldest President, Ronald Reagan, Clinton has shown herself to be more than willing to directly engage with young people and to laugh at perceptions of her own stodginess while proving that she’s actually pretty fun after all.