Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about the Hillary Clinton and the challenges she could face in 2016. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Ramesh: If Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, Republicans are planning to campaign against her as an old, tired candidate with old, tired ideas. Jonathan Martin in the New York Times collected quotes from Bobby Jindal, Stuart Stevens, Karl Rove and other Republicans varying this theme. Do you think this kind of criticism is fair game, Margaret? And do you think it will be effective with voters?
Margaret: The criticism is fair game. It's just that the age thing is wielded against women so much harder than against men. I am old, Ramesh, you are (or will be) distinguished. Women on stage in politics or Hollywood age in dog years which means Hillary will be 483 when she runs in 2016 and whoever her male opponent is will be eminent, held in high regard as a lion of whatever body of Congress he serves in. Expect Rush Limbaugh to continue to carry on with his famous question of whether men want to watch a female politician age. That being said, Republicans seem unable to be young in their policies. So she has a jump on them there.
Ramesh: Since the Cold War ended, we have had four presidential elections with a significant age gap between the candidates: 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012. The younger -- and Democratic -- candidates won all of them, and in each case the winners treated the losers as generational throwbacks. So like you, I think there might be something to the Republican theory about Mrs. Clinton. But I think there are also risks to using this line of attack, especially against a woman.
Margaret: The way to raise it is subtly, as in hope and change, or as a question of health. She did spend some time in the hospital recovering from a brain clot. McCain had to deal with those questions as, famously, did Ronald Reagan. Reagan put it aside with a good dye job and a joke about the youth and inexperience of his opponent, though it may be tougher for a woman to blow the issue off stage with a one-liner. What might make the difference is contrast. Obama looked so much younger and more vital than John McCain who looked like a grumpy old man most of the time during the campaign. It helps to age happily. Hillary may find herself running against a happy face like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or Paul Ryan. In that case, she's going to have to smile 'til it hurts.
Ramesh: There's an issue with Clinton that goes beyond her age but is connected to it: We have a lot of history with her and her family. Going "back" to the Clintons means a lot of baggage, and maybe it's not so much that she's tired as it is we're tired of it. That said, I agree that Republicans shouldn't raise the issue overtly. If the Democratic candidate -- Clinton or, for that matter, Biden -- looks old and tired, and the Republican seems like a fresh face with new ideas, then Republicans should just let the contrast present itself and let voters draw their own conclusions. Doing anything more risks a backlash. For similar reasons, I wouldn't advise Democrats running against Chris Christie to make an issue of his weight. If it matters to voters, it will matter without candidates' having to raise it.
Margaret: Not being explicit is the way to go about these delicate issues of age and weight but it is the operatives who will be advising the candidates that gave the New York Times the meat for their article. Yes, there's Clinton fatigue but there are many women who came of age watching Hillary be beaten down by old men in Congress who decided to impeach her husband and a special counsel who decided it would be a good idea to publish the most intimate details of her husband's sexual misdeeds and private anatomy. It was then that she really stood by her man and it was then that her popularity rose. More than distinguished women like me, younger ones like and admire Hillary for what she went through and how she handled it. She comes out at the top of almost every poll taken on who is the most admired woman in the world. Still if I could choose to run as either distinguished or fat, I'd choose fat since I could do something about that. I could stop eating Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch or get a lap-band, but no one can roll back the clock.