Republicans have long been taking shots at former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the clear favorite for the 2016 Democratic nominee should she choose to run. But after months of fruitless scandal-seeking investigations into the September 11 attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Republican strategists have turned to a new tactic — she’s, well … kind of old.
“She’s been around since the ‘70s,” said Stuart Stevens, top strategist for Mitt Romney’s residential campaign. He argued that voting for Hillary, 65, would be like going back in time — a diversionary strategy to put personal demographics over political policy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), when asked about Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden Jr., considered a top contender if Clinton doesn’t run, said that the 2016 Democratic ticket looks like a “rerun of The Golden Girls.” Biden will turn 71 in November of this year.
It’s an unusual strategy for the GOP, which is has been portrayed as staid and stale and representative of an aging establishment by Democrats, who have enjoyed strong support in the last two presidential elections across the coveted youth and minority votes. Yet counterintuitively, the prospective 2016 field is dominated by a younger, fresher generation of conservatives, up against the tail-end of baby-boomer leadership on the left.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 50, currently has the strongest approval ratings of any potential GOP candidate. 50% view him favorably, according to a recent Bloomberg poll, while 16% view him unfavorably. His image and visibility have increased dramatically since Hurricane Sandy; just 34% of responders say they don’t know him well enough to form an opinion, down from 57% who said the same in June 2011.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), also 50, has a 32% favorable rating, with 42% having no opinion. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fa.), 42, comes in at 32% favorable and 46% unsure.
(Problematically, though Christie does well nationwide, he tends to poll better among Democrats than Republicans.)
But none come close to Hillary, who is backed by three out of four democrats and 33% of Independents. And even though her approval ratings have taken a slide since December of last year, when Congressional Republicans raised an outcry over her handling of Benghazi, she is still viewed favorably by a whopping 58% of the country. And she has by far the widest visibility, having spent four years as Secretary of State, with only 5% of respondents saying they didn’t know enough about her to offer an opinion.
“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 Republican strategist Karl Rove, trying to draw attention back to Clinton’s age as a means of winning back some of the youth vote. “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.”
But many say that Republicans will still have to do more to woo millennials, such as updating the antiquated views on same sex marriage, immigration, and climate change that still run strong through core sections of their base. Sen. Paul has been working hard to capitalize off the recent revelations regarding the NSA surveillance program “PRISM,” by calling for more transparency and renewed protections for civil liberties. Voters between 18-34 have the highest disapproval rating of any other age category of how President Obama is handling the surveillance of U.S. citizens.
“They would go to that place at their own risk,” said former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about this relatively limp new strategy to knock the liberal front-runner. Pelosi has been questioned multiple times herself about whether her continued leadership precludes younger liberals from taking the reigns of the party.
“Age is like art,” she says. “It’s a matter of interpretation.”
Pelosi calls an age-related question "offensive."