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Catch of the Day: The Non-Issue Of Hillary's Age

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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A Catch to Brendan Nyhan, who points out that Hillary Clinton’s age is unlikely to affect the 2016 election if she is nominated. He also notes that Democrats and Republicans will both reverse the positions on the age of a president that they held when John McCain and Bob Dole ran.

Commenting on a Pew poll that asks voters whether “various traits or experiences, like being a governor, a Catholic or a woman” would prevent them for voting from a candidate, Nyhan concludes that “voters often seem to work backward, rationalizing their views of the likely contenders rather than expressing a strong preference for a particular type of candidate.”

It's a bit more complicated to discern the effects this has on nomination contests. Voters probably will follow cues from party leaders. But what do party leaders look for in a nominee? We know a lot more than we used to about how party actors -- politicians, campaign and governing professionals, formal party staff and officials, donors and activists, and party-aligned interest groups -- control presidential nominations, and how they use that influence to keep presidents loyal to their parties. We know less about why party actors choose one candidate over another, all else equal.

That is, it’s easy to see why Republican party actors would choose orthodox Mitt Romney over Ron Paul. But it’s not as clear why Romney gets the nod over Tim Pawlenty, who has conservative credentials that are at least as reliable. We know some of the considerations (perceived electability, for example), but not all of them, or how they are weighted. So I wouldn’t quite rule out the possibility that age could be a significant factor.

At any rate, age probably won't matter in the general election. Which means, among other things, that it’s the responsibility of the parties to get it right when they make nominations. If party actors do have any doubts about having a president in her 70s (and I’m not saying they should), they should deal with it now.

Meanwhile: Nice catch!

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