Hillary Clinton: defenders push back against Karl Rove on her health

Karl Rove isn't backing down on his comments about Hillary Clinton's health, rousing Democratic push-back. Will voters grow weary of front-runner Clinton this far ahead of the next presidential election?

Cliff Owen/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking in Washington May 14. Clinton backers are strongly rebutting GOP operative Karl Rove's suggestion that her age and health should be factors in any presidential run.

It’s political light years until we know who the major party candidates will be in the 2016 presidential election.

But we know who they are today: Karl Rove vs. Hillary Clinton.

Clinton beats all comers – Republican or Democrat – in every mock election. Rove today is the major GOP surrogate for the Republican Party attack on the politically formidable former first lady, US Senator, and Secretary of State.

It’s crazy, of course.

Clinton may well decide not to run. She’s known the pain of losing, as she did to Barack Obama in 2008 – not just the end result, but the way-too-long and bruising gantlet of party primaries and caucuses. As a certified senior citizen, she may be perfectly content to dote on grandchildren – one is on the way – and continue writing books like the memoir “Hard Choices” out next month.

But like her husband, Clinton seems unlikely to retire from the political advocacy and action she’s known since her student days at Wellesley and Yale.

So with Mr. Rove in the lead, Republicans are doing everything they can to discredit her professionally while raising personal questions regarding her competency and fitness.

This past week, Rove implied that Clinton had suffered “traumatic brain injury” when she fainted and fell last year due to dehydration. He later back-pedaled (somewhat), saying any presidential candidate’s health needs to be considered.

There was plenty of pushback, including from some Republicans. Newt Gingrich said he was “deeply offended” by Rove’s remarks as he was when Democrats questioned Ronald Reagan’s health in 1980.

But the story was kept very much alive on the Sunday news shows.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Clinton’s health and age are “fair game” for political opponents.

"It was fair game for Ronald Reagan. It was fair game for John McCain," he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Back at it on “Fox News Sunday,” Rove insisted that he’s “not questioning her health,” but then went on to speak of her “serious health issue,” “concussion,” and “traumatic brain injury.” (TBI is one of the injuries many soldiers have experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the roadside bombs known as IEDs.)

Some Democrats suggest the GOP is afraid to face Clinton, a tough and experienced politician and fund-raising marvel. Mr. Priebus takes the opposite view, tweeting Sunday: “@HillaryClinton is a known product. She has a long history of making poor choices, and no significant accomplishments to point to.”

Appearing alongside Priebus on “Meet the Press,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D) of Missouri, fired back at that characterization.

"This is a strong, smart leader who is going to be a terrific president. And I don't care what Reince Priebus says, [Republicans] do not want Hillary Clinton," Sen. McCaskill said. "Because they know she is going to ignite a spark and enthusiasm across this country and she has got the strongest resume for president of anyone who's run in a very long time."

As for Rove’s innuendos, she said, “We don’t not know for certain that Hillary Clinton is going to run, but there’s one thing I know for certain: Karl Rove engaging in cheap shots is not going to back off Hillary Clinton.”

In some ways, Rove’s controversial comments about Clinton work to Democrats’ advantage.

They help rouse Democratic troops – including major party donors – against a known powerhouse on the right.

And for a while, at least, they change the subject from the terrorist attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya – which happened on Clinton’s watch at the State Department, and which resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel.

It may be that Hillary Clinton’s main challenge two and a half years before the next presidential election is that she – and the voters – suffer front-runner fatigue, which can be debilitating if not politically fatal.

"She's the overwhelming favorite. I can't see any opposition, not even potential opposition,” California Governor Jerry Brown said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. 

“Whether it's a good thing or not, it does carry with it risks," Gov. Brown said.  "Being a frontrunner is being on a perch that everyone else is going to try to knock you off of."

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