Karl Rove questions Hillary Clinton's health. Too much or just politics?

GOP political strategist Karl Rove opined recently that voters need to know what happened when Hillary Clinton suffered a fall in 2012. How you view his remarks may depend on what you think about him more generally.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File
Republican strategist Karl Rove speaking in Sacramento, Calif., March 2, 2013.

Republican political strategist Karl Rove has stirred up a political storm with some comments about Hillary Rodham Clinton and her health. Is he implementing a grand strategy intended to sow doubts among US voters about Ms. Clinton’s ability to withstand the presidency? Or did he just make an offhand remark that got him in trouble, and now he’s improvising?

How you answer that may depend on what you think about Mr. Rove and his tactics in general.

The backstory goes like this: At a conference last week, Rove opined that voters need to know what happened when then-Secretary of State Clinton suffered a fall in 2012.

“Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that,” said Rove, according to an account of the conference by Emily Smith on Page Six of the New York Post.

Clinton was actually in the hospital for three days, according to contemporary news reports. The official diagnosis was that she had fainted because of dehydration from illness and hit her head, causing a concussion. Doctors subsequently said the fall also led to a blood clot, for which she was treated.

After this experience, she wore glasses with vertical lines designed to correct lingering double vision, according to a 2013 account in the New York Daily News.

Now Rove is pushing back on the notion that he suggested Clinton suffered brain damage.

“Of course she doesn’t have brain damage,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty published on Tuesday.

But, Rove added, it’s apparent that Clinton suffered a serious health issue and that she’ll have to be forthcoming about it if she runs for president.

“She would not be human if it didn’t enter into her considerations,” Rove said.

Many Democrats are crying foul at what they see as a deliberate overstatement and subsequent retraction from the man who helped elect George W. Bush to the White House. Rove knew that he’d get lots of attention for the “brain damage” implication and that it would get people talking about Clinton’s general health and age, even after he’d apologized or pulled back from his initial words about possible serious problems.

“And Rove will sit back and pretend to be all serious and respectable and deny that he was claiming any such thing – he just thought it needed to be investigated, is all. Right, Karl,” writes Laura Clawson at the left-leaning Daily Kos.

On the right, some of Rove’s defenders say his initial comment might have been clumsy, but Clinton’s health is a legitimate issue. All presidential candidates get asked by the press to provide health records. Clinton’s fall, and its aftermath, will come up in any 2016 campaign as a matter of course.

“I suppose those questions are seen as unseemly, but I’m not sure they’re out of bounds,” writes Mary Katharine Ham at the right-leaning Hot Air site.

As to whether Rove’s comments will knock down Clinton’s currently high favorable ratings, here’s a prediction you can take to the savings and loan: Those ratings will come down anyway if she runs.

Polls show that anytime well-regarded national figures declare political office, they quickly see their favorable ratings decline, writes Washington Post political expert Aaron Blake at "The Fix." It happened to Al Gore when he ran for president in 2000. It happened to Bob Dole in 1996. And it’s happened before to Clinton: Her peak approval rating when first lady, as a percentage, was in the high 60s, but she dropped to the low 40s during her successful campaign in New York for a US Senate seat.

“If history is any guide, she would probably return to right around 50-50 once the [presidential] campaign began in earnest,” according to Mr. Blake.

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