When Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, he was a 46-year-old baby boomer, the first of four in a succession of presidents of that generation. The line ended in 2020 when Donald Trump, a 74-year-old boomer, lost to Joe Biden, who at 77 had been born during World War II.
But Joe, as we all know, did not take the presidency forward to the next generation. He took it one step back to what is often called the Silent Generation. So silent, in fact, that those of that generation didn’t have a president to call their own until Biden.
The issue of the age of those holding the reins of power in this country keeps popping up, like a jack-in-the-box that jumps out and screams, “You’re too old!” It’s clearly a characteristic of both parties. We had Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House until she was 82. Mitch McConnell is still the leader of the Republicans in the Senate at 81. Joe Biden is President at 80, and Donald Trump currently is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination next year and would turn 80 in office should he win a second term. Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley are both 89. You can see what I mean.
According to a CBS News poll from last August, the vast majority (73%) of Americans favor age limits for elected officials. And that holds true across party lines and the age spectrum. The plurality (40%) set that limit at age 70. If such a rule were in place today, a third of the Senate would be taken out, including the leaders of both parties, not to mention President Biden, and Trump would be precluded from even running. So why are these folks still around?
Term limits, rather than age, have been put forward as a solution. Rafael Cruz (I’m sorry, I just can’t call him “Ted”) has proposed a constitutional amendment to limit senators to two six-year terms and members of the House to three two-year terms, a move he made just two months after announcing he himself would be running for a third term. The language of the proposal would not count previous terms served against the limit, so Cruz himself could continue to serve through 2036 should the measure pass. Which, of course, it won’t.
The truth is we already have term limits and age limits. They’re called elections. We have them every two years, and if enough voters think Cruz and his colleagues in Congress have had enough time in Washington, they can be voted out. Similarly, if enough voters think some officials are just too damned old to be in office, they can be given the boot, too. But we all know it’s not quite that simple. There has to be a viable alternative.
Right now, those under 60 with presidential ambitions of either party who have the sense to pour piss out of a boot aren’t going to run simply because time is on their side. Challenging an incumbent President has historically proven to be a fool’s errand, and challenging Trump in the MAGA-dominated Republican party has a slim chance of success.
Democrats bitten by the presidential bug would be well advised to keep their powder dry, and one of them should use that time to come up with a really good reason for ever having been married to Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Nikki Haley, 51, has announced she’s running against Trump, which makes me believe she may not know what to do with that boot I just mentioned. Asa Hutchinson, 72, made his “it’s now or never” announcement on April 2, but this ho-hum story was almost completely lost in all that news Trump has been making. So far, the reaction to both of these campaigns has been rather lukecool.
Ron DeSantis, 44, who has yet to announce, keeps himself in the headlines picking fights with Disney and drag queens. Perhaps he thinks mixing it up with a corporate behemoth and some of the fiercest people on the planet is a good idea because he’s neither old enough nor experienced enough to know better. It’s still possible that he may get wise and wait for 2028, but that might be giving him too much credit. After all, wasn’t he the guy that wore those white boots? And did he bother to drain them, just in case?
In American history, the two oldest Presidents at the beginning of their presidencies were Trump and Biden. Trump built a devoted, some would say fanatical, base of support to which the Republican party continues to kowtow. Biden pulled together a group of voters to win the Democratic nomination in 2020, even though he was not the first or even second choice of many, if not most, in that coalition. And they both won, despite how old they were.
Winning, not age, is the most important thing in politics. Voters in both parties, to different degrees, have lost sight of this basic truth. They do so at their own peril.