What Hillary Clinton’s health means for 2016

January 2, 2013

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to be on the road to recovery from a blood clot near her brain caused by a concussion she suffered several weeks ago in a fall at her house.


"The secretary is making excellent progress and we are confident she will make a full recovery," said her physicians.

That's good news.

But, even if Clinton has no long-term effects from this health scare, it will, without question, influence how she is covered if she decides to run for president in 2016.

Here's why.

1. Clinton would be 69 years old if she runs in 2016. (Her birthday is Oct. 26, 1947.) That's the same age Ronald Reagan was when he was elected president in 1980. Reagan remains the oldest person ever elected president. (John McCain was 72 when he ran -- and lost -- in 2008.)

2. This is the second time in the past 15 years that Clinton has had a blood clot issue. The first episode, which was significantly less serious, was in 1998 when she was treated for a blood clot in her leg.

Add those two factors up and it's clear that Clinton will have to answer lots -- and lots -- of questions about her health if she decides to get into the next race for president.

Answering health questions is nothing new for those who want to be president of the United States. Then Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas had to convince the voters he was fully recovered from cancer during his 1988 1992 presidential bid.  Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry had to do the same after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer in 2004. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has admitted he has long struggled with his weight, would have to answer questions about whether he was up to the job if he decides to run in three years time.

The simple fact is that running and serving as president is an incredibly stressful and demanding job. (There's a reason that every president looks as though they've aged twice as fast as the average person when they leave the White House.) And, because of the pressures inherent in the job, one of the first hurdles any prospective nominee must clear is that he/she is ready, willing and, most importantly, able to perform the duties of the office.

Everything is magnified when it comes to Hillary Clinton, however. If the coverage of her health over the past few weeks is any indication, she would be facing a barrage of questions about her health and demands for her to make as many pieces of her own medical history available as possible. It would become her Mitt Romney's tax return issue.

Clinton knows this political reality better than almost any other person in the country. She has been in the midst of the media maelstrom almost continually since 1992 and, as her recent sky-high approval ratings prove, has somehow figured out a way to navigate through it all successfully.

Of course, neither she nor her political inner circle world has dealt with the particular issue of health questions/concerns related to her. And, the natural tendency for privacy among Clintonworld -- as demonstrated in this latest health scare -- could exacerbate the issue as the less Clinton says about her health, the more people will want to know. 

This is all in the theoretical realm at the moment as Clinton -- even before this illness -- made clear that she wasn't planning to make any decisions about her political future (and if there will be one) for some time. But, rest assured that if Clinton does eventually decide to run, her hospitalization for this clot near her brain will be a major topic of discussion. And she -- and her political team -- will have to find a way to come up with satisfactory answers.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · January 2, 2013