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Bill Press: Bush’s brain blunders

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As they say, politics ain’t beanbag. But there are still times when political rhetoric goes way over the line. Witness Karl Rove, the new Lee Atwater.

On May 8, appearing onstage in Los Angeles with former press secretary to President Obama Robert Gibbs, Rove suggested that Hillary Clinton might be hiding a serious health problem. As first reported by Emily Smith on the New York Post’s Page Six, Rove told his audience: “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.”

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Now, let’s first agree: This was no accidental, off-the-cuff remark by Rove. He did have his facts wrong: She was hospitalized for only three days, not 30. But his statement was a deliberate, well-rehearsed and carefully timed attempt to undermine Clinton’s credibility and perhaps even scare her out of running for president in 2016. 

We’ve seen this tactic before, way back in the 2000 South Carolina GOP primary, when rumors circulated that John McCain had spent so much time as a Vietnamese prisoner of war that he might be “mentally unstable.” And if you don’t believe the Bush campaign, led by Rove, was responsible for that smear, ask McCain.

Despite a flood of criticism of his comments on Clinton, Rove didn’t back down. He doubled down instead, telling Fox News’s Sean Hannity that Republicans would make a big issue of her age and health were she to run. “If you’re going to turn 69 two weeks before the 2016 election and you’ve had this kind of a serious health incident, and if you get elected, you’re going to serve — you might want to for eight years — you’re going to be 77 at the end of it.”

No matter how disgusting Rove’s personal attacks on Clinton are, they’ll prove no more effective than his comical attempts to deny Fox News from confirming Barack Obama’s reelection. Because everybody remembers that, back in 2012, when Clinton was, in fact, treated for a blood clot after a fall at her home, Republicans accused her of lying about her health problems in order to avoid having to testify on the Benghazi attack. So which was it? Did she have a serious injury? Or was she faking it? Republicans can’t have it both ways. 

And while Clinton will, indeed, be 69 in November 2016, she will actually be eight months younger than Ronald Reagan was when he was elected president. Republicans never dismissed him as an old fart, too old to lead the country.

We learned two things from Rove: how deathly afraid Republicans are that they might have to run against Clinton and, because no leading Republican condemned Rove’s remarks, what kind of an ugly campaign we can expect in 2016. 

In the end, whatever decision Clinton ultimately makes will be her own. Karl Rove will have nothing to do with it.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.