January 29, 2016
Michael Bloomberg is kicking around an independent run at the presidency. This isn’t surprising. He thinks about this every four years, and the possibility of a Trump-Sanders contest gives him more ideological room than normal. A mere generation ago, another billionaire gave the major party candidates a good scare.
H. Ross Perot was/is very wealthy. Michael Bloomberg is worth $41 billion. He could fund a presidential campaign with the change behind his sofa cushions. Donald Trump’s wealth is a rounding error for him. According to Forbes, he’s the 13th wealthiest human on the planet. Never mind the 1%, he’s literally one in five hundred million.
Articles are debating whether he and his giant billfold will enter. Apparently a decision is still several weeks off, and if he thinks Hillary will survive Bernie and the FBI, he’s far less likely to try this. Republicans are welcoming the possibility, figuring he’d take more Democrat votes than GOP.
DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is taking the possibility seriously enough to declare his presence is not necessary, saying Democrats already have his issues covered. Any number of reasons are being given why he shouldn’t enter, or can’t win.
An Independent candidate has never won election. The race doesn’t need another New York billionaire. Bloomberg doesn’t have the national following that Trump does. One thing almost nobody mentions is that he’s too old.
Michael Bloomberg turns 75 a couple weeks after Inauguration Day. That’s old. Very old for the leader of the free world. FDR died of natural causes at age 62. Bill Clinton is in shaky health, having dealt with heart issues for the better part of a decade. He’s on a vegan diet and often looks sickly. Bill Clinton turns 75 the summer of 2021.
So does ex-President George W. Bush, who aged noticeably in office and required a more minor heart procedure of his own after his term ended. President Obama looks approximately 15 years older than he did in 2008. He turns 75 in 2036.
Ronald Reagan is the only president to even hold office on his 71st birthday. He completed his final term at the age of 77, younger than Bloomberg would be during his first term.
Mind you, he’s not the oldest candidate or potential candidate in the race. Bernie Sanders is a few months older than Bloomberg. His age does come up every once in a while, but it’s well down on his list of potential obstacles. He also does not have any shortage of energy, vigor, brio, endurance, etc.
Another reason Bernie’s age isn’t a constant topic are the alternatives. Hillary is already 68 herself. If you looked at their medical records (total speculation here) you’d probably like his better.
When people speculate about who might ride to the rescue if Hillary has legal issues, or if insiders panic at the thought of Bernie winning the nomination straight-up, all the mentioned names are in the same bracket. Al Gore and Elizabeth Warren are in the latter part of their 60s. John Kerry and Joe Biden are 72 and 73. Once in a while, somebody mentions Jerry Brown. He’s closer to 80.
People have thousands of reasons why a Trump presidency would be a minor to major apocalypse. Fear of him completing a first term beginning at the age of 70 isn’t one of them. They’re more worried about him surviving than succumbing. Apparently a doctor’s note declaring The Donald is in spectacular health and would be the least sickly president ever is enough.
How did we get here? John McCain was 71 during the 2008 campaign, and while his advanced age didn’t preclude his nomination, it came up more than it does for this year’s contestants. Many openly discussed whether he should announce he was only planning on serving one term, something he ultimately rejected.
Many voters gave plenty of thought to whether Sarah Palin could safely assume office. While Palin was a lightning rod for plenty of other reasons, McCain spent plenty of time talking about his elderly mother, who was still touring Europe in her 90s.
Bob Dole was 73 during his 1996 presidential run. Age was very much an issue for him, and he did declare he was only planning on serving a single term. At the same age, Reagan needed to resort to humor to defuse concerns during his second 1984 debate with Walter Mondale.
Part of the seeming change in opinion is due to McCain and Dole themselves. While they were spared the strain of the presidency, both are still very much alive. McCain is running for another Senate term. Dole still has enough energy to worry about Ted Cruz killing the GOP.
If the guy who was too old two decades ago is still kicking, why worry about this anymore? Reagan is both the oldest president in American history and the most successful one in the memory of many voters. For those comparing his results to some of his comparatively youthful successors, age seems like a benefit.
Presidents used to die in office of natural causes. It happened in 1841, 1850, 1923 and 1945. Hasn’t happened for 71 years. Dwight Eisenhower, the oldest serving president before Reagan, had his share of age-related health issues. The average voter wasn’t alive yet when Ike left office.
Lyndon Johnson died of heart disease at the age of 65. He shared the headlines with the Supreme Court deciding Roe v. Wade. It didn’t happen while he was in office, and he looked older than the current contenders. Much as distance from the credit collapse of the Depression Era helped investors forget risks in the 2000s, we’ve forgotten what this job can do to its occupants.
That doesn’t mean Sanders, Bloomberg, Trump, Clinton, et al are an unreasonable risk. Voters usually pay at least glancing attention to the VP nominee. You can argue that being viable at their age is a good indicator for their ability to manage stress, anxiety and the normal aging process.
Konrad Adenauer led West Germany from 1949 to 1963. His tenure began in the shadow of the Berlin Airlift and ended when the barbed wire on top of the Berlin Wall was just starting to rust. He wasn’t President of the United States or leader of the Free World, but Adenauer had more than his share of stress.
Our presidents are not staring at Soviet tanks, nor trying to patch their partitioned country together after a Nazi regime. He began his term in office at age 73. He was always a historical outlier. Now, perhaps Americans are ready to regularly consider candidates in that age range.
With both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz viable in their mid-40s, and Clinton and Obama both recently elected in the same age bracket (JFK was an outlier at a similar age), we are now considering a far wider range of ages for this position. Once a job normally for those in their late 40s to very early 60s, kind of like a big CEO job, the presidency is now apparently open to adults of almost any reasonable age.
If so, this changes the calculation for presidential aspirants going forward. If Obama helped show others the benefit in not waiting, this year’s crop of candidates may give hope to those who would have otherwise thought they missed their window.
Time will tell.