Generational Politics in 2016: Despite All Their Age Are We Still Just A Rat In A Cage?

So a lot has changed in the presidential race since last I wrote on the subject in June, and it’s making me increasingly optimistic for Republicans.

In that article, I portended that the Hillary nomination was a certainty but posited that the silver lining for Republicans was that voters tend to pick the younger candidate. Clinton is much younger than both Dole and Bush 41, Obama is much younger than McCain and Romney – all four were blow-outs for the younger candidates. Bush 43 is about the same age as Kerry and Gore; both were photo-finishes.

Reagan was indeed older than Mondale, but a) he was still younger-looking and b) he turned the matter into yet another opportunity to showcase his wit and charm.

If age-ism indeed influences voters, then Republicans have the edge: all of the GOP’s candidates are younger than Hillary (she’s 67), some of them significantly so. Paul, Walker, Rubio, and Cruz enjoy the same kind of age advantage as her husband and Obama in their two victories.

But now Hillary’s nomination seems much less of a sure thing – with her email security issue continuing to snowball – and other Democrats are challenging someone regarded an inevitability just a few months ago, notably Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Current polling puts Biden and Sanders at around both 20 percent each – which feels like striking distance in a campaign against a candidate many Democrats seem to support only reluctantly. However, if age is indeed an (otherwise) unspoken issue, both of them embiggen the problem for their party: Biden is 72, and Sanders is 74.

But beyond the issue of age itself I believe is the matter of generational progression. After the election of Bill Clinton, the first Baby Boomer president, America was not going to go back to a World War II-era president, regardless of how likeable Bob Dole was.

Barack Obama is our first Gen X president, so it seems unlikely that we’d slip back to another Baby Boomer. The era of Boomer presidents may have ended with Bush 43, a time inevitably lost to Gen X-ers. And some will say what is lost can never be saved.


But Obama, even though he was born at the very beginning of Gen X, doesn’t even feel like he belongs to that era: he seems like a Millennial. Only the GOP’s youngest candidates (Rubio and Cruz, both born in the 70s) could avoid the feeling of a generational backslide, certainly better than Sanders or Biden, both of whom were born before the end of World War II. (So they’re not even technically Boomers!)

Now of course the X-factor in all of this is Donald Trump, who is 69. If he’s the Republican candidate, then the issue of age is no benefit at all to the GOP.