WASHINGTON –- Bill Clinton's insult of Karl Rove got most of the attention Wednesday when the former president was asked about Rove's suggestion that Hillary Clinton has a lingering brain injury from a fall that gave her a concussion in 2012.
But the 42nd president also revealed that he knows questions about his wife's health and age can't be ignored as the 2016 presidential race comes into focus. In fact, he called it "a serious issue."
"When a question is asked, it has to be answered in a serious fashion, if it raises a serious issue even in a ridiculous way," Clinton told journalist Gwen Ifill, who interviewed him for an hour at the Peterson Foundation's fifth annual Fiscal Summit.
Ifill asked Clinton if he thought Rove was trying to highlight Hillary's age. Hillary Clinton, who was speaking at a public forum in Washington on Wednesday as well, is 66 now and would turn 69 less than two weeks before the 2016 election.
"If it is, you can't be too upset about it. It's just the beginning," Bill Clinton said. "They'll get better and better at it."
Indeed, the last two weeks have given the Clintons a small glimpse of what another Hillary Clinton presidential campaign might be like.
The May 2 announcement of a select House committee on Benghazi was followed a few days later by the sudden public reemergence of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, whose affair with Bill Clinton while he was president led to his 1998 impeachment in the House of Representatives. A week after the Lewinsky boomlet came the New York Post's publication of Rove's comment.
Benghazi. Monica. Rove. It wasn't organized. In fact, Lynne Cheney argued that Vanity Fair was publishing Lewinsky's essay now to help Hillary Clinton -- to get it out of the way well before the 2016 presidential race gets going in earnest.
But Al From, a long time ally of Bill Clinton who headed the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council, said that the Benghazi investigation and Rove comment, along with comments by such Republicans as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about Clinton's affair with Lewinsky, all "foreshadow the kind of campaign they will run against her if she decides to run."
"They clearly don’t want to run against her on her record or her ideas," From said. "So the message they seem to be trying to send is: 'If you run against us, we’re going to dredge up every old story and the attacks will never stop.’"
Clinton took a shot at Rove Wednesday, in an obligatory bit of humor-laced political combat.
"I got to give [Rove] credit: That embodies that old saying that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," Clinton said. "First they said she faked her concussion and now they say she's auditioning for a part on 'The Walking
Dead.'" He laughed. "I mean, whatever it takes."
But then he answered the question in some detail.
"Look, she works out every week. She is strong. She's doing great. As far as I can tell she's in better shape than I am. She certainly has more stamina. And there's nothing to it," he said.
"I was sort of dumbfounded," Clinton continued. "They went to all this trouble to say that she staged what was a terrible concussion. It required six months of very serious work to get over, something she never lowballed with the American people, never tried to pretend it didn't happen.
"Now they say she's really got brain damage. If she does I must be in really tough shape because she's still quicker than I am," he said.
Clinton's response to Rove indicated a few things. To the extent that Rove is making a serious point that Hillary Clinton's health and her 2012 episode will be a major issue in a presidential campaign, he is correct. And second, Bill Clinton's answer to Rove indicates that he and Hillary know full well how brutal another presidential campaign would be, and that knowledge also is a major factor in her deliberation on whether to run.