April 18th, 2014
12:48 PM ET
9 years ago

How will Chelsea's baby affect 2016? Chill out

Washington (CNN) – Minutes after Chelsea Clinton announced that she was going to be a mother, a familiar question rang through political and media circles: What does it mean for 2016?

The short answer to that is simple: Shut up.

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The fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton are becoming grandparents - something they have both unabashedly wished for - is first and foremost a "happy family story," as CNN's John King described it Friday morning, not a story about politics.

Chelsea Clinton made the announcement Thursday at a Clinton Foundation event dedicated to encouraging women and young girls to participate in public life. She said she was "very excited" about the arrival of her and her husband's first child, before turning to her mother and smiling. Hillary Clinton smiled back as the audience cheered.

That moment triggered speculation about what a baby Clinton would mean to Hillary Clinton's possible run at the presidency in 2016. And while publications like Vox said the Clinton baby news would "not at all" impact the race, that isn't totally true.

The influential conservative site Drudge Report posted a black-and-white photo of an older looking Hillary Clinton atop shortly after the announcement. While the banner headline underneath read "Grandma Hillary," the subtext was obvious: Hillary Clinton is old.

This attack is a familiar one to the 66-year-old Clinton. Earlier this week, The Daily Caller, a conservative Web publication, posted two stories about Clinton: "Senior citizen Hillary Clinton aims to lock down college vote in 2016" and "Top 10 things that are younger than Hillary Clinton."

That attack, according to Dan Mahaffee, a presidential historian and the director of policy at the Center for the Study for the Presidency and Congress, is somewhat sexist.

"In some of this coverage, I think there is a hidden gender dynamic behind it," said Mahaffee, noting that it seems "grandmother and grandfather have two different tones in the coverage."

Remember 2012? Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney regularly talked about his nearly two dozen grandchildren, pledging to give them and all American children a better tomorrow than they have today. Pictures of Romney and his grandchildren munching on pizza or playing on the campaign's plane were all over social media but Grandpa Mitt wasn't used as a pejorative.

Even some opposite Clinton on the political spectrum said the grandma narrative was unfair.

"I'm no @HillaryClinton fan, but the old b&w Grndma Hillary photo @DRUDGE_REPORT... Would never happen to a man. #notcool," tweeted Sara Taylor Fagen, a former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush.

The age critique isn't a new one in presidential politics, however. Being old and out-of-touch was something Bill Clinton used to defeat George H.W. Bush in 1992.

That history shows why a grandchild does, in fact, play into the 2016 race. Someone, invariably, will attack Clinton's age and while they may not use the forthcoming grandchild to do it, the birth becomes another avenue for attack.

How much that affects 2016 months before the baby is born (due date is sometime in the fall) and two years before the election, isn't totally clear, though.

Some of Hillary Clinton's oldest friends have said that a grandchild could cause Clinton to reconsider a presidential bid. In a conversation on Thursday night, one decades old friend told CNN that becoming a grandma "certainly won't encourage her to run."

"She has talked about how what she really wants to be is a grandmother," the source said. "So if she really means that, maybe she will decide becoming a grandmother is more important than becoming president and not run."

This opinion isn't universal and other longtime Clinton friends think a grandchild won't affect Clinton's political calculations.

The image of a baby-toting Hillary Clinton could be a humanizing one for the Clinton campaign. Although Chelsea Clinton was raised in the White House, she was 12 by the time her father was elected president and Hillary Clinton carrying a baby is a new image for the former first lady. Hillary Clinton has long had to work to soften her image and a baby could do that.

Despite questions, many Clinton confidants and aides were not eager to talk about the politics of an unborn baby.

Paul Begala, a CNN contributor and longtime Clinton aide, said he couldn't look at the pregnancy through a political lens. "When my wife was pregnant with our first child, Chelsea's mom told her that being a parent was like taking your heart out and watching it walk around," Begala said. "I am thrilled that now Chelsea will be a mom, and I know she'll be a great one."

Republican strategists, too, couldn't look at the pregnancy as a political chess piece.

"Becoming a grandparent is a joyous life event, even for political people," said Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and CNN contributor. "We all saw Chelsea grow up, saw her go thru the awkward teenage years and saw her be the glue that kept her parents together in toughest patch of their marriage. It's great to see her happy."

"Some things," Navaro concluded, "aren't political."

Filed under: Bill Clinton • Chelsea Clinton • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Tampa Tim

    Have you read the latest right wingnut conspiracy theory about the timing of Chelsea's baby? The baggers are reality challenged.

    April 18, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  2. Dems in PA

    Shut up!!!! What are you talking about "happy family story," John King????

    Everything about this family is political and corrupt.

    April 18, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  3. Chris-E...al

    Why should a fetus conceived during a traditional marriage effect a run for the W.H. its just a fetus . I guess the grandfetus watch is over . Im so glad for them .

    April 18, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  4. Denise

    Shhhhhhhh.....don't tell the nut jobs that it's just a publicity stint by the Clintons! Hillary is playing the grandma card to get more votes....

    April 18, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  5. devil's advocate

    With a binky in one hand, and a nuclear launch key in the other, how unique .

    April 18, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    Sorkin from the NYT and Malzberg from Newsmax (Rupert Murdoch's company) have already tipped the right-wing's hand on where they're going to go with this: Sorkin hinted and Malzberg outright claimed that Chelsea's pregnancy is a HRC campaign strategy/ploy.

    April 18, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  7. Thomas

    We will finally have a Prince or a Princess !

    God Save the Queen .

    April 18, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  8. slp

    Must everything be political. I am not a democrat, however, babies are always happy news! Congratulations to Chelsea and her husband and to the Clinton's for becoming grandparents. My mom tells me that being a grandparent is the best thing ever. I certainly hope to experience it for myself one day!

    April 18, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  9. TomInRochNY

    No extreme right wing nut jobs raging in a Clinton article? What is this, bazzarro world?

    April 18, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  10. Gurgyl

    Congratulations to our dearest Chelsea....god bless!!!!

    April 18, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |