Karl Rove's 'Clinton Has Brain Damage' Line Is Part Of A Bigger Strategy

When Karl Rove suggested on Thursday that Hillary Clinton might have suffered brain damage in 2012, it appeared to be an isolated incident of Rove being his nutty self. But in an interview Sunday, the head of the GOP refused to disown Rove’s allegation, even after given multiple chances to do so. This raises the question: Was the brain damage accusation a one-off fluke? Or is it part of something bigger?

In an appearance on Meet the Press, RNC chair Reince Priebus was asked repeatedly about Rove’s brain damage comments. His wishy-washy response showed all the signs of a man who, while not wanting to be too obvious in his embrace of the “Clinton has brain damage” line, nonetheless wants to keep the suggestion alive and kicking in the minds of voters.

“Do you think she’s suffering some sort of brain injury that raises legitimate questions about whether she’s healthy to serve as Commander in Chief?,” Gregory asked.

“I’m not a doctor,” Priebus said. “What I do know is that the issue is going to come up.”

When asked if Rove should apologize, Priebus replied that “it’s up to Karl Rove” (political shorthand for “no, no apology is required”). The RNC chair then said that “health and age is fair game” in political campaigns, and when asked directly if he’d like to “sidestep or double down” on Rove’s remarks, he avoided the question (or sidestepped it, if you will) by repeating lamely that “it’s going to be an issue” if Clinton runs.

Reince Priebus on YouTube

So, have Republicans decided that attacking Clinton’s mental health is the best way to disqualify her as a presidential candidate in the minds of voters in 2016? Maybe, but there could be something else going on as well. Rove’s comments — and Priebus’s tacit acceptance of them — may well be aimed at convincing Clinton not to run for president at all. As Matt Bai wrote after the initial kerfuffle:

Democrats are scared out of their minds right now. The House is solidly out of reach. The Senate is slipping away. And the White House could be close behind, especially if Clinton doesn't run, and if Republicans can rally around a credible candidate.


Rove knew what he was doing, and it wasn't raising doubt about Clinton with the electorate. He was sending his own message to Clinton, which is that, no matter what anyone else is trying to sell her, if she thinks 2016 will be any less personal or divisive than the other campaigns in which she's been involved, she'd better get real.

In other words, Republicans are trying to scare Clinton away from the race before she even enters it. It makes sense that they’d want to do this, given Clinton’s excellent polling, mammoth financial advantage, and robust campaign-in-waiting, and while Rove’s comments might have initially seemed unhinged, they were — like most of what Rove does — probably part of a larger strategy.

Priebus himself tipped his hand to this effect during the interview when he speculated that Hillary’s record as Secretary of State would “make her rethink whether she should actually run for president.”

“By the way, I don’t actually think she will if she has another month like she just had,” Priebus said.

When Priebus said that, he wasn’t just engaging in wishful thinking. He was telegraphing the GOP’s strategy between now and the 2016 primaries, and inadvertently making it clear that Republicans will do everything they can to ensure they don’t have to run against Clinton in 2016.