Nikki Haley and the politics of age

By Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chhaya

Nikki Haley is not necessarily an ageist, but she does like to tease ageism whenever she can. The former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations has frequently spoken about mental competency test for leaders above 75.

She said on Fox News, “What I will say is, right now, the Senate is the most privileged nursing home in the country,” Haley said. “I mean, Mitch McConnell has done some great things, and he deserves credit. But you have to know when to leave.” She included President Joe Biden and senator Diane Feinstein (Democrat from California) in the same category of her age-related perspective.

In the same interview, she said, “No one should feel good about seeing [McConnell’s freezes] any more than we should feel good about seeing Dianne Feinstein, any more than we should feel good about a lot of what’s happening or seeing Joe Biden’s decline.” Feinstein is 90.

By implication of her calling for competency test for those above 75, she has also clubbed her Republican rival and former boss Donald Trump, who is 77, along with others in that age group.

Haley has also called for a term limit, something that finds considerable resonance across party lines. Separately, there are those in the Democratic Party who are equally uncomfortable with Biden’s age who will turn 81 on November 20.

In calling the Senate “the most privileged nursing home” Haley may sound harsh but there is substance to what she is saying. That equally applies even to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is a universal tendency among public figures in positions of authority not to relinquish voluntarily. A significant part of the reason is that they become so accustomed to the trimmings and appurtenances of power that they cling on at any cost.

The very public freezing of the Senate Minority leader McConnell for the second time has yet again revived the debate about term limits and retirement. Even though the congressional physician has cleared McConnell for work, questions remain over his fitness. It is intriguing how the 81-year-old, who is suffering from the aftereffects of concussion following a fall, can be cleared for work in the face of two freezing incidents.

As issues in the presidential primaries go, age is not a major factor but to the extent that she can equate it with decision-making at the highest level it can gain some traction.

In a particularly harsh comment, she had said this in April, “He (Biden) announced that he’s running again in 2024, and I think that we can all be very clear and say with a matter of fact that if you vote for Joe Biden you really are counting on a President Harris, because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.”

It surprised and troubled many how she could prognosticate that president would not make it until 86.

While McConnell has said he would complete his seventh six-year term in 2026, Feinstein has said she will retire next year.

It is not clear why Haley continues to raise the issue of age. Perhaps her campaign has determined that as part of the mix of what she stands for age gives her the differentiation she needs from the rest of the crowded Republican field.

Haley is not hung up on a mental competency test for those above 75. She has said she would not mind such a test for even those above 50. She is 51.

“I wouldn’t care if they did [tests] over the age of 50,” Haley told Fox News. “But these people are making decisions on our national security. They’re making decisions on our economy, on the border.

“We need to know they’re at the top of their game. You can’t say that right now, looking at Congress.”

It is somewhat bizarre that she has a problem with Trump’s age but not with the likelihood of his conviction on criminal charges. She did not hesitate to raise her hand in support when candidates were asked during the first Republican debate whether they would support Trump’s nomination even if he were convicted.

Related posts