Nikki Haley’s age test for politicians may not play well in Iowa

February 19, 2023 1:47 pm

Nikki Haley, shown here in a file photo from Sept. 24, 2018, announced Feb. 14, 2023, that she is running for president in 2024. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.Nikki Haley says politicians over the age of 75 should have to take mandatory mental competency tests. And soon, she’ll be in Iowa, where nearly 230,000 people fit into that 75-plus category.

In fact, of the 50 states, we rank 13th highest in our share of people 75 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

We also keep electing 89-year-old Chuck Grassley to the U.S. Senate.

In other words, Iowa may not be the best place to sell the idea that, simply by virtue of age, the mental competence of America’s leaders is suspect.

Oh sure, I know Grassley wasn’t the target here, and neither were Iowa’s older voters.

Most initial media reports said that Haley was referring to Joe Biden, who is 80, and Donald Trump, who is 76, and that she’s trying to persuade Americans — and her party — it’s time for a new generation of leaders.

I’m sympathetic.

I’ve previously written that most Americans would rather choose between somebody other than Trump and Biden in 2024. But it’s not because of their age.

I think that most commonsense Americans loathe the idea of Trump being president again. He divided America, lied constantly, was legitimately impeached for extorting Ukraine for his own political gain — then he tried to steal an election and fomented an insurrection against the U.S. government.

Since then, he’s even proposed “terminating” the Constitution.

Apparently, Haley doesn’t have a test for loyalty to America.

As for Biden, most Democrats saw him as a compromise choice whose main job was to get rid of Trump. And as much as they appreciate what he has done in office — which is a lot — I still think they would rather thank him for saving us from the Don of Mar-a-Lago and move on.

It’s true Republicans have attacked Biden’s age and mental capacity for years, and some other voters now have their doubts. But Democrats are mostly worried this is a political liability.

Whatever the case, Haley is clearly aiming beyond just Biden and Trump with this idea. She’s said that all “people who make our laws and are 75+” are mentally questionable.

Again, Grassley isn’t the real target here, but he’s in the field of fire. Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that Republicans in Iowa went into a tizzy when Democratic Senate hopeful Bruce Braley had the nerve to suggest that Grassley, “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school,” might not be the right guy to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Now Haley, by clear implication, is saying that Grassley and others like him – because of their age – should have to submit to a mental competency test.

It’s apparent Grassley doesn’t think much of the idea.

In a Business Insider article, Grassley said Iowa voters already subjected him to a mandatory test.

“I think you need to look at my last election,” he said. “People knew me and my age, and I won by 15%. The people know I’m in a position to do the work.”

Other senators quoted in the article didn’t take Haley’s idea seriously, either.

“Anybody dumb enough to run (for president) should have to take a test,” quipped Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is 67 and a former White House aspirant himself.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat who is 75, claimed Haley was the one who was suspect because of her penchant for opposing Trump, then supporting him, then opposing him again.

“I think she should test her own mental competency,” Hirono said.

True, you’d expect older politicians to balk. But Haley, 51, might also want to tread carefully in Iowa, where the most prolific voting cohort in 2022 was registered Republicans 65 and over.

Eighty percent of that group cast ballots in last year’s midterm.

How many of them do you suppose voted for Grassley?

I’d guess 90%.

Haley’s idea, depending on the specifics, also may not be constitutional. A 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision said that when it comes to judging the qualifications of its members, “Congress is limited to the standing qualifications prescribed in the Constitution.”

Like I said, I’m sympathetic to the idea that we need new leadership.

Americans yearn for a way to break through the partisan division and solve the country’s real problems. But in announcing her candidacy, what were Haley’s ideas? Term limits, more oil and gas production and consigning China to the “ash heap of history.” And when Sean Hannity asked her on Fox News to differentiate herself from Trump, she ducked the question.

Doesn’t sound like anything new, does it?

It’s not that Americans are tired of politicians because they’re too old. It’s that with so many of them, their ideas and how they practice their politics are self-interested, party-centric, divisive and uninspiring. That’s what Americans are tired of. And on that test, Nikki Haley hasn’t yet earned a passing grade.

Ed Tibbetts’ Along the Mississippi newsletter is on Substack. This column is published here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Ed Tibbetts
Ed Tibbetts

Ed Tibbetts, of Davenport, has covered politics, government and trends for more than three decades in the Quad-Cities. A former reporter and editorial page editor for the Quad-City Times, he now is a freelance journalist who publishes the Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. He is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.