Hillary Clinton's not a candidate, yet the talk about her doesn't stop

If Karl Rove wanted to jump start the conversation on a potential Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy, floating the idea that she might have suffered a traumatic brain injury in late 2012 was a good way to do it.

Hillary Clinton roundtable: Will Karl Rove's "brain damage" comments help a possible campaign?

Rove's suggestion last week that the glasses Clinton wore after her concussion and blood clot in December 2012 were indicative of a more serious head injury kicked off a cascade of opinion and punditry.

Former President Bill Clinton brushed off that idea at forum last week, and even mocked Rove for the suggestion: "First they said she faked her concussion and now they say she's auditioning for a part on 'The Walking Dead,'" he said.

Although the former president testified to his wife's robust health, Rove, former President George W. Bush's political strategist, successfully got the political world talking about Hillary Clinton's age this week. That, he indicated, was the plan all along.

Bill Clinton defends Hillary Clinton against health questions

"Look, I'm not questioning her health. What I'm questioning is, is whether or not it's a done deal that she's running? And she would not be human if she were not -- if she did not take this into consideration. She'll be 69 at the time of the 2016 election. If she gets elected two terms, she'll be 77," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

For some, this was a legitimate criticism.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus observed on NBC's "Meet the Press" that there's no "graceful way to bring up age, health and fitness for a candidate that wants to be president of the United States." But in his opinion, the issues that should make Clinton rethink a presidential bid is "another month like she just had" where her tenure as Secretary of State was called into question repeatedly over issues like the ongoing investigation into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi and the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by the extremist group Boko Haram.

That was the point made by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said that any candidate is going to have to be open about their health. But, like Priebus, he suggested Benghazi might be a bigger issue for a Clinton presidential bid.

If Republicans are attempting to waive off a Clinton presidential bid, those efforts will be unsuccessful, her defenders say. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called Rove's move "a cheap political shot...the kind of politics that kind of make people not want to participate," in an interview on "Meet the Press."

"Listen, we do not know for certain that Hillary Clinton is going to run, but there's one thing I know for certain: Karl Rove engaging in cheap shots is not going to back off Hillary Clinton," she promised.

Over on CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Clinton "is in the prime of her political life."

Rove took his fair share of knocks for the comment. On CBS' "Face the Nation," former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called his words, "about as inappropriate a thing you could say." But the ensuring discussion about Clinton's strengths, weaknesses and age are a sign that Rove knew exactly what he was doing.

"We've seen the Karl Rove pretty despicable, flimsy playbook before. This is not shocking," Katrina vanden Huevel, the editor of "The Nation," said on "Face the Nation." "He sort of operates on the Mark Twain theory that lie is halfway around the world before truth gets its boots on."

Gerald Seib, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, suggested that Rove unintentionally did the Clintons a favor.

"They're going to have to address the health issue in the long run. Obviously, everybody knows that," he said on "Face the Nation." "But he managed to do it in such a way that Democrats were angry, Republicans were criticizing him, and Mayor Bloomberg, an independent, said it was outrageous. So, if you're going to have to raise the issue, you probably ought to have done it in a more artful way than this."

There is also the more insidious theory, raised by Cheney's wife, Lynn, over on "Fox News Sunday" who suggested the Clintons are "clever...politically" by dispensing with potentially damaging issues well ahead of the campaign. Cheney was referring principally to former White House Intern Monica Lewinsky's decision to pen an article in Vanity Fair about her affair with Bill Clinton.

Others are less optimistic that the chatter isn't just leading to a long, slow struggle for Hillary Clinton.

Feinstein said, "This is hard for me, because I did talk with her and thought it would be better that she not get out there early, because her favorability was so high, that all that could happen in this is go down, because somebody would do the stupid things that Karl Rove has just done."

The focus on Clinton has also given rise to an aura of inevitability around her potential campaign, just as it had 2008 - before she lost to President Obama. Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., who some have suggested might be a potential presidential candidate in 2016, says he worries it could hurt her once again.

"I think it's off-putting to the average voter," he said on CNN "State of the Union."

"As an enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time around."