Hillary Clinton has pneumonia. Or maybe Parkinson’s. Or she’s something like a propped-up corpse who is barely alive. It all depends on what you think “the real story” is.
If it all seems crazy, it is. Much of the crazy is simply what we can expect in an election season, hopped up a bit in an internet age when anyone can publish a “news story”. But the most important craziness is actually rather sane in that Clinton, for better or worse, is presumed by nearly everyone to be the next President. She is being held to a higher standard on many topics – including the state of her health. Just as it would be big news if Obama had pneumonia, it’s a equally important when Clinton gets it.
Is that higher standard unfair? Is it sexist? Is it really just an excuse to tighten up the race to make it all more interesting? Yes, to all of that and more. But all of this will be washed away in another month once we are into the debates, so it really doesn’t matter.
The “Hillary in poor health” story has an interesting history. It first started a month ago when there was some concern that Trump looked unwell. To be perfectly fair, a 70 year old guy keeping the schedule he did – up to three rallies per day and interviews on the side – was bound to kill him. He backed off his appearances while his supporters deflected to the Clinton bad health story. It worked. No one talks about his health anymore.
The centerpiece of that story, at least in August, was a picture of Clinton being helped up the stairs. The implication was that she is too frail to make it up the stairs on her own, and the origin of that slant to the story is hard to trace. It was certainly picked up early by longtime propagandist Matt Drudge. The picture is from an event last February in South Carolina, when Clinton tripped going up the stairs of a halfway house.
Catching pneumonia was an unusually bad move by Clinton, who usually has total control over everything in the universe.
But is any of this actually news? The short answer is no, at least not in terms of anything people will remember. All she has to do is appear at the debates looking healthy and this will all be over. Just as no one remembers the “Trump is unwell” stories of August this story will be taken care of by time. And rest. And antibiotics.
This all comes at a time when the race is indeed tightening. The average of all polls at Real Clear Politics, the strangely common gold standard for this stuff, shows about a two point lead. That was as high as six points a month ago. What happened?
Clinton’s comments about a “basket of deplorables” making up half of Trump supporters was an uncharacteristically bad choice of words, certainly. But does that mean we can’t confront obvious racism and beliefs in things easily shown to be untrue, such as Obama’s birth outside the US?
Actually, it does. By being ahead so far at the outset, Clinton made the election a referendum on her. She will continue to get a lot more scrutiny because of this.
This greatly complicates things for her campaign in more ways that one. With both candidates having very high unfavorability ratings the chosen strategy was a good one. But it also has meant that Clinton spends far too much time talking about how bad Trump is and not enough about her own plans.
The polls tell us what is at stake. Generally, the lead is around 42-40 with 9 for Johnson and 2 for Stein. That leaves 7% of all voters truly undecided, which is enough to swing this thing. And as they hear more and more about Clinton – what she says, how sick she is, et cetera – the more they may go for Trump. As they gradually make up their minds the nature of reporting has more and more influence.
Yet it is far from over. This election, like nearly all elections, will come down to the debates. Whatever is going on in October will decide what happens. A flurry of negative stories now won’t stick one way or the other. Trump has a higher hurdle for the debates, yes, but not an impossible one if Clinton stumbles. And there is a picture of her doing just that!