Littwin: Clinton’s pneumonia and Trump’s own strain of phlegm (column)
September 13, 2016
So, like, what were the chances?
Donald Trump and his team – old Rudy at the barking front of the pack – kept insisting, with absolutely no evidence, that Hillary Clinton was facing disqualifying health issues. That she was frail (read: old), lacking in stamina (read: female) and was hiding something (read: Clinton) terrible about her health. Parkinson's. A stroke. MS. Dysphasia. Aphasia. Southeast Asia.
And then comes the video – the Zapruder film of the 2016 campaign – of Clinton leaving the 9/11 memorial early, stumbling as aides assisted her into a waiting van, and it was as if Trump knew more about Clinton's health than the doctors, just as he knows more about ISIS than the generals.
I mean, what were the chances?
But here it was. A piece of terrible luck. And how did the Clinton people respond? Well, we can add another piece of conventional wisdom to the ever-growing pile: The cover-up is always worse than the cold.
Or the pneumonia. Or whatever it is.
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After hours of silence from the campaign – which said nothing more than she was "overheated" and was now feeling fine – we are told, six hours into the story, that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia the previous Friday and had ignored her doctor's advice to rest for five days.
Instead, plowing through, she gave her "basket of deplorables" speech Friday night and raised new issues about her health and her transparency Sunday. And so, if it's true that Trump couldn't possibly be elected in November barring some dramatic shift in fortunes, we are left to wonder whether this may have been it.
Certainly, it was yet another example of the debilitating Clinton transparency issue that fit neatly, say, with the private-server email issue or a hundred other issues made far worse by Clinton's insistence on privacy above all while running for the least-private job in the world.
David Axelrod's critique cut the hardest, as he tweeted: "Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia. What's the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?"
They call this an unforced error. But what do you call it when you make the same error over and over again?
This should have been an easy one. As Clinton left the event early, reporters should have been told that Clinton had gone to the doctors two days before for her cough and learned that she had "walking pneumonia" and that, though she should have listened to the doctor's advice to rest, she really felt she needed to be there for the 9/11 memorial. With a bit of truth serum, the story all but goes away. The doctor releases her diagnosis. The Clinton campaign releases a full medical history. The story goes back to Trump's ludicrous "letter" of health and how, while Clinton ignored her press pool, Trump won't even allow a press pool and then it's on to unreleased Trump's taxes, unreleased secret plans, unconfirmed charitable gifts et al.
How hard would that have been? Instead, the Clinton campaign said nothing for hours, allowing the overheated rumors to come to full boil, and leaving the Clintons with nothing more to say in the end than that their candidate is being held to a double standard – and what about Trump?
Oh, and there is Bill Clinton telling Charlie Rose in the ultimate Clintonism: "She hasn't been not forthcoming" about her health.
And, of course, Trump is being held to a different standard. There is the regular-candidate standard – that's the one for Clinton – and there's the candidate-without-precedent standard that goes to Trump. The fact that he's entirely unfit for the job is baked into the Trump standard. It's not just Trump being Trump. It's clearly unfit Trump being clearly unfit Trump. But the problem, as Matt Lauer sadly showed, is that it takes real effort – and some real journalism – to show Trump for what he is.
And though the media will clearly be the big loser in this campaign, my guess is still that it will be a bigger problem for Trump than it is for Clinton. There's a reason he's losing in the polls. There's a reason in a season that historically should be good for Republicans that this weekend probably won't rescue him, unless, of course, the pneumonia is more than pneumonia or unless the pneumonia is exactly that, but Clinton's recovery takes longer than expected. Then, who knows?
Trump wanted to move past Clinton's stumble and onto what he hopes is a full-blown Clinton pratfall. He argued that it was disqualifying – that again – for Clinton to have called his supporters deplorable and demanded an apology. Clinton said she shouldn't have said "half," but otherwise left it to her supporters to point out all the polls showing just how many of Trump supporters casually admit to bigotry and sexism. It was only Sunday that Trump was again calling Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" and claiming the Fed was corrupt and that the debates would be rigged.
Despite what you may have heard, Clinton "deplorables" riff was not a traditional gaffe. It may or may not prove to be a mistake, but it was clearly planned. Clinton wants this argument, even if not in quite the way she framed it. She should not have said that half of Trump's supporters fit into the racist/bigot/sexist/homophobic/paranoid conspiracist basket. She should have said that Trump encourages a disturbingly significant subset of Americans looking for that kind of leader and then go on to make her point that most Trump supporters see a complicated world not of their making and are desperate to find a way forward.
On Monday night at a rally in Asheville, N.C., Trump showed that he wants to have this argument, too. He said, in Rovian style, that Clinton was running a "hate-filled" campaign that produced "no policy, no solutions and no new ideas." It would have been laughable except for the thousands of cheering Trumpists who have cheered every anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant word Trump has said during this campaign.
Then there was this: As usual at a Trump rally, there were protesters. As usual, the Trump crowd grew angry. As usual, the protesters and fans exchanged words and, uh, hand signals while the protesters were being led from the arena. As sometimes happens, at least one Trump fan took it upon himself to be, well, deplorable. As ABC News caught on camera – because, as Clinton now knows, everything these days is on camera — a man pushed and shoved two male protesters and attempted to slap a female protester.
And so ended another day of the 2016 campaign, leaving tens of millions of Americans asking the same question: How many days until Nov. 8?
Mike Littwin writes a column for the Colorado Independent.
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