Hillary Clinton fell ill during a 9/11 commemoration ceremony in New York. Cable TV networks repeatedly showed Clinton being helped by aides to her vehicle. It appeared that she was unable to stand by herself and needed assistance. Law enforcement officers on the scene later told news media that she had ‘fainted” while her campaign said she had a bout of pneumonia. A few days earlier, Clinton’s continuous coughing had made headlines. A few weeks ago a video purportedly showing Clinton falling and being supported by aides while climbing the steps of a building she was entering went viral on social media.
These are some of the known ‘health incidents’ that have been making the rounds on the internet. On Monday, Clinton appeared on CNN and clarified that she had felt ‘dizzy’ and had not fainted. She admitted to ignoring doctors advise to rest. In what seemed to be a desperate firefight, her campaign has said that they should have handled the Sunday episode better and proactively shared her health status. But that seemed like a well thought out afterthought.
There have a been lot of questions on Clinton’s health for quite some time now. Americans in general expect the candidates to be in good health so he or she can provide a stable administration after the elections. Hence they expect lot more information than the Clinton campaign has shared or is willing to share. This week’s episode has been a public relations disaster for the campaign and has only heightened Americans concern.
In fact, it has given rise to host of rumours on social media and ratcheting up of distrust. Many medical professionals have offered their diagnosis of Clinton’s health condition that is far more serious. It is worth noting that doctors unconnected with the Clinton’s seem to think that she is having a serious neurological or heart related problems and not just pneumonia.
Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, had long called for Clinton’s health records to be published. They claim that Clinton does not have the stamina and strength to be Commander in chief. Clinton has not yet published her medical records. Trump for his part has published a four-para glowing report card on his health. Many doctor have dismissed this since it does not provide enough details for an independent view. Further, it is not from a neutral third party doctor. But the US privacy laws only complicate sharing of medical records and both candidates have taken refuge behind it.
Clinton’s tribulations from this past week’s medical episode raises three important issues. Firstly, it has turned the heat on both the campaigns by raising the bar for transparency. Many Americans do not perceive the Democrats as transparent and cite the hacked DNC emails published by Wikileaks – that revealed lot of behind the scene happenings at the party headquarters – to support their point of view. It has definitely put the Clinton campaign at a disadvantage.
It is time both candidates released detailed medical data that is seen as serious enough for Americans to be satisfied that the candidates are in good health.
Secondly it has her party, allies and support ecosystem worried. From the friendly media to campaign contributors, particularly the super PACS, all are nervous about how this will play out. A former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, has called on the Democrats for a ‘Clinton contingency plan’ or in plain speak a plan B. Influential political analyst Cokie Roberts of the National Public Radio (NPR) has observed that per her sources the Democrats are already considering another candidate.
Thirdly, and most importantly, it has handed a big advantage to Donald Trump. Trump had been trailing Clinton in many states in recent polls. He had failed to take advantage of the series of scandals and Clinton’s unsavory remarks about his supporters. The health episode has come as a godsend to Trump who was desperately looking to reboot his campaign. His response to Clinton’s health episode has been dignified and mature and has drawn positive response from Americans across party lines.
As expected, there is intense speculation on who will replace Clinton in the event she decides to drop out. It must be noted here however, that unless Clinton voluntarily decides to drop out, the party cannot choose a replacement candidate.
Under party rules, “the DNC has the power to fill vacancies in the nominations for the office of the president and vice president” when the national convention is not in session”. The DNC chair – currently Donna Brazile, a close Clinton ally – could call a special meeting, and fill the vacancy by a majority vote of those present. But all this is speculation and an unlikely scenario.
While potentially any Democrat can be the new choice, three potential candidates who can be serious contenders come to mind – Tim Kaine, her running mate, Bernie Sanders and the Vice President Jo Biden. Unfortunately, all three may not find favor with the DNC Chairperson Donna Brazile, even if a situation arises.
My bet is that Bernie Sanders may be reluctant to step in and rescue the party, now that the world knows, thanks to Julian Assange, how he was unfairly treated by the DNC. They probably have to find a dark horse candidate. Even if they manage to get a candidate, it will be a very short window for the new candidate(s) to convince Americans to vote for them. The odds may not favor the Democrats.
The main stream media in the US has gone out of the way to support Clinton and forgotten its watchdog role. They have been taking the campaign’s word at face value and shown a reluctance to dig deeper into Clinton’s health issues. A major news portal sometime back published a story on Clinton’s health, only to delete it a few hours later for unspecified reasons. Also, CNN abruptly ended Dr. Drew Pinsky’s show fueling a social media buzz that he was allegedly axed because he had expressed deep concerns on Clinton’s health couple of weeks ago. The danger here is that if Clinton’s condition worsens, as many Americans think it will, the media will have egg on its face.
Whichever way you slice and dice it, it seems a disaster for the Democratic Party. It is too late in the game to change the nominee. Even if Clinton bounces back and continues with her campaign after a short recess, it has lost valuable time momentum. It will lack vigor and be exposed to potential attrition of her support base.
Clinton’s health issues – whether it is pneumonia or something far more serious – has clearly been hidden from Americans for too long. Americans must know the truth if she is fit to lead them over the next four years. Any uncertainty or lack of transparency for whatever reason, will only erode her chances. The Democratic Party really face a Hobson’s choice. Their nervousness is understandable.