Chris Cillizza, an author at the Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog, abruptly changed course and admitted that concerns about Hillary Clinton’s health are “a real issue in the presidential campaign” — after spending much of the week criticizing this narrative as a “conspiracy theory.”
On Tuesday, Cillizza concern trolled Donald Trump, saying that it would hurt his campaign to question Clinton’s health. The day after she suffered a four-minute coughing and choking episode, Cillizza’s headline blared: “Can we just stop talking about Hillary Clinton’s health now?”
What Trump cannot — or, at least, should not — do is continue to engage with these wacky theories that emerge out of the fever swamps on the very fringe of the conservative movement. Every single person who believes in the Clinton health conspiracy is already for Trump. What he needs to do is find ways to reach voters who have doubts about him but may carry even graver doubts about Clinton’s ability to do the job in an honest and transparent way.
The next day, Cillizza responded to relentless social media criticism of the post, as users quickly pointed to a 2008 column where he questioned whether John McCain’s age and health would hurt his performance as Commander in Chief. The headline on that one: “Why I wrote about John McCain’s health in 2008 (and don’t think we should write about Hillary’s health now).”
Here’s the thing: We are talking about — and I am/was writing about — apples and oranges. Sure, it’s easy to ascribe the difference in coverage to personal bias. Easy — and wrong.
Rewind back to the 2008 presidential campaign. And remember that McCain, if elected, would have been 72 years old — the oldest person ever to be elected president. Had he served two terms, McCain would have left office at 80.
Clinton is 68 years old. (She will be 69 on Oct. 26.) She is running against someone who is 70. (Obama was 47 years old in the 2008 campaign.) Clinton has never had cancer. She suffered a concussion from a fall as a result of a stomach ailment. (If you believe that is a cover story for the “real” truth, I would say: More power to you. But conjecture isn’t facts.) Cancer ≠ concussion. It just doesn’t.
However, on Sunday, after a bystander videotaped an apparent fainting episode — where Clinton’s security detail drag her into a van, losing a shoe in the process — Cillizza quickly changed his tune. “Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign,” his headline concedes.
Whether Clinton likes it or not, her “overheating” episode comes at a very bad time for her campaign. Thanks to the likes of Rudy Giuliani and a small but vocal element of the Republican base, talk of her health had been bubbling over the past week — triggered by a coughing episode she experienced during a Labor Day rally.
That talk was largely confined to Republicans convinced that Clinton has long been hiding some sort of serious illness. I wrote dismissively of that conspiracy theory in this space last week, noting that Clinton had been given an entirely clean bill of health by her doctors after an episode in which she fainted, suffered a concussion and then was found to have a blood clot in late 2012 and early 2013.
Coughing, I wrote, is simply not evidence enough of any sort of major illness that Clinton is assumed to be hiding. Neither, of course, is feeling “overheated.” But those two things happening within six days of each other to a candidate who is 68 years old makes talk of Clinton’s health no longer just the stuff of conspiracy theorists.