Clinton: Are the cracks starting to show?

The 15th anniversary of 9/11 should have been an opportunity for Hillary Clinton to present herself as the tested presidential alternative.

Published: 12th September 2016 08:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th September 2016 08:33 AM   |  A+A-

Clinton-AP 2

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves after leaving an apartment building Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in New York. | AP

The 15th anniversary of 9/11 should have been an opportunity for Hillary Clinton to present herself as the tested presidential alternative to Donald Trump.

As a senator for New York during the attacks, she had toured Ground Zero, consoled grieving families and helped members of the emergency services get access to medical care.

But plans to rekindle her image of steady leadership in crisis went awry when she was forced to leave a commemoration ceremony at Ground Zero early due to a "medical episode". Video footage showed her stumbling to her van, propped up between members of her staff. Her campaign belatedly released a statement saying she had "felt overheated".

The incident was typical of the past two weeks or so for Mrs Clinton.Nothing has gone to plan, and her once formidable lead has all but vanished.

Questions about her health

 Yesterday's incident raised questions about the health of Mrs Clinton, 68, that have preoccupied conspiracy theorists and supermarket tabloids.

Mr Trump, who is 16 months older than the former secretary of state, has referred to the issue through innuendo, claiming his rival lacks the "stamina" to be president, and keeps a less rigorous campaign schedule in order to maintain her strength.

Some of his supporters have gone further. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, urged voters to Google "Hillary Clinton illness" to see claims that she has suffered brain damage or needed constant but discreet medical interventions.

Neither Mr Trump nor Mrs Clinton have released detailed medical records, a common practice among presidential candidates, so there is little to dispel the rumours beyond assurances from Mrs Clinton and her physician that she is in good health.

Out of touch?

Speaking at a fundraiser in New York on Friday, Mrs Clinton made a remark that is likely to be replayed ad nauseam for the rest of the campaign.

"You can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic," she said. The Trump campaign pounced. A spokesman said Mrs Clinton had "revealed just how little she thinks of the hard-working men and women of America".

Mike Pence, the Republican

vice-presidential nominee, piled it on. "Let me just say from the bottom of my heart: Hillary, they are not a basket of anything. They are Americans and they deserve your respect," he said.

The soundbite played into the wider narrative that Mrs Clinton looks down on ordinary Americans, and lives in an insular world of wealthy donors and powerful politicians. At a time when the establishment is the dirtiest concept in politics, being a wealthy, well-connected former First Lady and secretary of state is a tough sell.

A steady diet of scandal

Mrs Clinton spent the summer recovering from the scandal over emails sent from a private server while in office that raised questions over her handling of classified information.

Damage had been done - polls show the majority of Americans find her untrustworthy - but with supporters such as Barack Obama on side, she appeared ready to move on.

Then emails from a close aide were released that appeared to show donors to the Clinton family's foundation had received privileged access to the state department under Mrs Clinton.

Coupled with the impending release of another 15,000 emails from her private server recovered by the FBI, the campaign was left mired in controversy once again.

The situation is unlikely to improve before November, says Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster.

"Voters remain sceptical and uncertain about her integrity and likability," he said.

Trump improves

Buoyed by his campaign's new leadership and with a newfound willingness to remain on message, Mr Trump has become stronger.

His penchant for colourful rhetoric remains, but he has steered clear of behaviour such as his attacks on the family of a fallen soldier that alienated many voters.

He has made efforts to come across as measured, submitting to using a teleprompter, and has been willing to shun the limelight when necessary.

In response to Mrs Clinton's "basket of deplorables" comment, he said: "While Hillary said horrible things about my supporters, and while many of her supporters will never vote for me, I still respect them all," he said.

By focusing his attacks squarely on Mrs Clinton, he has been able to reinforce voters' concerns about her without damaging himself in the process.

Meanwhile, Mrs Clinton has been the first to admit voters haven't warmed to her as they did to other nominees - including her husband.

"I'm not Barack Obama. I'm not Bill Clinton. Both of them carry themselves with a naturalness that is very appealing," she said in a recent interview. "I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions."

She is maligned for looking scripted and stilted. "She's always been a terrible candidate: clunky, unlucky, slow," Rick Wilson, a veteran observer, told The Daily Telegraph. "She is a genuinely introverted person."

For her, the electoral process is an unpleasant but necessary means to power. "This is work for her," Mr Wilson said. "You can tell that Trump at least takes joy in the foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics screaming his name. She hates the outside game of politics."


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