Hillary Clinton Stumbles After Reluctance To Address Health Issues

Sep 12, 2016
Originally published on September 12, 2016 6:18 pm
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Hillary Clinton's campaign says it will release additional medical information about Clinton later this week. Campaign officials also acknowledge they could have done a better job communicating about her health scare over the weekend.

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The campaign said the Democratic nominee for president was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, but that announcement didn't come until yesterday after Clinton's legs seemed to buckle after she left a September 11 ceremony in New York before it was over. She needed help getting into the van that was waiting for her. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports that wasn't the only problem for Clinton this weekend.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This was not the way the fall campaign was supposed to start for Hillary Clinton. After spending weeks off the trail raising money, her campaign planned to start showcasing Clinton opening up to voters and says her top strategist, Joel Benenson, making a more affirmative case for herself instead of just driving an anti-Trump message.

JOEL BENENSON: We look at the post-Labor Day period as an opportunity to also drive her positive message, her vision to this country that she is tenacious, fighting on behalf of people, you know? She is putting people first, and Donald Trump puts himself first.

LIASSON: She got a good start, explaining why she's sometimes perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional on a blog called Humans of New York. She spoke to the National Baptist Convention about her faith. And after many months without a press conference, last week she started talking to the reporters who travel with her around the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: I am so happy to have all of you with me. I was just waiting for this moment.

LIASSON: But then two things happened that threaten to undermine those efforts. On Friday night at a fundraiser, Clinton said this.

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CLINTON: Would just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorable.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Right?

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic - you name it.

LIASSON: Clinton later apologized but only for using the word half, and her campaign points to what she went on to say on Friday night about the rest of Trump's supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: That other basket of people are people who feel the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them.

LIASSON: Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well, she said. It wasn't long before the Trump campaign made the first part of her comments into an attack ad.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know what's deplorable - Hillary Clinton viciously demonizing people like you.

LIASSON: Clinton's comments created a problem, but few Democrats thought it was a race-changing one. Much more worrisome for her supporters was the pneumonia which took the de-bunked health conspiracy theories about Clinton turned them into a legitimate campaign issue. Even worse, the way the Clinton campaign handled the event erased some of the good will she'd started to build with the media and reinforced her reputation as secretive and dishonest.

For Clinton, it's been one step forward, two steps back. Pollster Peter Hart says she has some catching up to do because she squandered the post-convention period.

PETER HART: We didn't have any personalization of Hillary Clinton. Our problem has always been that we don't get to see sort of the internal of what's driving her and what she's about. She has made a thousand speeches, but I don't think the voters can repeat and tell you what her administration would be about.

LIASSON: Without information from Clinton about what drives her and how her vision is connected to her programs, Hart says, voters have filled in the blanks with the headlines. And for the last several weeks, those headlines were all about emails and the foundation. Now, says Hart, it's even more urgent that Clinton help people understand how she'll fight to improve their lives and not just to win the election but to make sure she has a mandate if she does.

Recent polls show the race is tightening nationally and in some battleground states and that Clinton's likely voters are less enthusiastic than Trump's. When confronted with Clinton's dismal numbers on likability, honesty or trustworthiness, Clinton supporters often point to the fact that when she's in office, her approval ratings are strong. Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania.

ED RENDELL: She has terrible internals and terrible unfavorable. And yet when she was secretary of state and in office, she almost had 60-percent-plus favorable rating. When in office, Hillary Clinton shows what she can do, and she rebuilds that trust, and she rebuilds that bond with the people that she governs. And I believe she'll do that as president.

LIASSON: But first she has to get elected. The gaffe about Trump's supporters and her less-than-forthcoming approach to her health problems have made that goal more difficult to reach. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.