Trump makes claims on Clinton’s health

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Donald Trump is raising questions about Hillary Clinton’s health as he grapples with low poll numbers and the reverberations from several controversies.

In a speech discussing terrorism on Monday, Trump alleged that Clinton “lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

{mosads}Trump also alluded to a purported lack of vigor on Clinton’s part last week, when he said that her speeches “don’t last long. They’re like 10 minutes and let’s get out of here.”

“Go back home and go to sleep,” the GOP presidential nominee continued. “Three days later, she gets back up and does another one and goes back home and goes to sleep.”

Allegations that Clinton, the Democratic nominee, suffers from serious health problems have been heard within the conservative media ecosystem for several years, where they have flourished despite any solid evidence to support them.

The charges from Trump could bolster his supporters. They could also help shift the spotlight away from the GOP nominee’s current troubles, if they succeed in sowing doubt over Clinton.

Yet independent experts say that the innuendoes about the former secretary of State’s health also risk backfiring on Trump, in part because they are unlikely to resonate beyond people who already dislike Clinton.

“There is a hard core of people who … want to believe every possible negative thing about Hillary Clinton,” said Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University who has written extensively about women and politics. “But I don’t think it will have any traction with the archetypal undecided voter. It is playing to the choir and giving them something to talk about.”

Jellison also suggested that the attacks could be counter-productive for another reason: women, with whom Trump is already struggling, may see them as sexist.

“I think it plays into too many tropes about women being physically weak, and women not being up to the task of holding major positions of leadership,” she said. 

Before Trump’s most recent remarks, major conservative media figures such as Matt Drudge and Sean Hannity had breathed new life into speculation about Clinton’s health.

Earlier this month, The Drudge Report ran as its main headline, “2016: Hillary Conquers the Stairs,” accompanied by two photos of Clinton apparently being assisted by two men as she climbed a short staircase. The photo had been taken in February, when Clinton slipped while campaigning in South Carolina.

Hannity on his Fox News show used footage of Clinton apparently reacting in mock surprise to a reporter’s question and said to a guest, “It’s a violent, violent, repetitive jerking of the head here. You can see, it’s uncontrollable. Watch the reporter, like, pull back. The reporter got scared and she keeps doing it. What is that?”

Hannity also raised the possibility that Clinton has had a stroke and asserted that her “facial expressions are odd. They seem off.”

Hannity’s efforts to suggest Clinton may be suffering from some neurological condition received considerable pushback, however.

The reporter who Hannity said felt scared, Lisa Lerer of The Associated Press, wrote a follow-up story complaining about “unfounded speculation,” adding, “For the record, I wasn’t scared for a moment.”

Clinton supporters view the suggestions of health problems as a sign that Trump and his allies are willing to try anything to shrink his deficit in the polls.

“They are desperate,” said Ellen Tauscher, a former Democratic congresswoman from California who served under Clinton at the State Department. Tauscher added that Clinton was “in excellent health.”

On Tuesday evening, the Clinton campaign emailed reporters asserting that Trump was “peddling deranged conspiracy theories” about Clinton’s health in an effort to distract from a growing clamor for him to release his tax returns. In a podcast from her campaign last week, Clinton declared herself “lucky” that she has “a lot of stamina and endurance.”

Trump defenders point out that Clinton is not the only one who has had her health questioned this cycle. 

During his speech to the Democratic National Convention, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged people to vote for Clinton because she was “a sane, competent person” — implying that Trump was neither of those things. 

As far back as last fall, there were media stories suggesting the Manhattan businessman may suffer from some kind of disorder. “Is Donald Trump actually a narcissist? Therapists weigh in!” was one Vanity Fair headline.

The evidence to support the idea of Trump having a clinical psychiatric disorder is just as flimsy as that suggesting Clinton is hiding some serious illness.

When Clinton released her 2015 tax documents last week, she also re-released a July 2015 letter from her doctor. Dr. Lisa Bardack wrote that she had been Clinton’s personal physician since 2001 and asserted that she was “in excellent physical condition and fit to serve as President of the United States.”

In December of 2015, Trump released a letter from Dr. Harold Bornstein, who said he had been his doctor since 1980. Bornstein insisted that “if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Some observers suggest that the negative speculation raises another, broader issue: That Clinton and Trump should both release complete medical records, rather than simply doctors’ letters — in part to refute baseless rumors but also because the public has a legitimate right to know.

“Both candidates should disclose all health records, period,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “Neither have. That non-disclosure serves the public poorly.”

Jamieson added, referring to the speculation seen on Hannity’s show about Clinton’s health, “What Hannity is doing is illegitimate — it is. Nonetheless, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should provide much fuller exposure than they have.”

Amie Parnes contributed.

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