Just as she looked like she was heading for a landslide, the combination of a deplorable gaffe and a hot wobble has thrown the campaign into disarray
This should not be news. But in todays febrile world of Twitter-fed headlines, it bears repeating: there are two old people running for president.
One is a 68-year-old woman whose legs gave way in the late summer heat on Sunday. Hillary Clinton has also coughed a few times on camera. Both events have taken on cosmic significance in this otherwise sedate and stately presidential contest.
Four years ago, Clinton fainted and banged her head while sick with a stomach virus. Her doctor detailed last year the handful of pills she takes regularly: for her allergies, thyroid, and blood thinning. These facts have driven the conservative media into the kind of hysteria that requires its own medical attention.
If American voters (or journalists) still expect their candidates to be in the words of a popular musical young, scrappy and hungry, they have not been paying attention. The primaries have left us with two nominees who are rather geriatric, stiff and well-fed.
But as Joe Biden (73 years old) likes to say: dont compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.
In this case, the alternative is an overweight 70-year-old man who loves fast food, and whose gastroenterologist declared that he would be the healthiest president ever.
Donald Trumps gut doctor explained in recent interviews that this healthiest judgment was compared mostly to people now residing in their graves. All the rest of them are sick or dead, Dr Harold Bornstein told NBC News.
This is an unkind comparison for the current commander-in-chief, who works out every day and seems not to have an inch of fat on his bones. It is true that Barack Obama gave up basketball a few years ago, so maybe Bornstein knows something we dont. Then again, he also admitted he wrote about Trumps health in five minutes while a Trump limo idled outside his office.
Still, there are no two ways about it. This was Hillarys Worst. Weekend. Ever. (Apart from that whole impeachment saga and the 2008 primaries.) Just as she looked like she was running away to a landslide victory, a combination of a gaffe and a hot wobble has thrown the entire election into disarray.
Of course until now, the gaffes have all emerged from the motor-mouth of Donald Trump. They have been so numerous, and so offensive, they have almost lost their power to shock.
But with Hillary Clintons off-the-cuff remarks about the bigotry of Trumps supporters, we have officially reached the point of no return. This deplorable election, featuring a deplorable candidate, is now circling the drain because the only respectable candidate expressed her disdain for racist voters.
Voters hold an unusual amount of respect in any election. We may have lost our respect for politicians, sports stars, religious leaders and just about every profession, but voters remain sacrosanct. So Clintons comments have crossed a line: an unforced error that reveals how flawed a campaigner she is.
You know, to just be grossly generalistic, she told a Manhattan fundraiser, you could put half of Trumps supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.
And so the basket of deplorables has found its place alongside other debris in the gaffe sewer of recent elections, including this stinker from a fundraiser in San Francisco in 2008: You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothings replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not.
And its not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who arent like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.
The speaker of these grossly generalistic insults of the pro-gun, pro-God culture of Middle America? Barack Obama, of course.
Those comments came to light in April 2008, as Obama was fighting one Hillary Clinton for votes in the Pennsylvania primary. I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Senator Obama made about people in small-town America, Clinton said at the time. His remarks are elitist and out of touch.
Clintons staffers started handing out stickers saying Im not bitter and she went on to win the primary by nine points. She ultimately lost the nomination by a convincing margin.
What of the lasting damage to candidate Obama from this revealing insight into this elitist character? In the general election, Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 points. He took God-fearing Virginia by 6 points, and gun-loving Indiana by 1 point.
Ah, yes. But what about Mitt Romneys unforgettable gaffe also at a fundraiser among the super-wealthy when he condemned not just half of his opponents supporters, but half of the population of the United States?
There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what, he said, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. These are people who pay no income tax and so my job is not to worry about those people. Ill never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Why did the Romney gaffe stick? Because it played into months of multi-million-dollar advertising and messaging from the Obama campaign about Romneys lack of compassion for the middle class. After all those attacks, the gaffe seemed like Romneys confession of the truth.
So where is the comparable anti-Clinton narrative, bolstered by huge ad spends and a consistent communications strategy? (And no, tweets dont count.) The Trump campaign, such as it is, has no major ad spending, and nothing that resembles a strategy in communications, policy or politics. It is singularly ill equipped to profit from this gift of a gaffe.
If any candidate plays into this gaffe-fest, its Trump himself. Because the real power of a gaffe is that it exposes some unspeakable truth. And the truth is that many Trump supporters are indeed attracted by the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic eruptions of the candidate himself.
Trump built his candidacy on questioning the birthplace of the countrys first black president. He went on to suggest that the same president harbored sympathies for Isis. Sure enough, two-thirds of Trump supporters believe Obama is Muslim and 59% think he wasnt born in the United States. Its unlikely they hold these views in an adorable way.
Deplorable, on the other hand, might be a great word to describe a candidate who suggests that gun owners should shoot Hillary Clinton to stop her proposals on gun safety? That would be the same candidate whose butler posted that someone should shoot Obama, and whose supporters regularly chant kill the bitch when Clintons name is mentioned.
Clinton isnt missing the other appeal of Donald Trump: the aspirational side of his policy agenda that his supporters are yearning for. There is no other appeal of Trump and no aspirational agenda. Thats why the Clinton campaign is digging in for a long fight about Trumps deplorable nature.
Was the comment elitist, tone-deaf and self-defeating? Could it along with the health scare stories narrow the Clinton poll lead by a point or two? As Sarah Palin would say, you betcha.
But please spare us the false equivalency. There are worse political crimes than such gaffes. And there are older, unhealthier candidates running for president.