WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Hillary Clinton has consistently shrugged off concerns about her health over the course of the 2016 campaign.
“Back in October, The National Enquirer said that I’d be dead in six months,” Clinton joked a few weeks ago.
It’s no longer a laughing matter.
Clinton’s quick exit halfway through a September 11th memorial event Sunday, followed by video of an apparent curbside collapse due to pneumonia, catapulted her physical fitness to issue No. 1.
She’s now recovering at her home in Chappaqua, New York.
Going forward, Clinton has to overcome three major hurdles to get her presidential bid back on track.
More than 60 percent of American voters find Clinton (and Trump) to be dishonest and untrustworthy, according to the latest Washington Post poll.
Those dismal numbers suggest many voters still carry suspicions related to past Clinton scandals involving Benghazi, using private email servers as secretary of state, and decades-old investigations into Whitewater and Travelgate.
In all of these situations, whether first lady or secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was seen as walled off and overly secretive.
Today, not much has changed.
Team Clinton now acknowledges it “could have done better” to be transparent about Hillary’s current health struggles, beginning with a secret pneumonia diagnosis she received on Friday – two days before falling ill at the 9/11 memorial service.
Clinton will have to fight her own impulses to enforce her “zone of privacy” and disclose more health information than she’s likely uncomfortable sharing.
Staffers said Monday that additional health information from Clinton is forthcoming over “the next few days,” but no conditions beyond pneumonia exist.
Dr. Lisa Bardack, an internist, reports that Clinton is now recovering nicely.
Prior to the latest incident, Bardack published a letter stating that the 68-year-old candidate takes an anticoagulant, suffers from hypothyroidism, and was previously treated for a blood clot.
In the 24 hours following Clinton’s collapse, Trump, the typically tart-tongued Republican nominee, was unusually low-key about the incident, bordering on gracious.
Trump got mostly positive reviews for saying, “I hope she gets well soon.”
However, he couldn’t resist tossing in some speculation that “something’s going on.”
New York Magazine called it a “shocking act of political competence.”
But Trump’s tact likely also involves self-preservation.
The only medical information Trump has shared thus far came from a gastroenterologist who wrote a widely mocked letter, written in 5 minutes, promising that the billionaire would be the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
Trump is tacitly challenging Clinton further this week by vowing to release the results of a physical examination he underwent last week.
If Clinton does not match or exceed Trump’s transparency, she risks losing the messaging game related to her health and adding fuel to serious questions about her physical capacity to serve as commander in chief.
It’s worth noting there’s a growing call for presidential contenders to submit to identical medical checkups by independent physicians, removing the possibility of candidates’ longtime doctors stretching the truth of their famous patients’ wellness.
The final test Clinton faces is one of appearance.
There have been numerous claims of sexism when Clinton’s physical fitness has been questioned in the past, but the new developments legitimize a need for the Democratic nominee to appear physically strong in public.
It’s not an insurmountable task.
As MSNBC political correspondent Steve Kornacki points out, many candidates have overcome public concerns about their health, including a listless-looking President Ronald Reagan at the age of 73.
He’s not the only one.
The key to their rebounds was silencing critics by delivering fresh, solid public showings in short order.
Clinton is taking the next two days off to recuperate at her home but will need to reappear strong and steady when she reemerges.
Her team will be working overtime to ward off her chronic cough or fainting spells.
The first debate is Monday, Sept. 26.
Expect Clinton to put her full physical and political force on display.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales