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 first responders 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 emblematic of the past two weeks or so for Mrs Clinton. Nothing has gone to plan, and her once formidable lead has all but vanished.
Sunday’s episode brought questions about the health of Mrs Clinton, 68, that have swirled among conspiracy theorists and in supermarket tabloids into the mainstream.
Mr Trump, who is 16 months older than the former secretary of state, has referred to the theories by innuendo, claiming his rival lacks the stamina to serve as president, and keeps a less rigorous campaign schedule in order to maintain her strength.
Some of his high profile supporters have gone further. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York Mayor, urged voters to Google Hillary Clinton illness to uncover claims that she has suffered brain damage or needed constant medical interventions from undercover doctors.
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.
Speaking at a fundraiser in New York on Friday, Mrs Clinton made a remark that is likely to be replayed ad nauseum in attack ads for the duration of the campaign.
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, she said, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophic.”
Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!
The Trump campaign pounced. Jason Miller, 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 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.
Hillary Clinton just had her 47% moment. What a terrible thing she said about so many great Americans!
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 former Secretary of State is a tough sell.
Mrs Clinton spent much of the summer recovering from the scandal over emails sent from a private server while she was secretary of state that raised questions over her handling of classified information.
Damage had certainly been done – polls show that the majority of Americans find her untrustworthy – but with character witnesses like Barack Obama pitching in to help, she appeared ready to move on.
Then emails from a close aide were released which 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 between now and November, according to Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster.
“Voters remain sceptical and uncertain about her integrity and likability,” he said. “I don’t think you can improve their views on her integrity; too much has happened over too long a period.”
Buoyed by his campaign’s new leadership and with a newfound willingness to remain on message, Mr Trump has become a stronger opponent.
His penchant for colourful rhetoric remains, but the property mogul has steered clear of the types of behaviour – like his attacks on the family of a fallen soldier – that had alienated so many voters.
He has made efforts to come across as measured, submitting to using a teleprompter, and perhaps just as importantly, been willing to step out of 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, Mr Trump has been able to reinforce voters’ concerns about her without damaging himself in the process.
Mrs Clinton has been the first to admit voters haven’t warmed to her like they have to other nominees – her husband among them. I’m not Barack Obama. I’m not Bill Clinton. Both of them carry themselves with a naturalness that is very appealing to audiences,” she said in a recent, unusually personal, interview with the blog Humans of New York:
The problem stems from her genuine discomfort with the task of campaigning.
“She’s always been a terrible candidate; clunky, unlucky, slow,” Rick Wilson, a veteran political operative and ardent Trump critic told The Telegraph. “It’s not just her over-lawyered act; it’s that she is a genuinely introverted person.”
For Mrs Clinton 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 crowds of foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics screaming his name. She hates the outside game of politics.”
News Source TelegraphNews