Donald Trump had been gaining ground on Hillary Clinton before she appeared to collapse at a 9/11 event this weekend. Although the tycoon was still trailing, it seemed like he was within around two points of Clinton.
When Clinton fainted (if that’s the right word), I felt that this event, captured as it was by cameras, would be worth at least two points to Trump. The very latest polls suggest that this is so.
The “faint” may be worth more. Americans want what Alexander Hamilton called “energy in the executive.” In the modern age, they want an energetic looking chief executive — one with “great vigah,” to use President Kennedy’s favorite term.
It’s why Donald Trump labeled Jeb Bush “low energy.” The candidate never seemed low on energy to me, but the label stuck, to Jeb’s detriment.
Donald Trump is not low energy — we can say that much for him. He was always going to have the “energy” advantage against Clinton.
Clinton, though, has other advantages. Thus, it seemed to me that Trump’s energy advantage wouldn’t be decisive — as long as Clinton did not appear to be feeble.
Clinton wasn’t feeble at the Democratic convention. Unlike Trump, she looked a little worse at the end of her long acceptance speech than at the beginning, but she was still going strong.
After her Sunday collapse, however, many may question whether she is vigorous enough to fit their expectations of a president. It will be difficult for her campaign successfully to spin what our eyes saw that day.
Colin Powell’s emails won’t help. As I noted this morning, Sen. Whitehouse apparently told a supporter that Hillary had trouble walking up the podium steps at an event they both attended.
Obama routinely bounds up the steps. Clinton, according to this report, struggles to climb them.
Yes, Clinton may be able to persuade the electorate that she suffers from no disabling or otherwise serious medical condition — personally, I don’t assume she does. But barring new evidence about Trump, how does she persuade us that her energy level is even roughly comparable to his?
For now, Trump indisputably is the “great vigah” candidate. If he can persuade a skeptical electorate that his vigor won’t be misdirected, he may well have the edge.
Fortunately for Clinton, she has three debates in which partially to overcome her “energy” problem. If she’s rested, she can probably overcome the perception that she is feeble.
Clinton faces an inherent problem, though. If she tries too hard to be energetic, she may come off as shrill and unpleasant on the ear.
Trump’s high energy, blustery approach has always been unpleasant on the ear — mine at least. However, it’s baked in, so to speak, and may not hurt him in the debates. A shrill Hillary, attempting to compensate for her medical travails, might damage her prospects.
Is there potential sexism in this dynamic? I think so. Perceived infirmity or lack of energy is a problem for candidates of any gender, but quite possibly more of a problem for a female candidate. Shrillness is almost always a negative in politics, but more so, quite possibly, for a female candidate.
America is “ready” (as Hillary likes to say) for a female president. But it may not be ready for a female president who lacks vigor and/or shows her age as manifestly as Hillary does.