Clinton secrets kill trust, presidential prospects

Credit: Anna Boyle/ Credit: Anna Boyle/
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For the past few weeks, Donald Trump and the media have publicly speculated about Hillary Clinton’s health. Their speculation reached a fever pitch last Sunday when Clinton left a 9/11 memorial event early after feeling overheated and cell phone footage later showed her appearing to faint as she was escorted into her van. Now, a week later, the most recent polls have shown Clinton and Trump tied nationally, and Trump leads Clinton in the key swing states of Florida and Ohio.

To be sure, Clinton’s drop in the polls is not due entirely to her pneumonia. She also had a bad week in terms of her basket of deplorable” gaffes, among other issues. But there should be no doubt that Clinton’s campaign has been badly hurt by her illness. The truly frustrating part of this for Clinton’s campaign is that this would be a much smaller story had Clinton just disclosed her illness to begin with. This is an ongoing pattern that Clinton must overcome to correct her course; instead of getting in front of potentially damaging stories, she shrouds herself in secrecy, ultimately making the story, when it gets out, seem much more scandalous.

In the case of her health, Clinton should have disclosed her pneumonia as soon as she was diagnosed with it, which was Friday, Sept. 9. Doing so would have at least two benefits. First, she would have quieted much of the preexisting speculation about her health, which often centered around coughing fits that would easily be explained by a pneumonia diagnosis. Second, had Clinton disclosed her pneumonia and then still attended the 9/11 memorial, she would have likely benefited from extra positive optics.

Instead, by hiding her pneumonia, Clinton let the speculation about her health rage on. She publicly exhibited signs of poor health that added to the fire, and she reinforced the narrative that she isn’t transparent with the American public. Now, many Americans worry that Clinton is neither healthy nor honest enough to serve as President.

Clinton’s desire for privacy, while understandable, has caused her campaign great harm, and is at the center of what makes her poll numbers so abysmal on the metric of “honest and trustworthy”.

The most haunting example for her campaign has been Clinton’s use of a private email server while working in the State Department. Clinton used such a server out of a desire to circumvent public disclosure laws, which would have required her to preserve every email she sent or received as Secretary of State for public record. Because of her affinity for secrecy, her email activity has blown up into a huge scandal that has become one of the defining issues of the campaign, and a persistent drag on her favorability.

Another example is Clinton’s aversion to press conferences. Because Clinton distrusts the press and believes that too much press exposure will lead to negative coverage, she went nine months without holding a press conference. She broke her silence only two weeks ago, holding a press conference for the first time since before any of the primary elections had even begun. Because she refused to hold press conferences for want of privacy, the press instead wrote negative stories about her refusing to speak to them. Once again, her desire for secrecy ended up creating an even bigger and more negative story than the one she was trying to avoid and reinforced an image of dishonesty.

This is not to say that Donald Trump is a bastion of honesty or transparency. For instance, he is the first presidential candidate since 1972 not to release his income tax returns, and he has been just as withholding on matters of his own health. There are clear signs of wrongdoing involved with his charitable foundation, and he has the lowest truthfulness rating on Politifact of any major political figure. However, this ultimately isn’t going to exonerate Clinton of the need to become more transparent. The sad reality is that the public views her as less honest, trustworthy, and transparent than Trump, and every gaffe, scandal, and lie hurts her politically far more than him.

We can, and should, cry foul about a media double standard. We can, and should, debate how much of the public’s greater distrust of Clinton is due to her gender. But with only seven weeks remaining in the election, Clinton must acknowledge the political hand she’s been dealt, and she must adjust. If she wants to defeat Donald Trump, (and we should all hope that she does!) she must become more transparent, or every small story she tries to hide will continue to become a monstrous issue that harms her wounded campaign.