Back on the wing.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Maybe Clinton Should Take a Little More Time Off

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Hillary Clinton will appear in Greensboro, North Carolina, later Thursday, her first event after a couple days’ hiatus. She might want to get a doctor’s note and take another day, or two, off. 

Less can be more. Once Clinton finally succumbed to matter over mind and took a breather, she inadvertently stumbled on the genuine authenticity that has been so lacking in her campaign. Reporters gradually got over being ticked off that she didn’t admit she had pneumonia, given their own penchant for walking around fortified by Z-Packs and Benadryl. Some even betrayed a smidgeon of grudging admiration that she’d powered through. Gritting her teeth and showing up as promised is part of her Best Student in Class essence. On Sept. 11, unable to fake it any longer, she wobbled away from Ground Zero, showing the humanity that her supporters say is there. 

In the few days since, those filling her sensible shoes are doing an excellent job: notably President Barack Obama, out stumping for her to a huge crowd in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, her husband, rusty in 2008, but rested and ready this time, deployed on her behalf his unparalleled arm squeeze and intimate voice that makes people lean in to hear. 

With friends like that stepping in for her, why didn’t she chillax for the rest of the week? Rather than watch old movies, tee up videos of your husband and Barack for a few tips on how the game is played. Don’t ask questions. Just do it as if you’re learning how to play the violin by rote, Suzuki style. If you do really well, you will get an A. 

Clinton is even getting an unintentional assist from Colin Powell, whose e-mails pushed her own technological travails off the front page. That the hack appears to be the work of Russians reminds everyone of Donald Trump’s encouragement of his favorite police state to behave in this way. Skip over the names Powell calls her and go to his calling Trump a “national disgrace” who engaged in a “racist” movement. That’s not the kind of statement the master of diplomacy would have delivered publicly on Clinton’s behalf and she was wise not to step on it. Powell also wrote that since Trump “is in the process of destroying himself,” there’s no need for others to do so.

But holding back takes a lot of discipline, given Trump’s tightening in recent polls. Still, Clinton can’t paint him as a loose cannon or call him a national disgrace every day.

He has a knack for getting into tight spots all on his own. For example, this week, he showed up in Flint, Michigan, where he gave no specifics about how he would fix the water crisis. When he reverted to criticism of Clinton, he was interrupted by the pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church and reminded it wasn’t a campaign event. Trump appeared flustered,  “Oh, oh, oh, OK, OK, OK. That’s good,” he stammered. That kind of meekness wouldn’t fly with the likes of Vladimir Putin.     

Or look at his obvious play for women’s votes, with a childcare plan that was widely panned as helpful primarily to mothers with nannies on the Upper East Side. Living in his reality show universe, Trump decided to reveal the findings of his latest physical on Dr. Oz’s program. Why not? Trump has boasted of getting his expertise on foreign policy from “the shows.” Rather than release a printout of the results, he dramatically presented the talk-show host with a two-page letter from Harold Bornstein (the candidate’s longtime physician, who drew attention last month when he dashed off a letter stating that Trump would be the healthiest president in history). The only admission by Trump that he isn’t perfect is what we can see with our own eyes -- he said he could stand to lose a few pounds. 

Clinton was also able to sit back and enjoy another meltdown in the Trump camp, as Mike Pence, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, went to Capitol Hill to broker peace with the party’s wounded bigwigs. Instead, the Trump affiliation proved so toxic that Pence took incoming from Senator John McCain for the nominee’s bromance with Putin. McCain, who is more outspoken about Trump now that he’s won his primary, called the autocrat “a thug and a butcher,” according to the New York Times.

Pence himself fumbled badly as he reverted to playground speak to call former Ku Klux Klan leader turned Trump fanboy David Duke “that bad man” several times, rather than concede that the white supremacist was “deplorable.” There were no public converts to the ticket in Congress: In fact, Speaker Paul Ryan seized the moment to issue his own call for Trump to release his tax returns. Pence was so ineffective that “Pencing” has become the new term for shilling for someone you don’t believe in.

In Philadelphia on Tuesday, Obama was at his best, in shirtsleeves (Lesson 1: It’s more human not to wear a jacket buttoned to the neck), and fired up. In a conversation with 6,000 fans in the blazing sun, he ticked off Trump’s faults and Clinton’s virtues, and so much better than she could do for herself. His best riff for Clinton was a comparison of foundations: Trump has given no money to the charitable organization that bears his name for at least six years. Obama also pointed out that the billionaire had used some of that cash to pay for a six-foot portrait of himself. By comparison, Clinton whose foundation has saved millions of lives, looks like Mother Teresa.

So, Hillary, take two aspirin and call us in the morning. Before her bout with pneumonia, Clinton hadn’t given us a chance to miss her. She’s only been out of sight with the green flu, when she disappears to pleasant places such as East Hampton and Martha’s Vineyard to raise money with the swells. 

Now there is a heavier burden on Clinton to be the picture of health. If she sneezes, her campaign will get pneumonia. Fatigue can kill. Calling half of Trump’s voters “deplorables” was an unforced error late at night at a fundraiser. And she’d better be in tip-top shape for the first debate with Trump, on Sept. 26.

Think of respites to come as the political equivalent of agricultural subsidies: but instead of being rewarded for not growing soybeans, she benefits from not campaigning. Missing in action, people will be asking “where is she,” instead of sighing “Oh, her again.” The missing could turn into voting. Down five points in Ohio, the state of presidents, she could use that. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net