Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to (cough) focus on choking.
And by that, I don’t mean Hillary Clinton’s coughing spell the other day, which sparked some of the old conspiracy chatter about her health (and #HackingHillary quickly became a top Twitter trend).
And it led to these eight stacked headlines on the Drudge Report:
10 Doctors Question Hillary Health...
MSNBC Cuts Live Feed as She Sputters For Air...
FIT LASTED OVER 4 MINUTES...
She slams 'conspiracy theories'...
Media Blame Pollen...
Complete timeline of 2016 coughing fits...
PRUDEN: Voters have right to ask...
Thyroid problems linked to sudden cardiac death...
Oh, and Donald Trump tried as well, tweeting: “Mainstream media never covered Hillary’s massive 'hacking' or coughing attack, yet it is #1 trending. What’s up?”
(Trending topics are the new assignment editor!)
Clinton, for her part, told reporters on her plane—actually taking a number of questions from her press corps for the first time this year—that she would not be distracted by rumors about her health.
No, I’m talking about choking as the term is used in sports: the 9th-inning strikeout, the dropped pass in the end zone, the clunker off the rim as time expires on the clock.
The trash talk started with Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico. John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, ripped Trump for saying he and Enrique Pena Nieto did not discuss his demand that Mexico pay for a border wall:
“It turns out Trump didn't just choke, he got beat in the room and lied about it,” Podesta said. (The “lying” allegation relates to Pena Nieto saying he had told Trump his country would never pay, but Trump may have been referring to his decision not to negotiate.)
Trump fired back yesterday, using the same verb, on “Good Morning America”:
"So let me just tell you about choking. I don't choke. She chokes. Look at the deals she's made. She's responsible for so many bad things that have happened to our country, including the signing by her husband of NAFTA, which has drained our country of its jobs. I've been given A-plus, including by you people ... I have been given A-pluses for the job I did in Mexico.”
Now there’s a serious issue beneath the locker-room jibes: Who can withstand the pressures of the presidency? It’s reminiscent of the 3 a.m. phone call ad that Clinton ran against Barack Obama eight years ago.
The charges and countercharges have been flying fast and furious in the last 48 hours. Clinton, on her plane—and I’m glad she’s finally taking press questions—said Trump must have something to hide in not releasing his tax returns.
Trump said Monday that “I think people don’t care. I don’t think anybody cares, except some members of the press.” It’s worth noting that every presidential nominee since Richard Nixon has released tax records.
Clinton also said she must be creating jobs in the “conspiracy theory machine factory.”
Trump, meanwhile, has been hammering away at questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation. In an echo of that earlier Hillary ad, his communications chief Jason Miller said: “When that 3 a.m. phone call comes, we can’t have an ethically-challenged president on the line who took truckloads of cash from other countries.”
And discussing Russia yesterday, Trump said: “Putin looks at her and he laughs, OK? He laughs. Putin. Putin looks at Hillary Clinton and he smiles.”
The intensified pace comes as the media are gradually acknowledging that the polls are tightening. I wrote yesterday that the media narrative was lagging behind the surveys showing Trump closing the gap in national numbers. And yesterday, a new CNN poll gave Trump a 2-point lead over Clinton, or within the margin of error.
No wonder the candidates are accusing each other of coughing, choking and caving in.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.