David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, said Tuesday that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign committed “political malpractice” Sunday by failing to provide immediate and accurate information about the Democratic nominee’s health.
During a forum at Hofstra University in Hempstead, the site of the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, Axelrod also called Republican nominee Donald Trump the “least transparent candidate in American history” for failing to release his taxes and medical records.
Axelrod, a former newspaper reporter and Democratic strategist who now serves as director of the University of Chicago’s non-partisan Institute of Politics and as an analyst for CNN, spoke for 90 minutes and offered a wide-ranging critique of the election, calling the race “dispiriting.”
Axelrod said he was “infuriated” by the Clinton campaign’s response after Clinton abruptly left a Sept. 11 memorial service in Manhattan Sunday and was seen on video swaying and stumbling as she was led by aides into a van.
The campaign provided no information to the news media about Clinton’s condition for 90 minutes before saying that she felt “overheated.” Hours later, the campaign released a statement from Clinton’s physician saying the former secretary of state had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday.
Axelrod said it was “political malpractice that a candidate who is already paying a price because so many people feel she has not been completely upfront would have this gap of time where nobody knew where she was; nobody knew what her medical condition was. . . . It was a big mistake.”
Clinton’s vulnerability “is not health. It’s stealth,” Axelrod said.
Clinton’s campaign, which has acknowledged it could have responded better to the incident, declined to comment about Axelrod’s remarks.
Axelrod also addressed Clinton’s comment at a fundraiser last week that half Trump’s supporters were driven by racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamaphobic sentiments and belong in a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton later said she regretted the remark.
Axelrod said that “while there is some foundation” for Clinton’s comments, “as a matter of politics it was not a wise thing to do. . . . If you let Donald Trump get the high ground you are doing something wrong.”
Axelrod also took aim at Trump, arguing it was “egregious” for the businessman not to release his medical records and tax filings. Both candidates this week said they will release medical records.
He also criticized Trump for “exploiting” voters’ anger, fear and prejudices. “That has a lot to do with how he rallied his base to win the primary,” Axelrod said.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The presidential debate — Hofstra’s third since 2008 — will likely have massive implications for the race, Axelrod said.
Trump, he said, needs to prove he has the temperament to be commander in chief while Clinton will seek to connect with voters on a more personal level. Either way, Axelrod expects the debate to be the most watched in history.
“Mr. Trump will insist,” he joked.