(CNN) — A weekend of stumbles has Hillary Clinton suddenly looking vulnerable at a pivotal moment of her battle with Donald Trump.
Her swoon Sunday at muggy Ground Zero — and damaging video of Clinton lurching into the arms of her security detail — dramatically turned the state of her health from conservative conspiracy theory into a genuine campaign issue.
The episode also exacerbates questions about transparency that have long dogged Clinton’s White House bid after the campaign revealed the Democratic nominee is suffering from pneumonia — a fact it kept quiet since Friday.
But Sunday’s drama was just merely a capstone on Clinton’s rough 48 hours.
Clinton aides spent Saturday cleaning up her remark that “half” of Trump’s supporters were “deplorables,” meaning racists, sexists and homophobes. The remark, for which she later expressed “regret,” suddenly united a Republican Party that has struggled to get behind its divisive nominee.
The double blows came at just the wrong time for the 68-year-old Clinton, as Trump closes in the polls and pressure builds ahead of the first presidential debate in two weeks — an event shaping up to be a potentially pivotal moment of the campaign.
Whether Clinton’s rocky weekend will turn out to be just another unexpected twist in an election season that has had everything, or exert a lasting political impact will only become clear in the coming days. She canceled a trip to California schedule for Monday and Tuesday. The speed of her recovery and the way her enemies handle the episode will do much to shape how voters respond to her health issue.
Weekend on defense
But a weekend on defense and a possibly reduced schedule going forward threatens to slow Clinton’s campaign at an unwelcome moment and will do little to calm increasingly jittery Democrats who only weeks ago were speculating about the possibility of an electoral landslide.
Donna Brazile, the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, released a reassuring statement late Sunday wishing Clinton a “speedy recovery.”
“I look forward to seeing her back out on the campaign trail and continuing on the path to victory,” she said.
It was bad enough for Clinton that she had to leave the ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks early — setting off alarm bells among her traveling press pool. But the later emergence of video showing her wobbly, staggering and stumbling before being helped into her black van conjured up the kind of image, played over and over on television, that campaign strategists dread.
The footage was more than a blow to her dignity. It will be used by opponents to validate a months-long campaign of rumors and innuendo about the true state of Clinton’s health.
Trump has frequently cast doubt on Clinton’s physical fitness, saying she lacks “stamina” and takes naps in the afternoon and runs on an easy schedule — a claim debunked by reporters who follow her campaign.
Aware of potential impact
The Clinton campaign was clearly aware of the potential impact of the video. After resting at her daughter Chelsea’s apartment, the Democratic nominee emerged smiling, and under her own power in front of the cameras, taking a picture with a young girl before climbing into her motorcade.
She told reporters she was “feeling great” and parried further questions by commenting that it was a “beautiful day in New York.”
The campaign also tried to foster an air of normality by saying that Clinton spent time playing with her grandchildren while at her daughter’s home.
But hours of speculation and uncertainty about what happened to Clinton and a lack of information about her status triggered an air of crisis.
When details about her condition finally emerged — in the form of a statement issued through the campaign by Clinton’s physician Lisa Bardack — they only added to impressions that the campaign abhors transparency.
Trump, whose Twitter account is normally on hair trigger alert, was unusually quiet Sunday. The Republican nominee had pledged not to campaign on the anniversary of the terror attacks but his uncharacteristic silence kept the focus on Clinton all day.
Sources involved in the Trump campaign said they wanted to be respectful of the health issue. Staff and campaign surrogates were instructed not to post anything negative on social media.
Given that Trump is 70 and would be the oldest person to take the oath of office as President for a first term, and Clinton would be the second oldest, both candidates are certain to face pressure for a more comprehensive accounting of their health.
The former secretary of state has done far more to provide details on her health than Trump.
Bardack issued a letter late last year saying Clinton was in good health and fit to serve as President. Trump has offered only a bizarre report from New York physician Harold Bornstein, saying that he would be the “healthiest individual ever elected President.”
Difficult territory for candidates
Health issues are always difficult territory for presidential candidates, who are forced to cede privacy that regular people take for granted. But there will still be questions asked why Clinton, after days of speculation about her health, was not more forthcoming with her diagnosis.
Ever since Clinton sustained a blood clot and a concussion after a fainting episode near the end of her tenure as secretary of state in 2012, she has faced a swirl of conspiracy theories about her health.
She joked about the criticism on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last month.
“Back in October, the National Enquirer said I would be dead in six months. So with every breath I take, I feel like I have a new lease on life,” Clinton said.
If Clinton is forced to take time off, it will fall to her high-profile surrogates to pick up the slack. President Barack Obama, for instance, is due to campaign for his former rival and secretary of state Tuesday in Philadelphia. His wife, Michelle Obama, will hit the campaign trail as well next week.
Clinton had hoped for better headlines after the first frenzied post-Labor Day week on the trail.
After months of dodging the press, she invited reporters to travel on her new campaign jet last week and took questions. On Friday, she gathered a group of high ranking former national security officials and military brass and delivered a presidential-style statement to stress her suitability to lead national security policy in the Oval Office.
Polls, however, show that Clinton’s lead has dramatically narrowed in recent weeks, amid unflattering coverage of the controversy over her email server and the Clinton Foundation.
A CNN/ORC poll last week had behind Trump by 2% among likely voters and there are also signs of tightening in swing state polls — despite Clinton still having many more routes to 270 electoral votes than Trump
But in one ray of sunshine for Clinton on Sunday, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed her up 5% on Trump among likely voters.
CNN’s Sara Murray and Noah Gray contributed to this report