The conspiracy theory suggesting that Hillary Clinton is sick — and, therefore, physically unfit to run for president, as Donald Trump claims — saw new life on Sunday, after Clinton had to bow out early from a Sept. 11 memorial event due to "overheating." The Clinton campaign later confirmed that the candidate had been diagnosed with pneumonia two days prior (and, honestly, the fact that she made it to the event at all under such conditions should be seen as astounding). But as the conspiracy theories around Clinton's health move from the fringes to the mainstream, we will likely see the GOP take hold of her illness in attempt to do real damage to her campaign.
These theories about Clinton's health didn't begin in the mainstream, but were rather touted on fringe websites. Much like Clinton pinning Trump's social media usage on the "alt-right," the conspiracy theory on her health started through similar means.
A years-old image that showed Clinton being helped up a flight of stairs began circulating on little-known conservative forums and websites, before eventually moving to established news outlets. But it wasn't until Fox News' Sean Hannity devoted an entire segment of his show to the previously-debunked stair photo that the health conspiracy really took off in the mainstream.
Since then, Trump and company have jumped on the health scare bandwagon, demanding that Clinton release her health records (for his part, Trump has only released a clean-bill-of-health, which his doctor later admitted was written in five minutes to appease his famous client).
And unfortunately, Clinton's recent bout with pneumonia will likely only add fuel to the conspiracy theory fire. After departing the 9/11 memorial an hour early, her campaign announced that Clinton has canceled a two-day trip to California. The trip would have included fundraisers, a speech on the economy, and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Some members of the GOP have already unfairly slammed Clinton for the pneumonia diagnosis (POLITICO reports that one top Iowa GOP official tweeted out: "Can't handle the heat, get out of the race. #HillaryforHospice" before promptly deleting it). Trump has showed some unusual restraint, saying on CNBC's Squawk Box that he hopes Clinton "gets well soon." Though, more true to character, Trump added that he thought it was "interesting" that Clinton wasn't diagnosed until Friday, because she had been "coughing very, very badly a week ago and even before that, if you remember."
But even though Trump is playing nice, the damage might already be done to the Clinton campaign. After weeks of trying to persuade Republicans into her camp, her pneumonia diagnosis may push those feeling uneasy about Trump back to his side. For his supporters — and likely Trump himself, despite his restraint — this diagnosis officially signals to them what the conspiracy theories have been alleging all along: Clinton is sick, and unfit to serve. Despite medical professionals' evaluations to the contrary, the pneumonia teeters that theory fully into the mainstream.