Illnesses causing headaches for presidential candidates

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Hillary Clinton has filled headlines recently over her bout with pneumonia and Republican nominee Donald Trump also faced medical scrutiny after it came to light that his doctor wrote him a clean bill of health in roughly five minutes, according to NBC news.

Part of the story is the way the media covers illness in presidents and candidates during election season. Professor Anne Pluta of the Political Science Department at Rowan University said the press has not always been concerned with uncovering illness in the oval office.

“FDR is probably the most notable,” said Pluta. “He, of course, had polio and couldn’t even walk, but of course, the press was not nearly as invasive at that time period and actually helped him cover up the fact that he was as sick as he was.”

Presently, Clinton appears to be getting over her illness and will be back on the campaign trail soon. If she were to step down, it would be the exception to the rule. The last presidential or vice presidential candidate to resign from an election was Thomas Eagleton in 1972.

He stepped down from his position as Democratic candidate George McGovern’s running mate when it was revealed that he had undergone electroshock treatment and hospitalization as a result of his depression. Since then, every other candidate has made it to Election Day remaining on the ballot.

The Eagleton incident also changed the way that presidential candidates get their vice presidential options. Now, members of the nominee’s team pour over everything from financial statements to friendships and, most importantly, health to make sure that there are no surprises.

But that begs the question. What happens in the event someone does need to step down? While both parties differ in the way they would go about having a candidate step down, there is a process for both the Republican and Democratic parties to work with.

For the Republicans, Ballotpedia.org says rule nine in the rules of the Party states that if a candidate leaves the race due to death, declination, or otherwise after the convention ends, the national committee can fill the vacancy by majority vote, or by reconvening the national convention.

As for the Democrats, Ballotpedia.org refers to article two, section one of the Party’s bylaws, which state simply that the national committee has the right to fill any vacancies in the nomination for the president and vice president.

Despite the current situation, there have been much worse cases of presidential illness. Pluta noted that there was one instance where a president even became bedridden, and had a family member attend to the duties of his office for him.

“[Woodrow] Wilson, the last year of his presidency actually had a stroke, and effectively, the country was being run by his wife,” she said. 

While the health of the candidates has become an important topic in the 2016 election, looking through history proves that presidential illness is almost as old as the office itself.

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