Fetterman's wife: Uh, he might be off the campaign trail for another month

AP Photo/Marc Levy

“I need a little more time. I’m not quite back to 100% yet, but I’m getting closer every day,” John Fetterman said in a statement last Friday, after he finally — finally — told the truth about his health. Sweaty Democrats in Pennsylvania heard that and began side-eyeing each other. How much more time is “a little”? Another week? Two weeks?

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Try a month, said Gisele Fetterman to CNN yesterday. And even that might be optimistic.

“I think he deserves a month break to come back as strong as ever,” Giselle Fetterman said in an interview with CNN. “This is going to be a tough race and a really important race. I want him to be fully ready for it.”

Asked if John Fetterman, who serves as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, would return to campaigning by July in one of the nation’s marquee Senate contests, she replied: “Maybe. I think so. That’s my hope.”

The candidate said in a statement last week that his doctors have instructed him “to rest, eat healthy, exercise, and focus on my recovery” and, because of that, it will “take some more time to get back on the campaign trail like I was in the lead-up to the primary.”

The mystery of Fetterman’s true condition was solved a few days ago. It’s not just atrial fibrillation that’s giving him heart problems, it’s cardiomyopathy. And his stroke wasn’t “minor,” it was bad enough to have killed him if he hadn’t been treated so quickly. In the words of the candidate himself, “I almost died.”

But there’s a secondary mystery. Why is a guy who’s been out of the hospital for weeks, is reportedly walking several miles per day, and is fit for the Senate according to his own doctors (provided he follows their advice) so hard for reporters to get hold of? Fetterman hasn’t done a single interview since he was discharged, as far as I’m aware. He’s cut occasional videos for his campaign’s social media feeds but they’re conspicuously short. One would think he, not his wife, could be updating the media on his condition and his campaign plans. There’s no obvious reason that he can’t hold some remote campaign events from the comfort of his living room to rally his troops while he’s physically recuperating.

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Or is there?

WaPo may have solved that mystery in a piece published a few days ago to little fanfare. This detail is tucked way down in a long story about Fetterman’s changing story about his health but it deserved to be in the lede. I haven’t seen it reported anywhere else.

He has, however, still not appeared in public, and his appearances on video released by the campaign have shown him speaking only a few sentences at a time. His ability to have conversations rapidly has not fully recovered, though he is improving and doctors still predict a full recovery.

Two Democratic political consultants — who like others for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations and a sensitive issue — worried that the campaign’s handling of Fetterman’s health would undermine his image as a straight talker.

“When you are the godfather of transparency and social media, and you go dark, people notice,” said one strategist who has long supported Fetterman. “It’s not as if admitting some health issue would immediately cause people to seek a replacement.”

I’m lucky enough to have had no personal experience with strokes, even among older family members. And it’s true that Fetterman’s doctors have predicted a full recovery. But is it normal for stroke victims to lose their “ability to have conversations rapidly,” even temporarily? What does that mean? Is Fetterman having trouble articulating certain words or is he having trouble following a train of thought?

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Either way, now we know why he won’t appear in situations where he has to interact with people. His campaign obviously fears that his problem with holding conversations will be noticeable and will cause coverage questioning his ability to serve in the Senate to explode. It also explains why Gisele Fetterman can only “hope” that he’s back on the trail in July. Cognitive recovery follows a less certain timetable than physical recovery does. Until whatever problem he’s experiencing is no longer conspicuous, they’re evidently going to keep him under wraps.

If he’s not up to speed by July 4, I assume Pennsylvania Dems will begin considering their options.

On the other hand, so long as he’s back on the trail at some point this fall and is able to prove he’s up to the job, he’s still probably the strongest hand Dems can play. His team launched two new ads this morning that are smart and appealing, and make for a shrewd contrast with the celebrity carpetbagger Dr. Oz. I assume they were eager to get these spots on the air partly to distract from questions about Fetterman’s health — “see, he’s campaigning!” — but they’re effective regardless.

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How often does a far-left Democrat make a point of reserving ad time on Fox News? It makes sense in Fetterman’s case, though, as he’s going to run as the authentic blue-collar “one of us” candidate in the race knowing that MAGAs are unhappy with the rich out-of-stater Oz as their Trump-anointed nominee. Fetterman can’t out-conservative Oz but he can certainly out-populist him. And since he’s sure to keep his party affiliation on the down low throughout the campaign, he might be able to swing a few rural Trump voters into the “D” camp for once. That’s why Pennsylvania Dems won’t lightly replace him: He may be the only Democrat in the country who’s capable of doing that nowadays.

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Jazz Shaw 1:00 PM | July 14, 2024
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