The ongoing debate over Hillary Clinton’s health has focused on the nature and extent of her maladies, and (as a longshot) who might replace her on the presidential ticket should she be unable to continue the campaign.

But what if Clinton’s health deteriorates after she wins the presidency?

If she were to die, the Constitution calls for her vice president, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, to step in. But what if a President Hillary Clinton merely becomes unwell? Again, the Constitution provides for the ascension of the vice president not only in the case of the president’s death, removal or resignation but also in the event that he or she is unable “to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency. But what if Clinton is rendered unable to perform the duties of the presidency but no one is told about it?

This would be unusual, of course, but not unprecedented. Just look at the case of Woodrow Wilson and his second wife, Edith Wilson.


On October 2, 1919, President Wilson suffered a severe stroke that rendered him partially paralyzed, unable to speak and partially blind in one eye. As the president moved in and out of consciousness, Edith was left to run the government by proxy.

Woodrow continued to suffer from the effects of his stroke until the end of his presidency two years later, but the first five months were especially trying. Wilson’s personal physician, Dr. Cary Grayson, and Edith, who was extremely protective of her husband, felt total isolation gave him the best chance of survival and recovery. During those first five months, the public didn’t see its president at all.

Edith felt it was her main task to control who had access to the president. She took on most of the decision making herself. She signed documents in Woodrow’s hand, haggled with congressmen over pending legislation, issued vetoes and helped craft a State of the Union address. She even decoded secret diplomatic codes.