Politics

Howard Dean has a theory about Donald Trump’s sniffles

WASHINGTON — An hour into the presidential debate Monday night, former Vermont governor and one-time presidential contender Howard Dean posed a question on Twitter that was on many viewers’ minds:

What was up with Donald Trump’s constant sniffling?

But he took it one step further, tearing a page from Trump’s own playbook with an unsubstantiated smear.

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“Notice Trump sniffing all the time. Coke user?” Dean speculated on Twitter.

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Nevermind that the Republican nominee says he does not drink alcohol, or use drugs.

Neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton’s campaign immediately responded to requests for comment.

Dean’s tweet was retweeted more than 18,000 times by late Monday night.

Some voters slammed Dean on Twitter, accusing him of being like Trump and spreading a rumor. One commenter called Dean’s behavior “unbecoming.” Another called him out for being the “world’s most excitable man,” referring to his infamous outburst after the Iowa primary that ended his 2004 campaign.

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Trump has repeatedly raised questions about Clinton lacking the stamina to be president, most recently when she came down with pneumonia earlier this month and nearly fainted during the ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

On Monday night it was Trump who became the object of merciless Twitterverse speculation over his health, as he guzzled water like Senator Marco Rubio did during his 2013 Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Did Trump have a cold? Catch Clinton’s pneumonia? Allergies?

The hashtag #sniffles began trending on Twitter.

Trump’s campaign recently released his doctor’s assessment noting the 70-year-0ld candidate’s “excellent physical health.”

Tracy Jan can be reached at tracy.jan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TracyJan.