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Why isn’t Howard Dean’s allegation that Donald Trump does cocaine a bigger deal?

Howard Dean. (Michael Springer/Getty Images)

When former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean tweeted during the first presidential debate that Donald Trump might be a cocaine user, a few people raised their eyebrows. When Dean went on MSNBC the following day and not only stood by his "diagnosis" but also expanded on it -- "It's something I think it'd be interesting to ask him and see if he has a problem with that" -- a few more people flagged it.

But, three days removed from the debate, Dean's cocaine allegation has largely disappeared from the headlines. Here's what search interest in the words "Howard Dean" looks like over the past week — a spike during and after the debate and then a slow fade into almost nothing.

As far as I can tell, Hillary Clinton has not been asked about Dean's comments. Dean himself has not apologized or said much of anything since his appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday.

To which I say: Why?

Dean is a former Democratic governor! He was, at one point, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination! He was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee! And, perhaps most important, he was once a doctor!

And Dean alleged — not once, but twice — that the Republican presidential nominee uses cocaine. That's a pretty big allegation, no? Particularly when you offer absolutely no evidence beyond the fact that Trump sniffed a bunch during the debate. That's sort of like insisting a candidate is dying because they have a coughing spell, right?

The pushback against that line of argument is, "Well, everyone was thinking it!" Um, okay. Number one, Democrats on Twitter don't count as "everyone." Number two, thinking something and saying it publicly — especially when you are a former head of the Democratic Party and a physician — are two very different things.

Then there is the "Why don't you guys highlight all of the wacky stuff Donald Trump and his surrogates say?" argument. To which I would say: Have you read this blog, The Washington Post or the mainstream news media at all over the past 18 months? If you have, you would know that we are deeply committed to holding Trump and his surrogates accountable for what they say — from Trump's assertion that building a wall along our southern border would be "easy" to Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson's unfounded allegation that Clinton was suffering from aphasia.

Try a thought experiment with me. Imagine if Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor and chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that Clinton was slurring words during the debate and suggested she might have a problem with alcohol. Do you think that story (a) would get covered and (b) should get covered? The answer to both of those questions, is, obviously, yes.

No matter what you think of Trump, it's hard — if you are taking a neutral look at things — to conclude that Dean shouldn't have to offer a fuller explanation for his allegations and, if he can't, apologize to Trump. And, by that same standard, someone should ask Clinton if she saw Dean's comments and whether she agrees or disagrees with what he said about her opponent.

Trump's sniffles dominate microphone at first debate (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)