A few days ago I wrote that Hillary Clinton was preparing herself for a long, hard slog against Donald Trump by trying out her message in a new TV ad to air in New York. Some people thought I was therefore suggesting Trump would be hard to beat in the general election.
To clarify, I believe no such thing, but I do believe running against Trump, should he be able to successfully navigate the nomination process, will be a tedious and soul destroying affair.
As if on cue, The Washington Post published a story today noting that HRC’s “allies are planning an aggressive, sober defence of their candidate in response to Donald Trump’s trademark personal attacks, which have begun to come her way.”
Following his characterizations of Cruz as “lying’ Ted, Bush as “low energy” and Marco Rubio as “little Marco, Trump’s plan, the story continues, is to label Clinton as weak and incompetent.
In a twist that seems an awful lot like the Clinton team planting a story, Hillary’s supporters are claiming they believe Trump will intentionally zero in on “a character trait they see as her key strength – her work ethic.”
They think the Republican front-runner is trying to neutralize that strength and turn it into a weakness, with insinuations about Clinton’s health, fatigue level and even her appearance.
Sure, Clinton has made gaffes some have attributed to fatigue on the campaign trail, and Trump has foolishly made statements suggesting Clinton doesn’t have the stamina necessary to be president, but I’d be surprised if he went too far down that road.
As for whether Trump could restrain himself from criticizing her appearance, I wouldn’t want to guess, but it will take all the discipline he can muster not to.
And then there is the issue of attacking her competence, which would certainly be red meat for the GOP base, but will “swayable” voters really view Clinton as incompetent? Not likely.
Everyone knows she’s whip-smart and will make short work of Trump on any debate stage. Nor do I think painting her as weak will have much resonance.
An axiom in campaigning is that attacks work best when there is some credibility to the allegation. These just don’t make sense since, frankly, there are so many other more credible things to say about Clinton that people are more ready to believe, i.e., that she’s dishonest, conniving, vindictive, emotionally distant, and just plain unlikeable. You’ll notice the Clinton team didn’t float any of these as potential Trump attacks, because they are the ones that could work.
Again, if it is Clinton v. Trump for the main event, I think she’ll win easily, but it will be a long, hard, annoying slog. The interesting questions, given Trump’s track record, are what approach will he take to diminish her, what kind of name-calling will he use to get under her skin, and will he have the discipline to avoid attacks that will only blow back on him?
On a final note, so far Trump has been most proud of his snide comments about Bill’s infidelities and how that reflects on Hillary, calling her an enabler. And maybe that kind of approach will work for a man who once appeared on a Playboy magazine cover. Anything’s possible.
As someone who has supported Hillary Clinton from the start, one thing about which I feel fairly confident is that she will give as good as she gets, and won’t wait too long to respond to the crap Trump will say, as so many of his GOP rivals did.
Remember that she is a veteran of the 1992 Bill Clinton war room in which James Carville famously said, “let no attack go unanswered, let no opportunity go unexploited.”