Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton jumped the political shark with Reno rant against Donald Trump

This past Thursday, on August 25, Hillary Clinton launched a full rhetorical broadside against Donald Trump. She called him out as a racist, and for having built his campaign on "prejudice and paranoia."

However, Hillary Clinton also exposed several vulnerabilities in her own campaign:

1. Unlike Donald Trump, she does not have a transcript of her speech (or, indeed of any speech) posted on her campaign website. Donald Trump not only posts transcripts of all his prepared speeches (NOT his rally presentations, which are mainly extemporaneous performances), but he documents those transcripts with liberal footnoting and citation of sources.

Donald Trump cites facts and evidence, while Hillary Clinton does not, yet Donald Trump is the candidate trafficking in "paranoia"?

2. Hillary Clinton abandoned substantive policy statements to attack Trump for his "divisive rhetoric." That "divisive rhetoric" is Trump speaking out directly, forcefully, and even bluntly about problems not only within black communities, but across America. His "divisive rhetoric" IS substantive and IS about public policy--one can argue his assessment, criticize his conclusions, and pan his proposals, but one cannot realistically dismiss the fact that assessment, conclusion, and proposal is the stuff of which serious public policy discussions are made. Rather than attack Trump on policy, she abandoned all discussion of policy to attack Trump personally. Worse, she explicitly admitted as such in her opening sentences. For a supposed policy wonk to concede the policy battlefield to Trump seems a bizarre and unwise strategem.

3. She resurrected her claims of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" from the 90's -- now recast as the "alt-right" conspiracy. The claim was absurd then and it is absurd now, and for the same reason: conspiracies by their nature require a rather limited group of conspirators, and to link together all Trump surrogates, conservative media outlets, and alt-right social media personalities in a single organized cabal simply flies in the face of all observed behavior by the people involved. Even worse, she bizarrely claimed this conspiracy was masterminded and controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin--without a trace of irony she branded him as the "godfather" of an oxymoronic "global brand of extreme nationalism" (nationalist movements by their very nature are the antithesis of "global" anything).

4. As verbal barrages go, her attacks are largely weak and ineffective. Donald Trump has endured a steady stream of negative ads and campaign tactics since the middle of the GOP primaries and he's STILL running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton. The negative tactics and negative ads, and now Hillary's negative speech, simply are not moving the needle on Trump much, if at all. The negative campaigning to date has had the perverse effect of inoculating Trump against further attack, such that continued or even increased negative rhetoric against Donald Trump has little potential to pull Trump supporters into the Clinton camp.

On the other hand, there are reports from some Democratic circles that the extreme nature of Clinton's attack on Trump may alienate portions of the Democratic base--in particular those segments who were all in for Bernie Sanders.

5. With 76 days still to go before election day, Hillary Clinton has, quite simply, jumped the shark. Negative attacks, and even personal insults and slanders against a political opponent are hardly novel ideas for political campaigns. Yet to set aside presumably substantive policy remarks for an extended personal attack against Donald Trump begs the question "What does Hillary Clinton do for an encore?" How can she top this speech?

If this speech were to exist in a political vacuum, within a week or two its impact would be next to nil. For this speech to have lasting impact on Trump, Hillary Clinton has to keep repeating it, or at least keep repeating the talking points contained therein. And to ensure continued public focus on those talking points, she will have to keep making the charges more extreme, more noxious, and all the while each of those charges and talking points is time NOT spent discussing her public policy proposals and ideas. Worse, by focusing everything on Donald Trump, she is making sure Donald Trump's public policy proposals and ideas receive even more attention than they are now, while at the same time ensuring her own ideas are virtually ignored.

As Ted Cruz found out the hard way in the primaries, exchanging policy points for personal attacks quickly becomes a swamp of negativity that will drown a campaign. Hillary Clinton has not merely conceded a few policy points; she has abandoned policy altogether. After the Reno speech, her campaign strategy is now reduced to simply this: Donald Trump is evil.

It is very hard to envision a demonizing of The Donald as inspiring waves of Democratic voters to turn out and pull the lever for Hillary Clinton come Election Day.