HILLARY Clinton is poised to step into history today as the first woman to claim the Democratic nomination for the White House.
But the most brutal stage of her battle against Republican, Donald Trump, is about to begin. Both candidates have historically-high unfavorable ratings, which plays into Trump’s plan to make this a race to the bottom: 56% of voters view Trump unfavorably and 49% do Clinton.
So if Trump can pound away at Clinton’s negatives and shift the spotlight from her impressive CV, he could dent her campaign. He will target security issues raised by her use of a private email server during her work as secretary of state, and he will also question the finances of the charitable Clinton Foundation. He will mercilessly paint her as an ‘enabler’ in the sex scandal that engulfed her husband, Bill Clinton, when Bill was president in the 1990s.
But in interviews at the time, Trump expressed sympathy for Bill Clinton and said he should just refuse to answer questions about his sex life.
But people expect Trump to play dirty, so he could rattle Clinton by getting her to play the game his way. She might do well to heed a favourite saying of her husband’s: ‘Never wrestle with a pig — you get dirty and the pig likes it.’ But the wrestling has already started. She fired the first salvo, in a foreign policy speech on June 2, that turned into a no-holds- barred attack on Trump. She ridiculed his lack of political experience and painted him as “temperamentally unfit” to be commander-in-chief.
She will also confront him about his incendiary remarks about Muslims, Hispanics, women and other minorities, and raise questions about the fraud allegations surrounding the real estate courses at his self-styled Trump University. He is facing three class action lawsuits, which he denies.
Their campaign rallies will rev up once their parties formally crown them at nominating conventions at the end of July. But the biggest test will be on September 26, when the first presidential debate will be held. It will be broadcast live on half-a-dozen TV networks across the country and the two candidates will be scrutinised closely for the first time by millions of voters. Clinton will have to keep her cool, reject Trump’s bait, stay on-message and seem a safe pair of hands. Trump must show he has the temperament for the job and a sound grasp of foreign and domestic policies.
Both will be ready to pounce and exploit any blunders by the other. But on October 9, both will have another chance to impress, in the second debate. The final debate will follow on October 19, when both candidates will be on their guard against any ‘October surprise’, which can influence the vote in the final weeks before election day, in November. But the most famous ‘October surprise’ might or might not have happened.
On November 4, 1979, in the final year of Jimmy Carter’s term as president, 52 Americans were taken captive by Iranians who stormed the US embassy in Tehran. Carter worked feverishly, right up to election day, to have them freed, but he failed, and Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, won the election.
Then, just 20 minutes after Reagan ended his inaugural address, on January 20, 1981, Iran announced the release of the hostages. The timing sparked allegations that some in Reagan’s campaign had conspired with Iran to delay the release, until after the election, to thwart Carter from pulling off an ‘October surprise’ that might have won him re-election. Both houses of Congress concluded the allegations lacked supporting documentation.
This election’s ‘October surprise’ could be the release of the findings of a congressional investigation of the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. That was during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The charge is that beefed-up security might have prevented the attack. The committee is considering whether Clinton’s use of her own email server for her official work could have compromised security.
But a negative finding against her may not necessarily stick, because the credibility of the Republican-led committee has long been questioned by Democrats and, ironically, Clinton’s poll numbers rose last year, after she testified before the committee for 12 hours on live television and emerged largely unscathed.
In Trump’s case, the October surprise could be fresh revelations about Trump University or court rulings in the cases against him in New York and California. Another problem for him could be his income taxes, which he, unlike previous presidential candidates, has refused to release. Any last-minute upset for either candidate could have serious consequences in a race that is likely to be close. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found it to be an extremely tight race in several vital swing states. But the polls later in the campaigns, and after the debates in September and October, are more accurate.
Meanwhile, the electoral college map favours Clinton. The popular vote in the US translates into a number of electoral college votes from each state. There are 540 such electoral votes and a candidate needs 270 to win. If Clinton were to take all of the states that President Barack Obama won in 2012, as well as North Carolina, which he also won in 2008, it would put her over the 270 needed.
But if Trump were to improve his margin by 10 percentage points, he could snatch victory from her.