Hillary Clinton would do well to heed the adage: Be careful what you wish for. She’s been wishing that Donald Trump would be her Republican rival for the White House and now she’ll likely get her wish. But battling Trump will not be as easy as she thinks. After all, he’s already toppled one political dynasty.
The thinking in the Clinton camp that a match-up with Trump would gift her the White House is quickly vanishing and a new reality is taking hold, with some Democrats questioning whether she can succeed where the might and money of the Republican establishment has failed in its efforts to halt Trump.
The reality check has been jump-started by someone who can never be accused of underestimating his opponents or overestimating his party — Bill Clinton.
The former president knows that while his wife may be coasting to the Democratic nomination in June she will have the fight of her life on her hands in a general election match-up with Trump. He’s now playing a central role in shaping the direction of her campaign, which is evolving into a triple-pronged strategy. This involves portraying Clinton as a uniter and a healer, with her husband acting as the attack dog in chief and president Barack Obama as the voice of experience touting his former secretary of state’s credentials for the Oval Office.
Indeed, Obama has begun taking swipes at Trump with increasing frequency. “Being president is a serious job. It’s not hosting a talk show or a reality show,” he said recently. “It’s hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right. And it’s not a matter of pandering and doing whatever will get you in the news on a given day.”
To underscore the point, he added his successor would have “the nuclear codes and can order 21-year- olds into a firefight.” Clinton herself, emboldened by her victories on Super Tuesday that brought the Democratic nomination nearer, has also began trying out the strategy. Her message is simple: Trump is dividing people, while she wants to unite them.
She’s taking Trump’s slogan about making America “great again” and throwing it back at him.
“We don’t need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great,” she’s declared. “But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers.”
Her husband, who has been through the Republican wringer before during the Lewinsky scandal, is likely to excel in his attack dog role and can be expected to use Trump’s incendiary comments about immigrants, minorities, and women to portray him as a bigoted demagogue unfit for the highest office in the land.
Trump himself made this task easier in recent days when he failed to reject the support of David Duke, a former leader of the white supremacist Klu Klux Klan.
“To fight Mr Trump’s ability to sway the news cycle, Mr Clinton would not hold back on the stump,” the New York Times said about the strategy. “And President Obama has told allies he would gleefully portray Mr Trump as incapable of handling the duties of the Oval Office.” But it’s one thing to have a plan and a message and it’s quite another thing to stick to them.
If Clinton can stick to her message she can probably make a strong case against Trump, but if he derails her along the way and she goes off message, she could be doomed. And that’s what Trump is likely to try to do.
His scorched-earth approach that has brought the Bush dynasty and over a dozen other Republican rivals to their knees will now be directed unrelentingly at Clinton.
He will be aiming to drag her into the dirt with him and goad her into losing her cool and becoming incoherently angry, so that in the end, her message is lost on voters and it becomes a case of a plague on both your houses, potentially resulting in many Democrats sitting out the election on November 8.
In a national CNN poll this week, Clinton tops Trump 52% to 44%. Still, Clinton will have to fight for every vote. She has shown she has overwhelming support among African-Americans and older women, but she is fighting an uphill battle to attract white male voters and younger voters.
Trump knows very well that Clinton is a smart politician but he also knows she isn’t necessarily a smart campaigner — she’s a policies person not a people person, unlike her husband who was both. So if she is to succeed she will need to be extremely disciplined.
She won’t win simply by being anti-Trump. She must also have a positive message and project it firmly and fearlessly.
But while Clinton is busy appealing to the better nature of Americans, Trump will hardly be sitting on his hands. In Republican debates, he has already made clear he’ll fight a no-holds- barred campaign against her. “I can tell you the one person that Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to run against is me,” he recently declared.
He says she should be indicted for her use of a private email server as secretary of state and this should disqualify her from running for office. He also says her husband’s extramarital affairs were “fair game” as an issue in the election because they were an “abuse of women”. He also took aim at her after his Super Tuesday’s victories. “What she did [with the email server] is a criminal act,” he said. “Other people have done far less than her and they’ve paid a very big price.” But, like Clinton, Trump doesn’t have the nomination in the bag yet and well-funded conservative organisations are still trying to halt his march to victory at the party’s nominating convention in July. There is also a major effort brewing among Republicans in Congress to try to block him before he essentially seals the deal on March 15 if he prevails in the winner- takes-all Florida primary, where the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows him leading rival and Florida native son Marco Rubio by 44% to 28%.
Both parties’ primaries will continue until June but by the end of this month, more than 40% of delegates will have been awarded and Clinton and Trump will likely be getting ready for what is shaping up to be one of the ugliest battles in American political history.