ALISON O'CONNOR: Hillary must be at top of her game in the run-in, or it’s President Trump

The clock is ticking all to quickly towards polling day and the first presidential debate with Trump is on Monday, writes Alison O’Connor.

The date for the US election is creeping closer and with it the growing fear that a man so obnoxious he almost defies description will end up as president of America.

There are more than 320m people living in the US and while unscientific, it seems as if there are that many, if not more, globally, wishing for an outcome where Donald Trump does not end up in the White House with his finger on the ‘nuclear button;”.

The election takes place on November 8, which gives Hillary Clinton six weeks to save us from this nightmare scenario. That is no easy task in an election where the greatest casualty so far has been the truth. Fact-checking appears to have become an almost redundant process, in what commentators have dubbed ‘this post-truth political world’. The Trump supporters, who are in, as Clinton described it, “the basket of deplorable”, appear to have little if no regard for truth.

There are simply too many examples of Trump’s porkies; their utter disconnection from truth and accuracy too numerous to list. But it’s worth remembering just one particular instance from earlier this year. Following a Trump town hall meeting in Wisconsin, the Huffington Post examined a 12,000 word transcript. They found 71 separate instances in which Trump made a claim that was inaccurate, misleading, or deeply questionable. In other words, one falsehood every 169 words or 1.16 falsehoods every minute. The meeting lasted an hour. Yet a poll this week for Bloomberg Politics found that only 25% rated Hillary as honest, compared with 26% for Trump.

Despite acres more evidence of Trump’s utter disregard for the truth, it is Clinton who gets the most stick for an apparent lack of honesty. Granted, she does not help her own case. The most recent example of this was her bout of pneumonia, which she only ‘fessed up to after a near-collapse at the 9/11 memorial.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Rather than concentrate on the impressive fact that she had powered on regardless of feeling so unwell, the coverage mainly surrounded the secrecy with which it was handled. As David Axelrod, once President Obama’s top political adviser, tweeted at the time: “Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia. What’s the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?” he tweeted.

The truth is that Clinton is far more open than Trump in many important ways, such as having published her tax return and a detailed medical report. However, there is no escaping the fact that, since the early days of husband Bill’s political career, her natural reaction has been to conceal rather than reveal.

The tendency towards secrecy goes back as far as Whitewater, the failed real estate investment in Arkansas, up to the Benghazi attack when she was secretary of state, through to the using of a private email server during her time in that office. But to put that in context, this is also a woman who has been under attack from the time her husband sought public office, whether it was for wanting to keep her own surname, to pursuing a career after she had a baby, to the way she dressed and styled her hair. It almost seems too obvious a point to make, but there was also the humiliation she suffered when her husband’s sexual encounters with a White House intern made international headlines and ended up in his impeachment.

There is the additional, seemingly contradictory, factor of how the Clintons do amazing work globally through their eponymously titled foundation, but equally have been accused of frequently taking money from world leaders keen to win influence with them.

Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent with the Washington Post, recalls in a WNYC Studios ‘On the Media’ podcast how, almost two decades ago, she was doing her first ever cover story for Time magazine on Clinton turning 50. One of her main problems, as she recalled it, was trying to humanise her.

Tumulty spoke of how incredibly charming and funny Clinton can be off the record but the minute a reporter opens a notebook “the gates come down”. On a foreign trip, Clinton was out for dinner with a bunch of journalists, including Tumulty, where she was “absolutely charming”.

Hillary must be at top of her game in the run-in, or it’s President Trump

Her daughter Chelsea had recently started college and she told them of how she missed her so much that she would sneak into Chelsea’s bedroom in the White House and sit there and mourn her absent daughter. One day the door opened and it was Bill. He had been doing exactly the same thing.

Tumulty asked if she could have the story on the record for the Time cover, but was told “absolutely not” by Clinton’s team, who said she never spoke about Chelsea on the record.

“All was for naught until, a few days later, I did a phone interview with the president,” said Tumulty. “One leading question, he was going to drop that story on me so fast, and he did. I was able to use the anecdote because Bill totally understood what I was going at here, just one kind of humanising little anecdote. But she is just so defensive on stuff like that.”

It is in many ways understandable that Clinton seems to believe the media is an unsatiable monster — remaining satisfied with morsels of information for only very brief periods and then always demanding more. But the flip side is that this is a woman who has been dealing with the media for almost four decades and she should surely be a little smarter by now in how she manages this all-important relationship.

The clock is ticking all to quickly towards polling day and the first presidential debate with Trump is on Monday. It is expected to be the most watched televised political debate ever. Whatever else he may lack, Trump certainly has the showmanship for such an occasion. Clinton, not a naturally gifted public speaker, is going to have to be at the top of her game.

She has acknowledged that people have questions about her. Some of it is justifiable interest, such as the email servers, other stuff, such as her marriage, could come under plain nosiness. It is also clear she would rather have root canal dental treatment than reveal more of herself, or to be seen to explain certain actions.

It may be on this rock that she perishes. If she does, the rest of us will be left looking at President Donald Trump.

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