The New York Times reports on the Clinton campaign beginning to strategize about how to combat Donald Trump, nearing inevitability as the GOP nominee:
That strategy is beginning to take shape, with groups that support Mrs. Clinton preparing to script and test ads that would portray Mr. Trump as a misogynist and an enemy to the working class whose brash temper would put the nation and the world in grave danger. The plan is for those themes to be amplified later by two prominent surrogates: To fight Mr. Trump’s ability to sway the news cycle, Mr. Clinton would not hold back on the stump, and President Obama has told allies he would gleefully portray Mr. Trump as incapable of handling the duties of the Oval Office.
The basic strategy here is grounded in a key difference between the median voter in the general election and the median voter in GOP primaries. It turns out that the median voter in GOP primaries (or at least a very motivated third of Republican voters) likes the idea of a nationalist, authoritarian, no-nothing candidate who shape shifts on policy but stands up to the forces of political correctness that are ruining this country. They are jazzed for a populist who appeals to white identity politics.
The median general election voter, on the other hand, might decide that Trump is insane, or dangerous, or a monster, or bigoted, or a clown, or unqualified, or even a fascist. Or at least, um, a risky bet.
So the Clinton will make obvious points about the long history of Trump’s ugly shenanigans. It’s a good strategy.
Again, this doesn’t work when 30 to 50 percent of GOP voters love those ugly shenanigans, or don’t care. But the general election will feature lots of independents and even Republicans who consider Trump’s downsides (and the record is clear, long, and well known) to be disqualifying noxious or dangerous. The Clinton campaign will be playing that record on repeat.
While many GOPs proclaiming #NeverTrump now may eventually cave, the thing to keep in mind is that Trump will be a highly motivating force for GOTV efforts for minority voters and young liberals. This coalition, if they turn out, propelled Barack Obama to relatively easy victories. There is some question about whether Clinton will have as much success motivating the Obama coalition — and in particular she has had notable struggles with young voters in the primaries.
Here’s where Trump comes in as the perfect foil. There’s been a fair amount of research that the best way to motivate voters isn’t so much hope and change, it’s hatred of the other guy. Can you imagine a better engine to drive turnout among black voters, Hispanic voters, and young liberals than Donald Trump? It’s worth noting that Trump would enter the general election contest with a combination of nearly universal name recognition and atrocious unfavorable ratings that would make him a total outlier in the history of American presidential politics.
Hillary Clinton also has relatively poor unfavorables, but nowhere near the train wreck of Trump. If she faces off against Trump, she’ll spend less time on the hard job of convincing more voters to like her and more time on the easy job of reminding voters how much they hate Trump. Note the focus on bigotry to drive turnout among Democratic base voters and scare off independents; from the Times:
The greatest weapon against Mr. Trump, the Clintons believe, is his tendency to make outrageous, even hateful comments that can come across as unpresidential. During the most recent Republican debate on Thursday, Mr. Trump traded schoolyard taunts with his rivals and threatened to build an even bigger wall on the Mexican border because he did not like a rebuke of his original wall proposal by a former president of Mexico.
In South Carolina and Tennessee, Mrs. Clinton began to lay the groundwork for what advisers call “a campaign against bigotry,” in which she will present herself as the fair-minded foil to Mr. Trump. She declared that Americans needed more “love and kindness.”
“Instead of building walls,” she has started to say, “we need to be tearing down barriers.”
During the Republican debate on Thursday, the Clinton campaign posted an image on Instagram that said, “These are not American values: Racism, sexism, bigotry, discrimination, inequality.”
None of this means that Clinton would have the election in the bag. The Clinton campaign will, and should, take Trump seriously as a threat. He’s confounded expectations thus far and you never know. But he’s going to have much steeper climb convincing the general electorate than he’s had in routing the competition in the GOP primaries.
Greg Sargent at the Washington Post, who argues that Democrats must take the Trump threat very seriously, has more:
First, there are the attacks that are designed to tear Trump down in the eyes of core Dem constituencies (minorities, single women) and groups of gettable swing voters (suburbanites and college educated whites). This will rely heavily on attacking Trump’s temperament as unfit for the presidency and deeply dangerous on a global scale; highlighting Trump’s virulent xenophobia and degrading comments about immigrants, women, and Muslims; and his murky business dealings, which will be pressed into service to paint Trump as a scam artist who has fleeced working people.
You might call those the low-hanging-fruit attacks on Trump — the gimmes. After all, it’s easy to conclude Trump is a deeply toxic figure who would drive up turnout among core Dem groups in a huge way and dramatically alienate and frighten certain swing voters. That’s very likely to happen.
Just as important, Sargent argues, is an effort to deal directly with Trump’s populist appeal, the way his projection of strength appeals to voters who feel they have been cheated by the system. If Democrats can convince voters in Rust Belt swing states that Trump is a con man, not a savior, they could set themselves up to rout in the electoral college.
From the Times article, here’s the Big Dog’s take:
But others, including former President Bill Clinton, dismissed those conclusions as denial. They said that Mr. Trump clearly had a keen sense of the electorate’s mood and that only a concerted campaign portraying him as dangerous and bigoted would win what both Clintons believe will be a close November election.