Worst Presidential Campaign
It has been an ugly campaign in the world’s greatest democracy. A demagogue with no regard for truth swept all before him in the Republican primaries, and is unexpectedly running close to, or ahead of Hillary Clinton. Clinton had a hard time putting Bernie Sanders away, and now, even with Sanders’ vocal support, she’s having difficulty pulling in all his voters, and even more, independent voters.
Trump is disliked and distrusted by a solid majority of the electorate. And yet he is within reach of winning this election. Why?
Trump has gotten away with a seemingly endless series of egregious assaults on the dignity of women, Latinos, African Americans, seemingly everyone but white males. He’s praised Vladimir Putin as a strong leader when there’s good reason to believe that he has business interests in Russia that would pose a conflict of interest if he were president. He has invited Putin to intervene in the American electoral process. Investigations into his business past show a long series of scams, unpaid bills, and lawsuits. He takes credit for donations to charity that he hasn’t actually made, and for grants from his foundation when he hasn’t put his own money into it in years. His taxes and personal finances are opaque. He is disliked and distrusted by a solid majority of the electorate. And yet he is within reach of winning this election. Why?
The main reason is Hillary Clinton, who could be a great president, but who is a poor politician. She has been the focus of a quarter century Republican campaign to undermine her credibility in the eyes of the public, a campaign that has worked so well that even a minority of Democrats doubt her integrity. But her responses to this defamation have too often fed into the Republican narrative.
The famous email controversy is illustrative. Knowing that her Republican enemies would use any error against her, she decided to bend State Department rules to keep her emails off the official network. She apparently didn’t consider that this could not be kept secret, and would be used against her. The GOP narrative is that she is dishonest and opaque, and the emails enabled them to make that case and keep her on the defensive.
This past weekend, Clinton suffered through two ordeals, that further deepened her vulnerabilities. The first was at a fundraiser where (in an eerie replay of Mitt Romney’s fatal gaffe in 2012) she categorized half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorable” racists. Maybe this is true, but she was foolish to say it. That she did say it may be attributable to her other ordeal, a diagnosis of pneumonia that she chose to ignore and keep secret. She was just not at the top of her game on Friday, and then nearly collapsed at the 9/11 commemoration on Sunday. Then she had to reveal the pneumonia, thereby supporting the narrative of her opaqueness. Moreover, Trump has been saying for weeks that she has serious health problems. He had no evidence before, but now he has it.
Clinton could lose this election to one of the great con men in history. That would be a tragedy, not only because of the damage Trump could do to our country but to the world. It would be tragic also because the real Hillary Clinton, behind the defamatory Republican narrative, behind her own clumsy responses, has been a distinguished public servant her whole adult life, working pragmatically for progressive causes like health care. She is one of the most qualified candidates for president in our history, and there is good reason to expect that she would be a fine president. As a candidate, not so much.