Politics & Policy

The Trump and Clinton You See Are the Ones You Get

Clinton greets supporters in Brooklyn, N.Y., June 7, 2016. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

If you love Hillary Clinton just the way she is, you’re in luck.

If you adore Donald Trump and don’t want to ever see him change, congrats.

But if you’re a passionate liberal who is sour on Clinton and hoping that the “real Hillary” will break through, my advice to you is, “Start drinking heavily.”

Likewise, if you’re a committed and sincere conservative but just can’t get your head around the excitement over Trump, I’m afraid to tell you: This is it. Visions of a mature, disciplined, “presidential” Donald Trump are hallucinatory fantasies.

Don’t listen to the pundits and TV hosts asking, “Is this a new Hillary?” or, “Is this the Trump pivot we’ve been waiting for?” You’ll hear this in one form or another a kazillion times between now and Election Day. The political press wants drama — not just for ratings and readers, but for themselves. The prospect of this being as good as it gets is too depressing for them to contemplate, particularly given their complicity in delivering the choices before us.

Let’s start with Clinton. D.C. reporters have been writing variations of the “Is this a new Hillary Clinton?” thumbsucker since she was first introduced to the American people.

“Interviews with potential voters showed that Mrs. Clinton was unpopular in the role of chief policy adviser to her husband,” the New York Times reported around the time of Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. “And in April [1992], the Clinton campaign set out to remake her image.”

Since then, Clinton has had more costume changes than the cast of “Cabaret.” In no particular order, she’s been a feminist hero who scorned stay-at-home moms (standing by their man “like Tammy Wynette,” Clinton spat in one interview), a stay-at-home mom herself, a modern-day Eleanor Roosevelt ideologue, a moderate, a centrist, a neocon, a martyred wife standing by her man, a progressive. From her days as first lady of Arkansas through her stint as a carpetbagging senator in New York, she’s put on and taken off her maiden name more often than her husband removes his wedding ring.

The problem goes deeper than that. Clinton and her retinue have struggled to convince voters she’s . . . human.

“Back in the ’92 race, Clinton pollsters devised strategies to humanize her and make her seem more warm and maternal,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in 2007. “Fifteen years later, her campaign is devising strategies to humanize her and make her seem more warm and maternal.”

In 1995, Clinton’s advisors wanted her to go on the sitcom Home Improvement in order to “humanize her.” In 2015, her advisors told the Times her emails might help to “humanize” her because some of them mentioned TV shows she likes.

Team Clinton has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns since 1992, and they’re still trying to convince the public Hillary is human.

Think about it: Team Clinton has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns since 1992, and they’re still trying to convince the public Hillary is human.

Trump doesn’t have the same problem. He’s all too human.

One of the funniest parts of the spectacle that is the Trump campaign has been watching many of his biggest boosters talk about him like he’s a troubled teenager or an abusive spouse. He’ll get his act together! He can change! Deep down he’s good! And, most often: He can be presidential!

Even Trump gets in on the act.

“I’m, like, a really smart person. . . . Being presidential is easy,” he says as if he were an adolescent boasting, “I could do it if I wanted to.” Trump has said more than once: “I will be so presidential you won’t believe it” — after he’s elected, of course.

His ambassadors to the legions of us who don’t buy the con keep promising the presidential pivot is coming. The Dallas police shooting launched the latest round of pronouncements that he’s changed, or found discipline, or is listening to his advisers. So far, waiting for any of these metamorphoses to stick has been like waiting for Godot.

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It’s like one of those construction-site signs: “X Days Since an Accident.” The Trump campaign record for Days Since Unpresidential Mishap is, by my count, about three. (I restarted the clock when he interrupted his VP search to sue an ex-employee for $10 million and to — understandably if unpresidentially — question the mental capacity of a Supreme Court justice). That sign will never break double digits.

And while Hillary Clinton is a human, the campaign to “humanize” her is a lost cause, too.

Liberals and conservatives who pretend otherwise are fooling themselves, which is fine. But I wish they would stop trying to fool me.

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