The Corner

The Clinton Campaign Should Fear Donald Trump

The New York Times takes a look at “the Clinton plan to defeat Trump.”

[Clinton’s campaign manager Robbie] Mook and his colleagues regard Mr. Trump as a wily, determined and indefatigable opponent who seems to be speaking to broad economic anxieties among Americans and to the widely held belief that traditional politicians are incapable of addressing those problems. Publicly, the Clinton operation is letting the Republicans slug it out. But privately, it and other Democrats are poring over polling data to understand the roots of Mr. Trump’s populist appeal and building up troves of opposition research on his business career.

The range of outcomes for a Hillary-vs.-Trump contest seems pretty wide — Trump could be like Barry Goldwater in 1964 or he could be like Richard Nixon in 1972. A lot of Democrats are convinced that Trump’s an easily beaten, hateful clown, which sounds a lot like Jeb Bush’s thinking about a year ago.

There’s disagreement over how much head-to-head polling matters at this point; Hillary’s beating Trump pretty regularly. Obviously, the #NeverTrump Republicans make Trump’s task tougher. They argue, accurately, that Trump is neither a conservative nor anything resembling a traditional Republican. But that’s also why Hillary’s and the Democrats’ traditional playbooks probably aren’t going to work. Trump alienates some Republicans but also wins over certain Democrats. About 20,000 Massachusetts voters left the Democratic party this winter. Who do you think they’re voting for today?

Think about who Hillary has faced in her political career: Rick Lazio, John Spencer, and Barack Obama. She beat the two Republicans in Democrat-friendly New York state easily, then wore down in the 2008 slugfest against Obama. She’s stumbled against Bernie Sanders – the outsider tapping into anger with Washington, who bashes Wall Street and argues the system is rigged . . . and now she could face a GOP nominee who’s an outsider tapping into anger with Washington, who bashes Wall Street and who argues the system is rigged.

They’ll try the anti-Romney Bain playbook, and maybe it will work; on the other hand, Trump’s whole campaign is that he’s the traitor to his class, the big-business mogul who’s willing to take on corporate America for outsourcing jobs and hiring illegal immigrants. Can Hillary use early ads to define Trump as unacceptable, the man who won’t denounce the KKK and who has black students removed from his rallies? Sure. But Trump will argue Hillary’s the candidate of Black Lives Matter and Al Sharpton. She’ll argue he’s a bigot; he’ll argue she wants to let more Muslim terrorists into the country.

Trump will attack Hillary Clinton like she’s never been attacked. He’ll bring up Juanita Broderick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey early and often. He’ll argue she should be in jail over her private e-mail server. He’ll argue that anything she refuses to release, like transcripts of speeches to Wall Street, constitute dirty deals with special interests. He might accuse her of having a sham marriage, or that Webb Hubbell is Chelsea’s biological father. There are no limits with Trump, and Democrats should be nervous about Hillary’s ability to get into the mud with him and come out a winner.

Who looks more energetic? Which candidate looks like a fighter? Who’s offering simpler answers and a rosier vision of the near-future? Hillary Clinton is the status quo candidate in a furious political environment. Who do you think will respond better to a curveball, like another San Bernardino attack?

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