The Corner

Clinton’s Anti-Trump Speech

Time has the transcript. A few thoughts on it:

1) Clinton’s basic argument is that Trump is unfit for the presidency because he is impulsive, reckless, ignorant, unserious, and bigoted. Last week I argued that this line of attack would be more effective than portraying Trump as a con man or a right-wing extremist. Perhaps the Clinton campaign now agrees, or perhaps it’s just trying out this tactic to see how it does.

2) As I noted then, this line of attack is not particularly ideological, and it seeks to appeal to people who lean to the right as well as to those who don’t. So it’s not surprising that the speech was not very ideological either. She even hit Trump for his attacks on Ronald Reagan during the 1980s.

3) One reason this line of attack could be effective: It contains a fair amount of truth.

4) Another reason it could be effective: Because it contains a lot of truth, there aren’t a lot of people defending Trump from it. Conservatives are concentrating their fire on the portions of the speech where Clinton made the case for her own record — which were the weakest portions. They’re not, by and large, arguing that Trump has consistently advocated a sensible approach to foreign policy that he can be trusted to pursue competently.

5) It’s an unusual line of attack. In the five presidential elections I’ve covered, each party nominee said that his rival would be a bad president (or already was a bad president). None of them invested heavily in making the case that the rival was unqualified to be president: that he didn’t even pass the threshold test.

6) Maybe there’s a silver lining to this line of attack for Trump. In the 2004 election, Democrats thought that voters had decided they opposed George W. Bush and that John Kerry merely needed to make himself an acceptable alternative. In the 2012 election, Republicans thought that voters had reached a negative judgment about Barack Obama and that Mitt Romney merely needed to establish himself as an acceptable alternative. Neither Kerry’s nor Romney’s assumptions were obviously wrong at the time, but they did turn out to be wrong. This time, though, maybe the assumption is right. Maybe, that is, all he will have to do to win is pass that threshold test.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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