June 4, 2016
Just another week in paradise. In the span of 96 hours, Donald Trump tore the press a new one. Hillary Clinton ripped him to shreds in a foreign policy address. Trump continued to attack Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the man presiding over the Trump University lawsuit, claiming his Mexican heritage left him unable to show fairness. Protestors attacked Trump supporters outside an event in San Jose. Clinton blamed Trump for creating the environment that led to the violence against his supporters.
There was more, but that’s more than enough. That’s part of Hillary’s problem. There’s just too much here. Her speech was well received. In it she raised the specter of an unhinged Trump with access to the nuclear codes. It’s not a bad way to hit him. Even some voters planning on voting for Trump don’t think he has the temperament for the job.
His poll numbers on that measure are generally lower than his overall support. Various individuals from the campaign have conceded it’s a hurdle he needs to clear to win in November. With the speech coming directly after Trump’s tirade against his media questioners, you can see the construct of a dangerous Trump, someone who could torpedo the economy in a trade war, act rashly with the military, etc.
Then there’s the racist thing. If Hillary wants to reconstruct the Obama coalition and remind youthful Bernie supporters (many of whom are non-white) that Trump must be stopped, criticizing him for comments about Mexican judges (especially those born in Indiana), is a good start. Already, voter registration among Latinos is way up in recent months. If she can hang Trump with his own statements, it increases her odds and those of taking the Senate back.
A steady stream of Trump’s own statements would provide Clinton all the ammunition she needs. It’s easy to see how going down this path would become irresistible. But neither the madman, nor the bigot is her best way to take Trump down. The path to his destruction is through the depiction of fraud.
If Clinton wants to create a giant edifice of fear, one that will force even those who are distrustful of her to go to the polls to stop him, the foundation, walls, and roof, are built on revealing Trump as a charlatan. All the rest is stucco. This isn’t a new concept.
Marco Rubio gave it a go for a few days prior to the March 1 primaries. It was when he belatedly pivoted to slam the front runner, saying “friends don’t let friends vote for con artists.” Not a bad line. Not a bad thought. But overshadowed by comments about the size of The Donald’s hands. When his results at the polls weren’t what they hoped for, Team Rubio shut down the anti-Trump push, throwing Trump University out with the bathwater.
Next up was Ted Cruz and the #NeverTrump forces. They were all over the place. Trump University was hardly mentioned. Cruz continued to question Trump’s conservatism, and the #NeverTrumpers failed to commit to any strong program of attack after Wisconsin gave them an opening. We can assume Hillary will neither let up, nor accuse Trump of being insufficiently to the right.
Sticking to the fraud message requires more discipline. While one week like this past one won’t sink Trump by itself (in fact, we are still waiting for evidence it hurt him at all), both his intemperance and racially directed comments were the result of queries into his legitimacy. The press conference was called to defend himself against charges of failing to distribute money raised for veterans groups.
The judge had recently allowed documentation from the Trump University case to enter the public sphere. When faced with charges of fraud, Trump attacks. When he attacks, the temperament issue is front and center. When he attacks, he’s prone to say things that will inspire voters of color to register and turn out to vote against him. If Clinton wants to keep the pressure on him, she needs to direct 100% of her fire in this direction.
Trump University is one pillar. It can’t be that hard to find students to appear in TV and web spots. After the document release, several ex-employees of the venture were very willing to speak out publicly, and not favorably. It appears Trump was at least somewhat involved in the overall marketing and sales pitch.
The time between clinching the nomination and the convention is when Bill Clinton successfully defined Bob Dole, George W. Bush Swift Boated John Kerry, and Barack Obama roasted Mitt Romney over the Bain Capital fire. Unless he decides to throw significant extra funds into the venture, Trump is cash poor from now until the official nomination opens up RNC funds for him.
Mark Cuban has reviewed Trump’s latest personal financial disclosures and maintains the man who says he’s worth $10 billion has a comparatively modest $165 million in available cash, bonds, and securities to pull from to fund himself. Even Trump calculates a large portion of his wealth is tied up in the value of his brand.
It’s not easy to sell a golf course or Manhattan building in a couple of weeks. Even if he has a couple billion in real estate holdings, they aren’t quickly liquidated. He’s likely invested as much of his available capital as he’s comfortable with. This puts extra pressure on him to control the media narrative and say particularly pungent things.
If the Clinton campaign can move between referring to Trump University as a giant scam, running ads with ex-employees and ex-students, and calling him out on greatly exaggerating his net worth, maintaining he won’t release his tax returns because he’s afraid to show his relatively modest position, and running another series of ads highlighting his business failures, the pressure will mount.
He was willing to go pretty far this week to divert attention from lagging on the veterans distributions and the substance of the Trump University documents. If Team Hillary can ratchet things up another level, who knows what The Donald might do? If nothing else, it would help answer the question about how much of his approach is strategy and tactics and how much is simply acting out when challenged and getting some results from it.
If Hillary wants to conclusively prove Trump doesn’t have the temperament to lead the free world, the best way to get there is a constant, unrelenting attack on his legitimacy as a businessman. She can’t try to find a different message for each voter group. If she wants to close down the Sanders movement and have momentum heading into the convention, she needs to fixate, not chase every available target.
Her team says they’ve learned from where Jeb, Rubio, Cruz, et al went wrong. Time to show that’s so.