How to turn Trump’s vicious personal attacks into an attack on all Americans
Hillary Clinton in Michigan August 11, 2016.
We shouldn’t underestimate what Hillary Clinton is facing when she steps on the stage for the first presidential debate next week.
Donald Trump may or may not be a master debater — I’ll leave that to Politifact. But he’s definitely damn good at TV.
He’s so good at TV that it’s helped him erase a constant stream of failures and humiliations in his business life that would normally doomed other fortunate sons. And it helped him overcome his complete lack of public service or conservative credentials in the Republican Primary.
Donald Trump is so good at TV that he’s probably changed the way presidential candidates will campaign forever, understanding that confidence and entertainment value matter far more than competence or empathy — at least in a Republican primary.
What Trump lacks in basic decency and concern for the truly vulnerable, he makes up for in his ability to give voice to scared people’s darkest needs.
He understood that the Republican base wasn’t looking for a doctrinaire Madisonian conservative who avidly quotes from the Federalist Papers with sly allusions to Goldwater’s 1964 campaign. They were looking for someone who was willing to put a black man and a woman in their place.
And he was willing to do that in a way no other Republican would have dared, mostly for fear of having to eventually show your face in polite society or a lobbyist firm. Trump has worn away all shame with decades of media manipulation and various sad grifts that lead to others — including all U.S. taxpayers — financing his ridiculous lifestyle.
So how should Hillary Clinton handle Donald Trump?
This is a woman whose entire career has been built on assuring people that feared her intellect and ambition that above all else she is cautious. Her measured drive has brought her to this remarkable point in history. Now she not only stands on the verge of radically expanding our notions of a woman’s place in the world, but she is also the civilized world’s last best hope for stopping Donald Trump.
Symbolically, nothing could be more crucial. But on a practical level, this election will decide so much. The health insurance of 18 million are on the ballot, as are the fates of 11 million immigrants, the Supreme Court and the planet itself.
Little things like that.
So how do you stand on stage facing a power-ravenous narcissist who you know will do anything to destroy you?
Well, the good news I think the Clinton team has the right answer: Don’t make it about you. This is from a recent Clinton fundraising email:
One way to defuse Trump’s attacks is to preempt them by saying, “I know you are going to try to humiliate me. That’s fine. I’m getting used to it. But what I won’t let you do is degrade a Gold Star family, a federal judge who put drug kingpins away, a minister in Flint who has fought to keep her community from despair…”
You get it.
If she can make Trump’s attacks on her feel like attacks on other Americans, she takes away his biggest weapon. And if she takes it a step further and points out that Trump’s disgraceful tone is an attack on the decency of American itself, she may take him out at the knees.
Hey, even Carly Fiorina was kind of able to do it:
The easiest thing in the world is to give advice to someone in the toughest position imaginable. I hate to be one of the people who seems to be suggesting that Hillary Clinton and her campaign don’t know what they’re doing. They do. You don’t become the top vote-getter in the history of presidential primaries by accident.
And she has only grown braver as this election has worn on. She may not have used the perfect words but by calling out the deplorable elements of the Trump campaign she clearly marked the beginning of a new era in Democratic politics where resentments aren’t nurtured and diversity is fully embraced, as Bill Scher explained.
No one should imagine what Hillary Clinton about to face is easy. And no matter what she says, she’ll be up there for all of us.
[Image by the great Anne Savage.]