It’s Trump versus Clinton. It’s a well-funded mainstream Democrat against a widely reviled demagogue who will struggle to earn the support of his party’s donor base. It’s a man whose every public utterance is a potential negative ad waiting to be cut, versus the most cautious candidate in modern memory. The Clinton campaign has been given a tremendous gift, as I am sure they know.
They better not fucking blow it.
There’s no need to panic yet. It’s still very unlikely that Donald Trump will be our next president. While Trump winning the nomination also seemed unlikely, the two situations differ in one pretty important respect: Trump consistently led in primary election polls since last summer. Meanwhile, he has basically never beaten Clinton head-to-head in general election polls.
The Clinton campaign can run the most (small-c) conservative campaign possible, focused solely on the toxicity of their opponent, and still probably win. This is basically what I expect them to do.
Or they could blow it.
Democrats could, for example, take their famously thin-skinned opponent, who is easily provoked into absurd and unpresidential tantrums when his insecurities are mocked, and they could bestow upon him a nickname that instead serves to reinforce his own (imagined) toughness.
They could call him, I don’t know, “Dangerous Donald.”
Democrats slap Trump with a nickname: Dangerous Donald.— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) May 5, 2016
That name is popping up over and over in conversations with top Dem operatives.
“Dangerous Donald.” Democrats are going with “Dangerous Donald.” Did they try testing “Sexy Donald” first? “Leather Jacket Donald”? Jared Leto lived in an abandoned insane asylum for a month to get into character as “Dangerous Donald.”
Since Tuesday, when Trump sealed the nomination, almost everything the Democrats have said about him has reinforced his own message. That night, Clinton campaign campaign chair John Podesta released this statement:
This was the first official Clinton campaign statement on Donald Trump the presumptive presidential nominee, and it contains most of the hallmarks of Clinton messaging. See, for example, how the Bush-esque “keep our nation safe in a dangerous world” comes before the boilerplate “working families” language. Then comes the first iteration of their main anti-Trump line: “With so much at stake, Donald Trump is simply too big of a risk.”
The problem with that line of argument is that it’s Donald Trump’s argument for his candidacy: Conventional politicians and conventional politics haven’t worked—so take a gamble on the ultimate outsider. “Donald Trump is simply too big of a risk” is practically daring people to give him a shot. He might pay off!
Since then, Clinton has repeatedly referred to Trump as a “loose cannon”
"I don't think we can take a risk on a loose cannon like Donald Trump running our country." —Hillaryhttps://t.co/xcbYMepYdX— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) May 4, 2016
“He’s a loose cannon, and loose cannons tend to misfire.”
(Actually, a “loose cannon” isn’t one that misfires, it’s one that breaks free of its restraints and dangerously rolls around the ship.)
Trump is reckless, unstable, “dangerous.” Clinton is sober and responsible—a steady hand on the tiller. The safe choice versus the unpredictable renegade who might say or do anything. It’s a good thing Americans aren’t traditionally drawn to unpredictable renegades!
The Clinton campaign has also pushed this web ad, featuring prominent Republicans brutally criticizing Trump:
Republicans agree: Donald Trump is reckless, dangerous, and divisive. https://t.co/fUkISvxMmc— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) May 5, 2016
This ad isn’t bad, and it doesn’t necessarily indicate, as some have worried, that the Clinton campaign will focus too much energy on winning over disgruntled Republican voters. It’s fine to try to depress the other side’s turnout, and it’s important to try to undermine The Great Legitimizing that the Republican party (and the objective political press) will soon undertake.
But remember one thing as you watch this: The Republican Party is hugely unpopular. The people criticizing Trump in this video are unpopular. Ted Cruz is unpopular. Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch vulture capitalist who lost the last election after he insulted half the country. This is a parade of unlikable people from a hated institution saying they can’t stand Donald Trump.
“Dangerous Donald,” the “loose cannon,” hated by loser Republicans, capable of doing anything. This is all straight out of the orange idiot’s dream journal.
And it is apparently the line the Democrats have decided to take. They’re going to build Trump up as a reckless and virile force of nature—and a true outsider—rather than expose him as a pitiful clown and an obvious fraud. This is completely backwards. As any writer who’s ever received an angry personal response from Trump can tell you, you get under his skin by mocking and emasculating him, not by feeding the myth of his power and strength, the precise qualities his authoritarian followers adore.
So, look: I’m not saying the Democrats are definitely going to blow it. But they’re more than capable of blowing it.