We may have just seen the Democratic nominees opening salvo against Donald Trump in next fall’s general election campaign for president, and it isn’t pretty.
Trump, according to the Democrats, is a “pathological liar” and a xenophobic demagogue who is fast becoming a propaganda pawn for ISIS. He’s doing that by alienating the world’s Muslim population and making it harder for the U.S. to rally support among Arab countries to battle terrorists.
The full-throated attacks against Trump at the Democratic debate in New Hampshire Saturday night made by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley signal the growing recognition that the bombastic billionaire will likely sew up the GOP presidential nomination next year. Their comments also reflect the Democrats’ undisguised glee that Trump will be the GOP’s 2016 standard-bearer.
While Trump has been pulverizing his Republican rivals in the national polls and many of the key statewide contests – with only Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida demonstrating the potential strength to overtake him – Trump’s overall negatives are high and he does poorly in hypothetical matchups with Clinton and Sanders in the general election.
Indeed, a new Fox News poll showing Trump leading the crowded field of GOP candidates nationally with 39 percent of the likely Republican vote also has him trailing Clinton by 11 points in a general election matchup, 49 percent to 38 percent. Just a month ago, Trump was leading Clinton in a similar matchup by five percentage points.
At least for now, Trump would make the weakest Republican nominee in the general election. By contrast, Rubio leads Clinton by two points (45 percent to 43 percent) in a hypothetical matchup while Cruz and Clinton are tied at 45 percent apiece among overall voters.
Trump has consistently stolen the spotlight from his Republican opponents with his over the top pronouncements and policies. He would bomb ISIS terrorists into oblivion and kill their families. He would bar most Muslims from entering the United States until the threat of additional domestic terrorism is brought under control. He would arrest and deport 11 million illegal immigrants in this country. He would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and force the Mexican government to pay for it. And he would undo much of Obama’s foreign policy deals – including the recent nuclear non-proliferation pact with Iran and a pending Asian trade agreement.
Trump has also made fantastic or patently untrue statements, including, “I watched thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheer as the World Trade Center fell” after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and that Obama planned to admit 250,000 Syrian refugees into the country.
Trump’s bluster, dishonest rhetoric and reckless campaigning style have proved to be very useful to him in galvanizing a substantial share of the GOP’s conservative base and Republican-leaning independents in the primaries and caucuses. But many Democratic and Republican leaders believe Trump’s approach will discourage moderate party members, independents, Hispanics and minorities in a hard-fought general election campaign. Or at least that’s what many are hoping.
“I think he would be wiped out in a general election,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a GOP presidential candidate running near the back of the pack, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday’s “State of the Union” program. “He has bits of populism but no consistent conservative philosophy.”
Sanders spelled out the ultimate Democratic critique of Trump during a post-debate appearance on the ABC News’ This Week: “I say this straight-forwardly, I think you have a pathological liar there.” Sanders went on to say that Trump is “playing on the fears and anxieties of the American people” regarding terrorism, the economy and massive income inequality in the U.S.
“So instead of having a rational discussion about how we rebuild the middle class, how we deal with Wall Street, how we have a tax system in which the wealthiest start paying their fair share of taxes, what Trump is saying is that ‘It’s all the Muslims’ fault, it’s all the Mexicans’ fault . . . because it’s an easy solution.”
“This is what demagogues all over the world historically have done,” he added.
Clinton strongly echoed this theme during the Democratic debate, saying, “I worry greatly that the rhetoric coming from the Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, is sending a message to Muslims here in the United States, and particularly around the world, that there is a clash of civilizations.
She added that Trump’s anti-Muslim talk in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., “fans the flames of radicalization” and that “He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter.”
Trump, took umbrage over the way Sanders and Clinton characterized him during the two-hour Democratic debate in Manchester, N.H. He was especially piqued by Clinton’s assertion that ISIS was using video of Trump’s statements to incite Muslims against the United States.
Trump quickly tweeted Saturday night that “Hillary Clinton lied” about the ISIS videos, and he apparently was justified in his complaint. A spokesperson for Clinton’s campaign told Chuck Todd on Sunday’s Meet the Press they could cite no specific example of such an ISIS produced video.
In a separate interview Sunday with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump repeated his attack on Clinton for making the unfounded claim that ISIS recruiters were using videos of Trump insulting Islam and Muslims. “Knowing the Clintons and knowing Hillary, she made it up,” Trump said.
Trump then launched into a long, rambling discourse on world affairs and defense, berating Obama and Clinton for pursuing disastrous and stupid policies in the Middle East while heaping praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin after Putin publicly described Trump to reporters as a smart, tough leader.
Trump said he thinks he would “get along fine” with Putin if he wins election, and seemed to go out of his way to defend Putin from criticism of ruthless international action, such as his invasion of the Ukraine, or his crackdown on domestic dissidents and journalists.
“If Putin respects me and if Putin wants to call me brilliant . . . I’ll accept that, and I’ll accept it on behalf of our country,” Trump said. Trump sharply criticized Obama’s relationship with the Russian leader, saying that Putin “can’t stand our president, and it’s causing us difficulty.” He insisted that Putin and the Russians “could be a strong ally for the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.”