In yet one more example of Donald Trump exercising his Second Amendment right to shoot himself in the foot, the GOP nominee refused in the final presidential debate to accept the results of the Nov. 8 election if he loses.
But before he got to the Internet-exploding moment that turned into everybody’s takeaway, he made three points about Hillary Clinton that are true:
Point One: She is guilty of significant errors in judgment. Empowering George W. Bush to start a disastrous war for no good reason was one. Choosing to use private email for public business was another. And tainting the good offices of the Secretary of State by mixing official business with the fund-raising of the Clinton Foundation was inexcusable.
Point Two: Collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street for speeches that exposed her duplicity did not help her “trustworthiness” with voters. That doesn’t even touch her decisions about Syria and Libya that have led to more mayhem and disorder in the Middle East.
Point Three: If Clinton is elected, America will get four more years of predictable and largely uninspiring leadership – exactly what so many supporters of Bernie Sanders and Trump were so passionately eager to avoid.
There is nothing Clinton can do about mistakes of the past, but there is something she can do for the next four years if she wins the presidency. It will take grit (something she has in abundance) and courage (something she has yet to demonstrate consistently) and a willingness to take risks (something she seems inherently fearful of).
A couple of weeks ago, Trump tweeted, “It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.”
The Prometheus of Fifth Avenue declared himself unbound after leaders of the Republican Establishment began abandoning him in the face of his lewd comments about women: No longer would he be constrained by those who would have him run an actual campaign.
But if anyone has been shackled in this election year, it is Clinton.
She is handcuffed to the Clinton Machine that is all set to stifle her presidency, presuming she has one; she is roped to the baggage of Bill that has left her without an argument at times in the debates (moments Trump, too enamored of his own words, let inexplicably pass); she is chained to a gang of aides and advisers, many of whom will help get her elected but don’t necessarily serve her well; and she is duct-taped to her own caution – an overriding fear of making a wrong move that will thwart her ambition, which ironically has became the pathology that could have blocked her path.
If she enters the Oval Office, though, Clinton will finally have a chance to stop making decisions like voting for the war and using private email – decisions that are driven by political expediency and paranoia.
She will have made it, but it will take all the steel in her spine to then cut loose a lot of the people who got her there. To get that delicate job done, the new president will need a powerful chief of staff -- preferably an outsider loyal only to her. Maybe some with Silicon Valley chops like Sheryl Sandberg, Meg Whitman or Tim Cooke, all of whom could also be potential cabinet appointments.
The selection of the cabinet is one of the first ways Clinton can assert her independence – bold choices that will send a message to both progressives and centrists that hers will be an inclusive administration willing to listen to an array of smart voices, not the ones that reflect the politics of the first Clinton presidency and the Obama years. A cabinet table that has an Elizabeth Warren sitting across from a Mike Bloomberg would be a symbolic recognition that the damaged working classes have been heard and that business and finance will have their say, too.
Of course, picking former Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar – now a partner in the influential Washington law and lobbying firm WilmerHale -- as chief of her transition team seems to signal politics as usual. But who knows?
One thing is certain, though: Clinton could not be better positioned to surprise on the upside.
President Lyndon Johnson liked to low-ball his chances of success so that his victories seemed ever more glorious.
Clinton doesn’t have that problem. If she enters office, she will do so as one of the most unpopular people ever elected president. Real Clear Politics currently puts her unfavorable rating at 53 percent.
With so many Americans less than thrilled about her candidacy, the bar is low for Clinton Unshackled to surprise and impress.