Hillary Clinton is about to make an epic mistake: underestimating Donald Trump. The Democrat front-runner and her team have apparently learned nothing from her surprise slug-fest with Bernie Sanders. Nor does it seem they’ve been watching the GOP fight.
In a recent interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush, Clinton’s chief campaign strategist Joel Benenson laughs off Donald Trump, claiming that the real estate mogul has no chance of winning blue states or of beating the former first lady. Further, when Thrush asks about Trump’s appeal to white, middle-class voters in so-called “Rust Belt” states, the pollster/strategist says the billionaire “doesn't have a message that appeals to these folks… you have to have a real plan that’s going to make life better….” Astonishingly, Benenson tells Thrush that he hasn’t done “extensive” polling on Donald Trump.
Admittedly, Benenson has been laser-focused on beating Bernie Sanders. But, his cockiness could cost the former first lady. For months, Republicans failed to take Trump seriously, until he became an in-your-face threat to the entire field running for president. Even now, the GOP establishment mutters about a brokered convention, as though disenfranchising millions of fired-up Republicans (and Independents) was anything but a sure ticket to a Hillary White House.
The Clinton camp may not understand that Trump is gaining ground with many of the same voters as Bernie Sanders – frustrated working class Americans angry about stagnant wages and lost jobs. Trump has what Sanders has and what Hillary lacks – authenticity. Like Sanders, Trump wants to overturn the status quo that has hurt millions of Americans; Hillary, the embodiment of the status quo, cannot reach those people.
Consider the issues.
First, there’s “free trade,” which Trump has slammed for delivering millions of jobs to Mexico and China. Hillary Clinton is vulnerable here, as Sanders has found. She can wriggle and wordsmith all she wants, but the reality is that her husband’s most notable economic and diplomatic achievement was NAFTA, which she has routinely applauded. More recently, she was an enthusiast for President Obama’s huge TPP trade agreement, until she was not.
Second, how about campaign funding? Trump will doubtless start to raise more outside money for his campaign, but he can reasonably attack Hillary for her utter cynicism in loudly condemning Big Money in politics. Other than Jeb Bush, no one has been more aggressive in hauling in Super Pac dough than Clinton. Her Priorities USA PAC has raised over $50 million. Unlike her rival Bernie Sanders, who has shockingly outraised Hillary over the past few months (raking in $43 million in February alone to Clinton’s $30 million) through a vast number of small donations, Clinton continues to troll Wall Street and other moguls for money.
Third, immigration. Hillary Clinton portrays Donald Trump as a monster for wanting to close our borders, but Clinton has made similar suggestions. Responding to a question from a New Hampshire voter she said, “Well look, I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in, and I do think you have to control your borders.” Hmmm… who does that sound like?
Fourth: Where does Clinton stand on gun control? She clobbers Sanders for not endorsing stricter gun ownership rules, but in 2008 The New York Times ran a story with the headline, "Clinton Portrays Herself as a Pro-Gun Churchgoer," citing her much-professed fondness for the Second Amendment when speaking in rural communities.
How about the war in Iraq? Hillary voted for it, Trump says he always opposed it, though there is little evidence to back up that claim. Wall Street? Trump vows to eliminate the carried-interest loophole that favors hedge fund and private equity types. Hillary continues to collect millions from the very group she promises to police. Even in the thick of the financial crisis, she hesitated to pin the blame on banks.
Part of Hillary’s problem is that over the years she has taken both sides on nearly every issue. Usually her opinion reflected the sentiment of the day--over the years that shifted. Ads that exploit what we can politely call her flexibility damage her already low credibility. That’s why Bernie Sanders is giving her a run for her considerable money. Donald Trump will be even tougher.
Her team doesn’t get that. When asked in a recent debate why voters consider her untrustworthy, she responded, “I’m not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama.” In reality, Hillary could run against herself and struggle to pull ahead.
Benenson claims that Hillary, representing the Democratic Party, has a “structural advantage… because of a Democratic Party that is a party fighting for working people and the Republican Party being kind of out of touch and out of date right now….” Hillary’s strategist appears to think that Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney is likely to top the GOP ticket. He is the one who’s out of touch, and, competing with Trump, that’s a dangerous place to be.