Here’s how Hillary Clinton plans to beat Donald Trump: She will replay the very successful 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater. That is, she will scare the bejeezus out of Americans by describing Trump as a “loose cannon,” someone who cannot be trusted with America’s nuclear arsenal. At the same time, she will convince Republicans, alarmed at the prospect of a Goldwater-scale defeat, that backing her is the sensible choice. Her surrogates in the media are already spreading this narrative, which may prove as empty as Clinton’s record as secretary of state.
Goldwater was the conservative presidential candidate who went down in flames in 1964, winning only six states, because Democrats convinced voters he might drop an atom bomb on China. The clincher for opponent Lyndon Johnson was the "Daisy" television ad, showing a young girl plucking the petals off a daisy as a male voice counts down from 10 to 1. The ad closes with a gigantic nuclear explosion filling the screen. You can easily imagine a similar ad surfacing this year, with a split screen showing Trump bellowing insults or promising to take on China while a nuke demolishes the Forbidden City.
The news media, ever faithful, has picked up the hint. Face the Nation, CNN, MSNBC and others have recently featured segments and op-eds about Goldwater, noting how his candidacy devastated the GOP. They frequently forget to mention that Hillary Clinton — yes, Hillary Clinton — worked for Barry Goldwater’s campaign. Clinton was a “proud” conservative in her youth, before she became a liberal and then a “pragmatic progressive.” Even as Trump has ranged widely over the political plains, so has Clinton.
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Hillary’s claim, of course, is that unlike Trump she will be a reliable, steady hand on the wheel. She touts her foreign policy chops and experience gathered while first lady and more importantly as secretary of state. Yet, the more we know about the functioning of the Obama White House, the more it becomes clear that she had very little authority or even influence in foreign affairs.
The disturbing piece published last weekend in The New York Times Magazine about the power and influence of would-be novelist then Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, concluding that Rhodes has been “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself,” confirms her marginal role.
In the specific events which led to the Iran deal, for instance, Clinton said in a speech to the Brookings Institute, “I sent one of my closest aides [Jake Sullivan] as part of a small team to begin talks with the Iranians in secret,” hinting that she was behind the overtures. However, as author David Samuels tells the story, the effort was actually orchestrated by Obama, working with Rhodes, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Clinton aide Jake Sullivan. Later on, of course, John Kerry became the torch bearer.
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Samuels’ conclusion dovetails with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ account in his book, Duty: Memoires of a Secretary of War: “The White House staff — including Chiefs of Staff Rahm Emanuel and then Bill Daley as well as such core political advisers as Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs — would have a role in national security decision making that I had not previously experienced…”
That may be why Gates, despite having some positive things to say about Hillary, has not endorsed her. Or maybe it was because Clinton offended Gates by admitting that she had opposed the successful surge in Iraq for purely political reasons. In either case, his neutrality is not flattering.
Voters should wonder: Why did Hillary play such a minor role? Was Obama’s hiring of his former opponent an example of “keeping your friends close and enemies closer?” Did Obama, like Bernie Sanders, question her judgement? We may never know, but those questions are fair game for Trump. As is: What did Hillary actually accomplish as secretary of state?
Critics on the right have ridiculed Clinton for having been unable on more than one occasion to cite any significant accomplishments while in office. Not only has Hillary whiffed on the question, so have State Department officials and also Democratic supporters of the former first lady. Don’t think Trump won’t pounce on the lapses.
Or make an issue of her temper and volatility, which have been widely reported. Trump is not the only one capable of lashing out.
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Meanwhile, recent polling challenges the conclusion that Donald Trump’s nomination will ensure a landslide win for Hillary. The liberal media has been especially gleeful about the schism in the GOP, and has incessantly broadcast the most unflattering surveys of voter preferences. But, Quinnipiac just released a poll showing Trump in a dead heat with Clinton in crucial swing states Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio (where he is actually ahead.)
Given the incessant pounding that the press has given Trump, and the disarray in GOP ranks, this is a shocker. Indications of possible success might bring Republicans on board a Trump candidacy. If he begins to look like a possible winner, GOP elites will be scrambling to get a prime seat at the table. Everybody loves a winner; the Donald says so, often.