“Clinton goes negative” is a headline that could have been run at any time during the 2016 general election campaign. But it is telling — and for Secretary Clinton’s supporters likely highly alarming — that a week before Nov. 8, going negative as a means of obfuscating from corruption, scandal and innuendo tied to the Clinton Foundation, Clinton’s usage of a private email server, and WikiLeaks is her best play.
"I am not Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE" is not a compelling closing message.
One of the central rules of politics is that if you fail to define yourself, you will be defined by your opponent. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump defends indicted GOP congressman GOP lawmaker says he expects to be indicted over FBI investigation Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on MORE’s campaign has evidently felt that defining Donald Trump as a bigoted misogynist, thereby seeking to toxify not only Trump but his supporters — while motivating fearful Democrats, Independents, and Republicans to vote against him in protest — would be essential to winning this campaign.
Peer pressuring and shaming are powerful tactics. Fear is a gripping emotion. And the notion among Clinton’s bi-coastal backers, as well as some prominent Republicans, that support for Trump is simply beyond the pale and reflects grave immorality has great sway — but perhaps to a larger extent among the denizens of such places than in the rest of the country.
Too, highlighting one’s opponents’ deficiencies is not always necessary or sufficient to win. When one’s attacks begin to have an aura of “doth protest too much,” while the other side formulates a counter-narrative that resonates, this holds even more true.
The idea that “Trump is a terrible, rotten, no-good person, and thus, you ought to vote for me” has begun to ring hollow to some degree because the Left has smeared opponents of all stripes as racist, sexist, and bigoted for such a long time that they have depreciated the terms.
Reminder: The people comparing Trump to Hitler spent months telling us Cruz and Rubio scared them more than Trump. pic.twitter.com/ei0D5KGq3p— neontaster (@neontaster) September 19, 2016
These are seen as partisan charges rather than objective ones, and they are undermined when perceived as hypocritical. The campaign of "They go low, we go hight" whose figurehead put down "bimbo eruptions" in the past has hamstrung itself.
Trump’s candidacy is seen among other things as a response to the hyper-politically correct milieu in which we have been mired, and under which such attacks have flourished.
We also know that Trump’s message is about projecting strength, exuding competence in the face of a failing, incompetent political class and putting America first.
Regardless of what one thinks about Trump’s rhetoric and policy, can one so easily define Clinton’s message? If you were a casual political observer seeing political ads during the Major League Baseball playoffs, could you articulate what Hillary’s campaign stands for?
As a non-casual observer, one would be hard pressed to come up with a cogent elevator pitch for Hillary Clinton in terms of her core ideas and achievements. Typical Democratic pablum and travels to dozens of countries does not pass muster.
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Meanwhile, one of the lessons of the Trump campaign that his detractors will likely overlook is the fact that he has chosen to fight fire with fire to a greater degree than his Republican predecessors — in the process defining his opponent. Such attacks have often been ham-handed, but the fact pattern he and his surrogates have laid out painting Hillary Clinton as “crooked” has the benefit of being not only damning, but true.
The Clintons’ public career has been marked by scandal after scandal. At very best, the appearance of corruption is ubiquitous. The lies are copious. When revelations come out right before an election giving credence to this narrative, and the best measures the Clinton campaign can take including attacking the FBI director it had praised several months before, and trotting out a former Miss Universe winner once more, such actions smack of desperation.
It's day 5 since FBI dropped bombshell on the Clinton camp, who still hasn't dropped a new oppo dump on Trump. Best they have is Machado?— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) November 1, 2016
It also indicates that, as the national polls have trended negatively against Clinton, her campaign believes high turnout among constituencies that vote heavily Democratic is more imperative than ever.
The campaign must believe that running negative ads about Donald Trump that make him appear to be a threat to women, Latinos, and other minorities is the highest and best use of their resources given such tightening. If Clinton were comfortably ahead, presumably she would instead be ending the campaign on a positive, uplifting, and unifying note, rather than playing identity politics.
Donald Trump has plenty of limitations substantive and stylistic. But what does it say about Hillary Clinton that she has more negative to say about her opponent than positive to say about herself in the final moments of this election?
That Hillary Clinton believes her last, best hope to win the office of the presidency is to blow the same dog whistles again and again illustrates a subpar candidate who with all the advantages of a pliant press, cultural institutions in her pocket and flush campaign coffers is hanging on for dear life.
The American people will be the ones to render final judgement as to whether she survives.
Regardless, Hillary Clinton has never been able to “go high,” weighed down by the stench of scandal and corruption that the Clintons have created during their decades in public life.
Weingarten is the Founder & CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and production firm, and a frequent contributor to City Journal, Conservative Review, The Federalist and Newsmax TV. You can follow him at @bhweingarten and subscribe to his newsletter here.
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