Team Clinton thankful for Trump

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has something to be thankful for in the wake of the FBI’s scathing criticism of her personal email setup: She’s running against Donald Trump.

While Clinton dodged criminal charges, FBI Director James Comey criticized her for recklessness and seemingly tore holes in arguments the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee made about not sending any classified information over the private email server.

{mosads}Clinton supporters acknowledged that the public criticism is bad news and will make it that much tougher for their candidate to improve on poor trust numbers with voters.

The silver lining, they say, is that their Republican opponent is even less liked and trusted.

“I don’t think it’s that hard given the liar she’s running against,” one Clinton aide said of Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. “Her opponent is going to help her just by being who he is.”

A CBS News poll out last month showed that Clinton, ever after more than a year of negative stories about the email controversy, was just ahead of Trump when voters were asked whether they thought if either candidate was honest. Thirty-three percent found Clinton honest, compared to 32 percent who found Trump honest. Sixty-two percent said Clinton was untrustworthy, and 63 percent said Trump was untrustworthy.

Separately, a Qunnipiac University poll released last month showed voters believe Trump is more honesty and trustworthy than Clinton, 45 percent to 37 percent.

Democrats say the comfort in those numbers is that their candidate does better in other categories than Trump, such as having the experience to be president.

Still, they acknowledge Clinton would be in deep trouble against other opponents.

“If she was running against [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich or [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio, she’d be in real trouble and we’d be talking about finding another candidate before the [Democratic National Convention],” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist. “What happened yesterday would be a deal breaker against someone else. … She’s basically walking on the edge with this kind of stuff.”

Clinton acknowledged last week that she had a trust problem even before the FBI decision came down. And an aide to Clinton said she would continue to speak directly to voters about what her vision is and what her values are.

In recent days, Clinton has relied on high-profile surrogates to vouch for her on the trust issue.

On Tuesday, President Obama talked about how his faith in Clinton has “always been rewarded.”

“I have had a front-row seat to her judgment, and her toughness, and her commitment to diplomacy,” he told a crowd at a campaign event in North Carolina, while Clinton sat behind him on a stool.

A week earlier, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) advocated for Clinton, telling a campaign audience that Clinton has “brains” and “steady hands.”

“But most of all, she has a good heart,” the liberal stalwart said.

And on this week’s Sunday shows, Clinton surrogates Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Labor Secretary Tom Perez both delivered messages of trust about the candidate.

Some longtime confidants have urged Clinton to share more personal anecdotes with the public and not be so guarded. “It would be nice for her to really give people a sense of what makes her tick,” one Clinton friend said.

At the same time, a longtime adviser said the FBI decision this week “helps towards rehabilitating her connection with voters.”

“I do think that her sense of balance and steadiness stands in good contrast to Trump, but also is a way of conveying reliability, which is an attribute of trust,” the adviser said. 

But political observers shouldn’t be complacent.

“She shouldn’t be overconfident about Trump’s negatives because she has several herself, including the public perception of her as untrustworthy and that she and her husband are scandal-prone,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor and chairwoman of the Department of History at Ohio University.

“It is a piece of good news for her that she’s running against someone who has higher negatives than she does, but he’s still going to look for ways to hit her over the head with her untrustworthiness,” she said.

Jellison added that she doesn’t think there’s much room for Clinton to improve upon the perception of trust.

“It does seem baked in, especially after this FBI investigation and their conclusions,” Jellison said. “She can’t come out and tell the American people again that there’s this vast right-wing conspiracy against her.”

But the Clinton friend said Clinton could still make the case for her trustworthiness in the remaining months before the presidential election.

“I think people’s opinions can change of her, I really do,” the friend said. “I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘You know, she isn’t at all what they say about her.’ ”


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