Trump, Clinton struggle to take advantage of other’s failures

Trump, Clinton struggle to take advantage of other’s failures

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAppeals court pauses 6-day extension for counting Wisconsin absentee ballots Trump, Pentagon collide over anti-diversity training push Sunday Shows: Trump's court pick dominates MORE are struggling through self-inflicted scandals and daily controversies in the final weeks of campaigning before the nominating conventions later this month.

Despite significant institutional advantages, Clinton has been unable to stretch out a meaningful lead over Trump, even as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee has careened from one controversy to the next.

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And Republicans are tearing out their hair in frustration over Trump, whose penchant for grabbing outrageous headlines has eclipsed the serious questions raised about Clinton’s handling of classified material as secretary of State.

Neither candidate has been able to capitalize on the others’ failures, frustrating operatives in both parties who are distressed by the missed opportunities.

“Both candidates have failed to articulate compelling arguments in response to the most important issues of the day and both have such credibility gaps that it’s no surprise the race is frozen right now,” said Douglas Schoen, an adviser to former President Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign.

“The question is — does this election become a referendum on Hillary Clinton, which she could lose, or does it become a referendum on Trump, which he is more likely to lose?” Schoen said.

Clinton leads Trump by about 5 points nationally in the RealClearPolitics average. Most polls also show the former first lady with small advantages in the key battleground states that will determine the outcome of the 2016 election.

Still, some Democrats worry the race is too close for comfort considering Clinton has dominated Trump in fundraising and has been running millions of dollars’ worth of television ads. Trump only recently began fundraising and is not up on the air yet.

Clinton hasn’t been able to expand that lead in part because of her own issues, Democrats say.

Clinton on Tuesday narrowly dodged a potentially campaign-ending judgment from FBI Director James Comey, who passed on indicting her but still gave plenty of fodder to her opponents.

Before letting Clinton off the hook legally, Comey detailed how the former secretary of State had exhibited “extreme carelessness” in transmitting classified information over multiple personal servers and devices.

He also rebutted many of the claims Clinton has made over the last year about the unusual email and server arrangement she installed at State.

Clinton’s political troubles have been exacerbated by husband Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonIs Congress reasserting itself? Trump-Biden debate: High risk vs. low expectations The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote MORE’s private meeting last week with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation.

Republicans believe they have all the political ammunition they need to argue that the fix was in and that the Clintons think they’re above the law.

The GOP is in overdrive to ensure that all of these matters remain in the public eye through Election Day, summoning Comey and Lynch to appear before separate panels on Capitol Hill. 

The Republican National Committee has already cut an ad highlighting the inconsistencies in Clinton’s story, ensuring that the email scandal will continue to weigh on a candidate who has struggled to convince voters that she can be trusted.

 “In a normal year what happened to Clinton yesterday would have been a deal-breaker, but just look at who she’s running against,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “This race is much closer than it should be because of her self-inflicted damage. She should be up by double-digits at this point.”

Still, Democrats remain confident, believing Trump to be a fatally flawed candidate and incapable of taking advantage of Clinton’s weaknesses.

“They both have problems, that’s clear and you can see it in the data,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, a veteran of Howard Dean’s 2008 campaign. 

“[The server] has caused real political harm for Clinton, but Trump is in far worse shape,” Trippi said. “There’s precedent for her winning with where she’s at. He is a major party candidate who can’t get above 40 percent support in the polls. That’s a huge problem for him.”

Indeed, Trump has been unable to gain traction in spite of Clinton’s struggles. 

Many Republicans are furious with Trump for shifting the focus from Clinton’s legal troubles to his own head-scratching comments.

On Saturday, as Clinton met for three-and-a-half hours with the FBI, Trump grabbed headlines with a tweet some interpreted as having anti-Semitic imagery. 

The blowback against the tweet, and Trump’s refusal to apologize for it, carried into this week, with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose RNC chair on election: We are on track to win the White House Kenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) and adviser Ben Carson publicly admonishing the billionaire on Tuesday for displaying poor judgment.

At a rally later in the day, Trump praised former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, earning another rebuke from Ryan and leaving Republicans apoplectic that he had created a distraction from Clinton’s email troubles.

“It would have been more productive for him to have played 18 holes of golf and kept his mouth shut,” said Ryan Williams, a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

“He can’t effectively prosecute Clinton’s vulnerabilities because he has a total lack of self-discipline and self-awareness,” Williams continued.

“He had a perfect opportunity to shame every Democrat for standing blindly beside a completely untrustworthy candidate. Instead of demanding they answer for her total lack of integrity, he’s praising Saddam Hussein. It’s embarrassing. He has no regard for down-ballot Republicans.”

Republicans are frustrated by what they view as a pattern of poorly timed misfires by Trump.

Since becoming the likely nominee in early June, Trump has made racially charged attacks against a federal judge, released embarrassing fundraising figures, fired his campaign manager and generally failed to convince party elites that he’s committed to running a serious campaign.

On Tuesday, Trump announced a $51 million fundraising haul for June. That’s a significant month-over-month improvement, but it’s still short of what Clinton raised last month, and the announcement has done little to alleviate the fears of worried Republicans.

“Trump looks more like a careless novice politician shooting from the hip than a focused presidential candidate,” said Republican strategist Nino Saviano.

“Honing his message on Hillary Clinton is what he needs to get the Republican establishment behind him and gain some much needed credibility. Every time he fails to do that represents a missed opportunity. And he’s been failing way too many times.”

Trump and Clinton are already poised to become the most unpopular nominees in modern history.

Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said that there is still room for their approval ratings to be driven lower, setting up a race in which the candidates seek to frame themselves as the “lesser of two evils.”

“Clinton is in damage control mode after a day that would have sunk almost any other candidate and Trump keeps getting these golden opportunities to go after her but he fumbles them every single time,” Murray said. “It’s possible that their favorability ratings could dip lower, but it’s already unprecedented. This election is amazing. How are people going to vote?”