Can a Conventional Candidate Win in an Unconventional Year
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Hillary Clinton has a real problem which is not going away. She running for President in the conventional manner in which virtually all candidates of both of the major parties have run for years. Her problem is that she is facing a candidate of whom it can clearly be said that there is not now nor has there ever anything conventional about his campaign. There is no reasonable expectation that Donald Trump will now suddenly morph into a conventional candidate even when the head to head contest takes off after the convention.
For Clinton and her advisers they must devise a strategy which will make it possible for her to confront Trump and his outrageous campaign style. To date, no attacks or rebuttals against Trump have stuck. In fact every one of Trump’s opponents have been confronted by ad hominem rejoinders from Trump and his spokespersons. As other demagogues have demonstrated throughout history this is a style which attracts a mass following; never admit a mistake, never back off an allegation, never back out of a fight, always threaten, and never respond to a question. Hitler understood this well that the bigger, the more outrageous the lie, the more likely it will be believed.
Hillary has her faults and she is clearly not the strongest candidate; but baring an indictment or a total defection of the all of her support among the super delegates, she will be the Democratic nominee. While Elizabeth Warren appears to have demonstrated the capacity to attack Trump and to disregard his personal charges, Clinton has not shown an ability or a desire to lower herself to Trump’s level.
At the moment, the electoral vote landscape still looks strong for Clinton. In Cleveland, Trump undoubtedly will pull off a Hollywood style extravaganza never seen before in American politics. He will then get a post-convention bump in the polls with the Democratic convention following the week immediately following the Republicans. Barring a total surprise the Democrats will produce a far more traditional, tamer convention that undoubtedly will be characterized as boring.
Clinton will need a strong post-convention bump, plus extensive campaigning and GOTV assistance from Obama, especially among minorities. Her vice-presidential choice will need to be a very focused tough hatchet person who will be ready to take-on Trump at every corner. Money will not be her problem, overcoming his style will be the issue.
At the end of the day, however, the Clinton team must understand that nothing is out of bounds or predictable in this campaign Trump will be. Hillary is a very bright woman who understands how the game is played. She has demonstrated comprehension of the issues (see her foreign address today), and has conducted herself, generally throughout the campaign, more or less according to convention. The fact that she could become the first female President makes her different but is not a reason– in and of itself—to be elected President. She will be facing a gunslinger like Trump. His challenge could be enormous as he slices and dices her record and presents history according the Book of Trump. It is unclear how she will attract voters to her agenda; and if, in 2016, her style can succeed.