Over the weekend, CNN’s John King discussed the 2016 presidential race (what else?) on Inside Politics, where the roundtable debated what is Hillary Clinton’s economic message if you’re the average voter. The segment featured Clinton’s economic speech on June 21, where the former first lady attacked Trump’s record as a job creator, quipping that he’s written a lot of books about business that seem to end at chapter 11.
“What is Hillary Clinton’s central economic message—close your eyes?” asked King. The Associated Press’ Lisa Lerer said that this is a debate among Democrats, as it appears they’re trying to replay the 2012 strategy they deployed against Mitt Romney, which was dubbed “kill Romney” by a Democratic strategist working with the Obama White House. So far, Clinton’s team seems to be hedging their bets that this will work against Trump.
Right, and there’s a debate within Democratic circles about whether it’s enough for her to run just against him, or whether she has to also put forward her own message. It seems like her team has decided it’s actually enough at this stage in the game to run just against him. And it’s a strategy that reminds me of what happened in ’12, where Democrats moved over the summer to define Mitt Romney as this out-of-touch plutocrat. They were on the ads constantly in Ohio doing that. Democrats are trying to repeat that playbook this year with Donald Trump. It may work. It may not. I think operations matter; you get this sense that Donald Trump really sees this as a national referendum, where he can just be giving these interviews, and on Twitter. And this is, at this stage in the game, a 50-state drag out battle. You have to have the ground game; you have to have the ads in all these states. He just doesn’t have that. So, she may be able to drive this message and attack him effectively in the eight states that matter in this race.
Yet, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny noted that he feels the Clinton camp knows it’s not enough to be just anti-Trump on the trail, noting that they’re highly cognizant of the former secretary of state’s vulnerabilities on trade in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio—states that Trump could put in play with his anti-NAFTA, TPP message. Clinton supported both of those free trade agreements. He also said that the following day was suppose to be nothing but bolstering Clinton, but turned into another day responding to Trump.
Both of these candidates are unpopular, but Trump leads Clinton on honesty by a two-to-one margin. He’s also not in a terrible position in key battleground states. For those wanting change in these states, Trump leads—but that’s not necessarily a sign that these people will vote for the billionaire real estate magnate. Nevertheless, if the “we want change” cohort decides to move definitively on voting for Trump in the coming months, the race could change.
If kill Trump is part of the Clinton campaign’s arsenal, it’s doubtful to be as effective in the way Obama used it to trounce Romney. There’s the fact that Romney’s team was quite appalling when it came to messaging and pushing back against Democratic attacks on his business record and character. Trump will strike back hard. And on a pretty constant basis, many have brought a knife to a gunfight concerning delivering blows they considered would knock him out. Unlike Romney, Trump dominates the news cycle, being able to garner $2 billion in free media over the 2016 primary. Only with Trump would the news networks keep the cameras focused on him without commercial interruption for an hour. Lastly, Obama was somewhat popular in the 2012 election, Clinton isn’t. Neither is Trump, but if you’re going to slam him for being unscrupulous—it’s going to come off as an appalling lack of self-awareness given Clinton’s serial failure in being honest about her emails, and lack of transparency concerning her family non-profit. All of which speaks to the question of trustworthiness that the American people feels she lacks.