Trump set the ta­ble for Clin­ton

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus

— Don­ald Trump’s botched con­ven­tion made Hil­lary Clin­ton’s task in Philadel­phia eas­ier. Not nec­es­sar­ily easy, but eas­ier.

The Repub­li­cans’ four days here were marked by dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion, divi­sion and dark­ness. This was the Ronco of flubbed con­ven­tions: But wait, there’s more. Af­ter the pla­gia­rism de­ba­cle, a pre­ventable prob­lem made mas­sively worse, came the Cruz fi­asco, the news of his non-en­dorse­ment drown­ing out the vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

The mood among the GOP po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment here traced a down­hill tra­jec­tory from sour to dis­gusted. To talk to elected of­fi­cials and po­lit­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als was to en­counter shrugged shoul­ders and shak­ing heads. No one could re­mem­ber a con­ven­tion this thor­oughly, un­nec­es­sar­ily bun­gled.

Trump could have used the con­ven­tion, and his speech, to re­as­sure doubt­ing vot­ers he pos­sesses the judg­ment and tem­per­a­ment to be pres­i­dent, to ex­pand be­yond the base clam­or­ing for Hil­lary Clin­ton’s head.

Trump and his chil­dren clearly have it in them. Ivanka Trump un­set­tled the con­ven­tion au­di­ence with her un­apolo­getic as­ser­tion that she is no re­flex­ive Repub­li­can (“Like many of my fel­low mil­len­ni­als, I do not con­sider my­self cat­e­gor­i­cally Repub­li­can or Demo­crat”) and pre­viewed a gen­eral elec­tion mes­sage on af­ford­able child care and pay eq­uity.

Trump him­self ut­tered the phrase “LGBTQ,” twice, to cheers — un­think­able to any­one who heard Pat Buchanan’s “take back our cul­ture” speech at the 1992 con­ven­tion.

But Trump chose, mostly, to rile up rather than reach out. Ron­ald Rea­gan spoke in 1975 of bold con­ser­va­tive col­ors, not “pale pas­tels.” Trump’s pal­ette is Rem­brandt dark, with­out the deft brush­strokes. His dis­torted vi­sion is one of Amer­ica un­der as­sault — by crim­i­nals, by im­mi­grants, by ter­ror­ists — with Trump the only pos­si­ble sav­ior.

“Be­gin­ning on Jan­uary 20th 2017, safety will be re­stored,” Trump pro­claimed. And, “No­body knows the sys­tem bet­ter than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” The au­thor­i­tar­ian over­tones were neck-prick­ling.

So what is Clin­ton to do? Per­haps the coun­try is in such a frenzy of dis­gust and de­spair that vot­ers will be re­cep­tive to Trump­ist fear-mon­ger­ing, in which case she — and we — are in trou­ble. Not to dis­count the anger and frus­tra­tion, yet Rea­gan suc­ceeded by com­bin­ing his mus­cu­lar con­ser­va­tive mes­sage with a sunny, up­lift­ing vi­sion.

The Amer­i­can peo­ple want to imag­ine their coun­try as shin­ing city on the hill, not the bru­tal­ized land­scape of “Blade Run­ner.” They want their anx­i­ety ac­knowl­edged but their bet­ter an­gels chan­neled, away from anger and ret­ri­bu­tion.

The chal­lenge for Trump go­ing into his con­ven­tion was an amped-up ver­sion of the usual: to unify his party and cast him­self in the eyes of vot­ers as a man they can en­trust with the pres­i­dency. He fell short, on both scores.

Clin­ton’s test is dif­fer­ent. There may be lin­ger­ing grumpi­ness among Bernie San­ders vot­ers and dis­trust of the tri­an­gu­lat­ing Clin­ton duo in the party’s pro­gres­sive wing. Yet noth­ing con­cen­trates the Democratic mind, or uni­fies the base, like the prospect of Trump. The party Clin­ton will ad­dress in Philadel­phia may not be uni­formly ec­static about her can­di­dacy, but it is far less riven by the no­tion of her as pres­i­dent than were Repub­li­cans in Cleve­land.

Sim­i­larly, for all the par­tic­u­lars of Chris Christie’s in­dict­ment of Clin­ton’s sup­posed for­eign pol­icy blun­ders, vot­ers’ doubts do not cen­ter on her knowl­edge, her ex­pe­ri­ence or her com­pe­tence.

They con­cern, as al­ways, her hon­esty, trust­wor­thi­ness and fun­da­men­tal is­sues of char­ac­ter, not a prob­lem ca­pa­ble of be­ing solved by a boffo ac­cep­tance speech or a string of tes­ti­mo­ni­als. If such re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion were ever pos­si­ble, which is re­mote, FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey dis­pensed with that in two damn­ing words: “ex­tremely care­less.”

So Clin­ton’s path lies in em­pha­siz­ing the con­sis­tency of her bi­og­ra­phy, an­chored in val­ues. Where Trump de­clared bank­rupt­cies and ripped off ev­ery­one from lenders to Trump Uni­ver­sity suck­ers, Clin­ton and her val­ida­tors can be ex­pected to ar­gue that she de­voted a life­time to fight­ing for women and chil­dren.

But bi­og­ra­phy means lit­tle with­out it be­ing tied to a com­pelling pic­ture of the fu­ture. Trump has run a cam­paign that is all slo­gan and lit­tle pol­icy. Clin­ton, by con­trast, has run a tapas cam­paign, serv­ing up end­less small plates of wonky pol­icy. Each may be smart in­di­vid­u­ally but these dishes lack an over­ar­ch­ing theme, at least not one that she has suc­ceeded in con­vey­ing to vot­ers.

Trump and his con­ven­tion helped her by adding to the ev­i­dence about his own un­suit­abil­ity. She needs to help her­self not only by ham­mer­ing that home, but by of­fer­ing an af­fir­ma­tive case for her­self and a vi­sion of where she wants to lead the coun­try.

Ruth Mar­cus is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at ruth­mar­cus@wash­


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