The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Donald Trump's Sloppiness Is Letting Hillary Clinton Off the Hook

Thanks to Donald Trump's shit sundae of a campaign, the Democratic candidate will walk into the White House without have to answer a single question.
August 10, 2016, 6:30pm
Hillary Clinton supporters at the Democratic National Convention. Photo by Jason Bergman

So far, this week is actually shaping up to be a pretty bad one for Hillary Clinton. New emails from her time as secretary of state, released by Judicial Watch on Tuesday, revealed a questionably cozy relationship between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department. The father of the Orlando nightclub shooter appeared at one of her rallies, forcing her to disavow his support. And VICE News revealed that the FBI probe into her emails was prompted by fears that her homebrew private server had been "compromised" by a foreign power.

A capable opponent would quickly turn any of those stories into a crisis for Clinton, using it to build out the caricature of her as a deceptive shill who's careless with state secrets and totally under the thumb of toxic moneyed interests. But Donald Trump is, obviously, not a capable opponent. So instead, the media has spent the last 24 hours talking about whether he suggested that someone could or should assassinate Clinton.

Trump made his instantly infamous remark that "Second Amendment people" could do something about Clinton at a rally on Tuesday—though, like all his off-the-cuff utterances, the comment was just one garnish in an incomprehensible word salad. Trump doesn't attempt to make points when he speaks; he just jabbers until he gets some sort of rise from his audience. It's the kind of rhetorical strategy that serves you well when you're a third-tier Howard Stern guest but not so much when you're trying to become the president.

Whatever Trump "meant" by the statement, it gave everyone yet another opportunity to beat up on him. The New York Daily News bashed Trump on its cover Wednesday, with the headline, "THIS ISN'T A JOKE ANYMORE." Politico ran a story about Republican National Committee staffers quitting because they can't support Trump. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 19 percent of Republicans wanted their nominee to drop out.

"A bloody line has been crossed that cannot be ignored," MSNBC host Joe "Morning Joe" Scarborough—another former GOP congressman who was once friendly with Trump—wrote in the Washington Post. "At long last, Donald Trump has left the Republican Party few options but to act decisively and get this political train wreck off the tracks before something terrible happens." In an op-ed for CNN, another former Republican congressman Chris Shays, wrote that Trump "represents practically everything I was taught not to be, and everything my wife and I taught our daughter not to be."

And all this happened before noon on Wednesday.

The 2016 presidential contest was always going to be what political experts call a "contrast election"—a mudslinging, scorched-earth affair dominated by negative campaigning. But few people anticipated how badly Trump would fuck this up—instead of Clinton vs. Trump, it's been Trump vs. Trump, with Clinton standing around and waiting for voters to realize how unhinged her opponent is.

Every former Republican official that joins her cause (and there are a lot of them now) adds fuel to her basic argument: Trump is simply too nuts to lead the country. "You don't even have to think about my policies or his, he is just unfit," is how RealClearPolitics editor AB Stoddard said on Fox News, paraphrasing the Clinton campaign's message. "He doesn't have the temperament."

At this point, it looks like Clinton will easily win with this argument. But it's a shame that America is missing out on a chance to debate the relative merits of their presidential candidates and their policies—an opportunity that manifests itself just once every four years.

On foreign policy, the area where presidents tend to have the most freedom to act unilaterally, Clinton remains an avid hawk, and her steadfast support for Israel, while utterly typical for an American politician, upsets the portion of the left who see that country as perpetuating atrocities against Palestinians. As the endless email scandal shows, she's also exceedingly secretive and would presumably continue her predecessor's lack of transparency in the White House. Her "evolving" position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership makes critics wonder where she actually stands on the issue of trade, a hot-button topic among her progressive base.

On issues like trade and interventionist foreign policy, a right-wing candidate like Trump could credibly challenge Clinton—or at least prompt voters to ask, "Why is this sort of stuff good for Americans?" No matter Clinton's response, that debate would be a chance to talk, substantively, about the US economy, and America's place in the world.

The best part of the Democratic primary this cycle was that for a while, there was actually quite a bit of this kind of debate—while Clinton and Bernie Sanders basically agreed on most issues, they still got into it over policy details, arguing over the benefits of expanding Obamacare versus scrapping it in favor of a single-payer system, for example, and over how to properly regulate Wall Street. Sanders forced Clinton to respond publicly to criticism from the left, and the result was the sort of argument often missing from American politics. Sure, the primary devolved into petty sniping and Festivus-style airing of grievances, but for a while, there was substance.

Trump now has a similar opportunity to confront Clinton. Does she still think the US intervention in Libya was successful? What can she do to convince voters that lobbyists won't have excessive access to her administration? Will she try to work with what will likely be a Republican-dominated Congress or continue the recent trend of governing through executive action?

Maybe we'll get to see some of that when the candidates actually meet—if Trump doesn't find a way to weasel out of scheduled presidential debates. If he does, it would be the bitter cherry on the shit sundae of his campaign. Because while Trump's racist bluster, incoherent views, and rabble-rousing are clearly a problem, the bigger problem is that he's going to let Clinton walk into the White House without having to answer a single question.

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