US election: Hillary Clinton must concentrate on her country rather than her competitor if she is to win

The way Ms Clinton can ensure that sanity prevails is to concentrate on appealing to America

Thursday 03 March 2016 23:25
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally in New York.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally in New York.

The line-up for the US presidential campaign proper is all but confirmed. Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination, unless party elites can find a way to derail his progress towards the required tally of delegates; Hillary Clinton, for the Democrats, will face him across the divide.

The contrast between the two could hardly be more marked. Mr Trump is a Ku Klux Klan-indulging demagogue who lacks any understanding of policy but knows how to worm his way into the hearts of voters. Ms Clinton is a wonk of the very highest calibre, running on a message of “love and kindness”, but unable to reach Americans on the same guttural level. There may be some way to go yet, before the duel begins in July, but both campaigns – and both candidates – are arranging their arsenals.

It would be a disaster for America and for the wider world if Mr Trump were to make it to the White House, and that prospect must now be taken seriously. Certainly, Mr Trump can change character in a flash, as he showed in a gracious speech after his barnstorming victories in seven states on Super Tuesday.

But even if he were able to leave the race-baiting and buffoonish machismo behind (something which is far from certain), he would plough the nation into the ground. Building walls, raising tariffs on China, mass deportations: these are policies by crayon. They may soothe a sense of angst among a proportion of the US electorate, but they will not improve the economic fortunes of the low-paid, nor will they “make America great again” – a mantra that Mr Trump ceaselessly repeats.

There are voters who label Mr Trump a “sheep in wolf’s clothing” and believe he could make a more moderate president than is expected. Besides being too clever by half, this overlooks Mr Trump’s insatiable desire for popularity. The people who love him most are angry and want “The Donald” to reshape America. If Mr Trump does not fulfil their desires, they will desert him, leaving only the marginally less cold disdain of the other half of the electorate.

Just as complacency in the Republican Party allowed Mr Trump to build up his formidable lead, some Democrat strategists think cheerfully of his nomination. They should reconsider. Some polls show a mere three-point gap between Ms Clinton and Mr Trump when voters are forced to choose between the two. Mr Trump is riding a wave, and the cautious Ms Clinton has already proved vulnerable to a candidate promising revolution, in the shape of Bernie Sanders.

The way Ms Clinton can ensure that sanity prevails is to concentrate on appealing to America, rather than countering Mr Trump and stooping to his level. Her campaign wisely plans to leave direct confrontation to her husband Bill, and President Barack Obama is – as he showed at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2011 – another ready and willing attack dog. Mr Trump has proved adept at insulting men, but his misogynist attacks on women played less well. When her male peers have attempted to bully Ms Clinton in the past, it has rebounded to her advantage. She should let Mr Trump walk into that trap.

Forty-six per cent of Americans have a “very unfavourable” view of Mr Trump. Ms Clinton’s political action committee will angle in on his bigotry and a business record that veers towards the disastrous.

Against such a figure as Mr Trump, the Democrats could clinch the Senate as well as the White House in 2016 and set America on a healthy course. It is Ms Clinton’s to lose. But she should steel herself for the fight of a lifetime.

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