Donald Trump said he’d go after Clinton like nobody else could or would. But his attacks have been low-energy and ineffective. When will that change?
During the Republican primary season, Trump slowly but surely mowed down all other contenders. One of his selling points, which he reiterated frequently, was that he alone had the cojones to go after Hillary Clinton. He promised he would.
It was a believable promise. Whereas Republicans have earned their reputation for pulling their punches, Trump insulted the looks, character, intelligence, and energy level of each and every one of his opponents. Surely he would have some choice insults lined up for Hillary, better than anyone else might offer.
He demonstrated his ability to fight in January when he punched back at Hillary’s claim that he was sexist by reminding voters of the many and varied problems the Clintons had when handling the former president’s frequent “bimbo eruptions.”
Amid a flurry of more exciting tweets and speech moments, he has continually critiqued her judgment, energy level, campaign ability, and character. He’s tested out insults, landing on “Crooked Hillary” as his choice.
In June, he promised he’d ramp up attacks against her. He spent weeks saying he’d go after her, finally doing so toward the end of June. It was fine but didn’t really land a punch. Politico said the teleprompter-delivered speech was “subtler” and more “conventional” than his other campaign rhetoric.
In May, The New York Times reported a bit from an interview with Trump about what his campaign strategy would be:
Mr. Trump will try to hold her accountable for security lapses at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and for the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens there.
And he intends to portray Mrs. Clinton as fundamentally corrupt, invoking everything from her cattle futures trades in the late 1970s to the federal investigation into her email practices as secretary of state.
Specifically on Benghazi, he laid out how he’d debate her in the fall:
He acknowledged that Republicans tried to discredit her judgment in the marathon Benghazi hearing in the fall, to little avail. But he said that he would be more pointed and memorable in linking her to the failings and deaths in Libya, and that the debate would have a vastly larger television audience than the hearing. Still, advisers of Mrs. Clinton pointed to her face-off with the Republican-led Benghazi committee as a sign of her unflappability.
Now, if this were the campaign strategy, the last two weeks would have been an absolute gift from the electoral gods. A sober and well-documented report linked Hillary to the failings and deaths in Libya. It showed how she had made the bombing and destabilization of Libya central to her State Department tenure, making her unable to follow other international groups who protected their workers there by removing them. Suggesting she didn’t want to admit defeat of something her advisors planned to make a centerpiece of her upcoming presidential campaign, she resisted repeated recommendations to pull Americans from Benghazi.
As for corrupt email practices, recent days saw Bill Clinton secretly meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on a tarmac, Hillary suggesting she’d keep Lynch as AG after her election, Hillary meeting with FBI agents investigating the scandal, leaks to CNN just hours after that meeting saying she’d get away with everything, and a 10-minute denunciation by the FBI director of everything Hillary had claimed about the email scandal. It reeked to high heaven of corruption.
Trump had a few tweets and comments about it, but nothing particularly remarkable.
On Wednesday night, Trump gave a stump speech that was typically meandering — a far more effective style than his Beltway critics would like to admit — but overwhelmingly defensive. He interlaced critiques of Hillary with discussions about mosquitoes and a lengthy discussion about a tweet he sent that included an image originally disseminated on an anti-Semitic message board.
Trump says it was a chore to rip Clinton. “Doing it cuz I feel I have to do it and it’s sort of boring.” Wanted to get on to other subjects.
Now, it’s not that he’s doing nothing, and maybe he’s decided that, somehow, he should wait until televised debates to rehash Benghazi and the email scandal.
But up to and including John Kasich, not a single other Republican nominee would have squandered these opportunities to go after Hillary like Trump did.
In that May piece in The New York Times, one strategist noted:
‘His best way to rally hostile Republican delegates before the convention is to show he’s a great Clinton attack dog,’ said Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist who oversaw a ‘super PAC’ supporting Mr. Bush in this year’s Republican race.
That remains true. But in recent days, FBI Director Comey, Rep. Trey Gowdy, and even Hillary herself have done a better job of making the case against her than Trump has. His main selling point was that he’d eviscerate Hillary in a campaign. Many Americans are anxious for him to do just that. When is he planning to get to it?
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @mzhemingway