Clinton's dreadful campaign

This story appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

by Michael Sean Winters

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As of last night, Nate Silver's analysis gave Hillary Clinton a 6-in-10 chance of being elected president, depending on which of the analyses you check. Of the most recent polls, three had good news for the former secretary of state, while 10 recent polls showed movement towards Donald Trump. Silver's analysis currently hands big swing states like Florida and Ohio to Trump. Nevada is the most recent state to turn from blue to red on the FiveThirtyEight map. Her lead in Virginia, now a state she must win, is down to six points in the latest Quinnipiac poll.

Since the close of the convention, Clinton has done, yet again, what she did in 2008 and almost did during the primaries this year: squander what should have been an insurmountable lead. And, she has no one to blame but herself. She is the one who prolonged the email saga yet again, claiming falsely that FBI Director James Comey had said she hadn't lied when he actually said she had not lied in some regards but, in other regards, she clearly had. As for the genesis of that ridiculous scandal, Clintonites can blame Fox News, which certainly deserves its share of the blame, but at this level of the game, you would think Team Clinton would have factored Fox News into their calculations. None of it would have had any legs if she had been more forthcoming from the start, and none of us has a reason to question the judgment of Colin Powell's hacked emails: She brings these things on herself.

Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that the Clinton team was slicing and dicing the electorate with a view towards cobbling together a majority of voters, now focusing on the disability community and others. (Note to HRC: If you want to get the attention of the disability community, come out squarely against physician-assisted suicide.) The key graph:

Clinton is also targeting Hispanics, women, caretakers of the elderly and sick, and families of gun-violence victims, among other constituencies focused on specific issues. In the case of the disability community, which cuts across all partisan and demographic divides, Clinton may be trying to attract not only ­Democratic-leaning voters who are not excited by her candidacy, but also voters who may be leaning toward Trump -- notably disabled veterans.

There is a method to this strategy. President Barack Obama's two campaigns exploited a similar strategy, but they had the good sense to understand that the slicing and dicing should be done out of sight, via social media campaigns, and not on the front page of The Washington Post. Indeed, while Obama's campaign pursued micro-targeting of voters, the candidate spoke to the nation as a whole and appealed to voters as Americans first and to their hyphenated qualities later if at all. One has the gnawing fear that Clinton's campaign is largely populated with that kind of liberal who received a lousy Ivy League education and thinks there is no such thing as "national purpose" or shared ideals.

A Politico article yesterday questioned Trump's advertising strategy and compared it unfavorably with Clinton's. The article noted that Trump has spent only $17 million on ads through mid-September, and had spent that money erratically, compared to a clear strategy deployed by the Clinton campaign, which had spent $126 million so far. And what does she have to show for it? 

This morning, another Politico article is filled with inside information about Clinton's debate prep. Why is this in public? Why does a Clinton campaign always have more leaks than the Titanic? If Clinton's essential problem is a lack of trustworthiness, the idea that Monday night is some kind of a performance for which she must be prepped and scripted is the very definition of unhelpful. Of course, everyone knows that candidates prep for debates, but you do not let your people flaunt their influence within the campaign by speaking out of school. OMG: I just had a moment of missing "no-drama Obama."

Coming out of the convention, the Clinton campaign made one argument and one argument only, that Trump was "unfit" to be president. I agree entirely, but it worried me that this was the campaign's lead message, indeed its only message. People do not like being told they can't vote for someone, and the Constitution only requires that a candidate be 35 and a natural-born citizen. The "he isn't fit" line also feeds the sense many people have that the Establishment thinks they get to decide who is and isn't qualified when it is the voters who get to decide. Additionally, "unfit" sets the bar very low: In next Monday's debate, if Trump doesn't drool, some will conclude he is fit to become president. Her attacks on him should have been, and must now be, specific, not general.

It is a shame that Chris Matthews can't play Trump in the mock debates. He is the obvious choice. And, it was Matthews who, more than any other interviewer, really nailed Trump, refusing to let him get off the hook on the issue of punishment for abortion. Chris is relentless, like a dog with a bone, and that is how Clinton must be on Monday night. If journalistic ethics prevent Matthews from playing Trump in the mock debates, there is nothing to prevent Clinton's team from showing that clip of Chris pinning Trump to the mat just before she takes the stage at Hofstra.

I will have more on the debate and the state of the race Monday morning. The stakes could scarcely be higher. Clinton's campaign needs to get its act together and soon.

[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

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