The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.
No More Dignity
What were Republican voters thinking when they cast ballots for Donald Trump, an ideologically heterodox vulgarian with no experience in government or politics? This New York Times story may answer that question:
Donald J. Trump plans to throw Bill Clinton’s infidelities [sic] in Hillary Clinton’s face on live television during the presidential debates this fall, questioning whether she enabled his behavior and sought to discredit the women involved.
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.
Drawing on psychological warfare tactics that Mr. Trump used to defeat “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Little Marco” Rubio and “Low-Energy” Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries, the Trump campaign is mapping out character attacks on the Clintons to try to increase their negative poll ratings and bait them into making political mistakes, according to interviews with Mr. Trump and his advisers.
Would the principled Cruz, the sunny Rubio or the wonkish Bush have had the stomach to wage this sort of ugly campaign against Mrs. Clinton? Would Mrs. Clinton’s surrogates, if not she herself, have felt any more constrained to be high-minded than Barack Obama and his supporters did four years ago?
In the last two presidential elections, the GOP nominated decent men who were conventional (albeit also ideologically heterodox) politicians. John McCain and Mitt Romney lost with dignity. It’s hardly surprising that this time around, voters who want to win would not place a premium on dignity.
Nominating Trump is a gamble, of course, and perhaps it will turn out to be an unwise one. But it isn’t a crazy one, given the political environment of 2016—which includes liberal media determined to gloss over Mrs. Clinton’s many deficiencies of character. Note the word “infidelities” in the lead paragraph of that Times story, which casts Mrs. Clinton as her husband’s victim and throws down the memory hole the women who’ve accused Mr. Clinton of sexual harassment and assault. Note, too, this paragraph:
Mrs. Clinton has often flourished in the wake of boorish behavior: her husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth W. Starr’s investigation of her husband, the congressional impeachment proceedings. Women rallied to her side during her 2000 Senate race after her Republican opponent, Representative Rick A. Lazio, invaded her personal space during one debate, and they helped her win the 2008 New Hampshire primary shortly after Barack Obama dismissively said she was “likable enough.”
If Mrs. Clinton’s journalistic enablers are going to define all of her male adversaries—even ones as mild and amiable as Ken Starr and Rick Lazio—as boors anyway, why not send an actual boor to do the job?
The Washington Post suggests it may not be as hard a job as many commentators imagine:
More than a dozen Clinton allies identified weaknesses in her candidacy that may erode her prospects of defeating Donald Trump, including poor showings with young women, untrustworthiness, unlikability and a lackluster style on the stump. Supporters also worry that she is a conventional candidate in an unconventional election in which voters clearly favor renegades. . . .
To counter these challenges, Clinton is relying primarily on the prospect that her likely Republican opponent’s weaknesses are even greater. But advisers also are working to soften her stiff public image by highlighting her compassion and to combat perceptions about trustworthiness and authenticity by playing up her problem-solving abilities.
“Hillary Clinton is in a stronger position than Donald Trump, but it will be competitive,” said Joel Benenson, Clinton’s senior strategist and pollster. “All these races are.”
One sign of Mrs. Clinton’s weakness is her inability to secure quickly the nomination that is inevitably hers. Bernie Sanders has put up a surprisingly strong challenge—much more surprising than Obama’s, eight years earlier—simply by dint of sincerity and ideological consistency. Sanders has barely mentioned the scandals Trump says he plans to raise. It occurred to us the other day that the reason for this omission may be because Sanders is too simple-minded to understand them.
The Vermont socialist’s mind is not a subtle one. On his Twitter account, he periodically issues pronouncements like this one, quoted by Twitchy last month: “It’s grossly unfair that interest rates on student loans are two to three times higher than on auto loans.” Other Twitterers will try to explain to him the idea of collateral, but it never sinks in.
As far as we can tell, Sanders’s worldview consists of little more than a crude demonology in which Big Business is bad, and certain sectors (finance, pharmaceuticals, fossil fuels) are even worse. Thus he hammered Mrs. Clinton over her six-figure speeches to Goldman Sachs, which he is able to comprehend as evil.
He was able to comprehend, back in January, that Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct “was totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable.” But he added: “I am running against Hillary Clinton. I’m not running against Bill Clinton.” Sanders could not understand why Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong.
At an October debate, Sanders said to Mrs. Clinton: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” We took that as a criticism; most commentators—and Mrs. Clinton—thought he was giving her a pass. At any rate, to someone unable to understand an everyday financial concept like collateral, the rules about handling classified information might as well be inter-universal Teichmüller theory.
The insight about Sanders came to us last week after a screening of “Clinton Cash,” the new documentary based on Peter Schweizer’s book about the staggering corruption of the Clinton Foundation, and through it the State Department under Mrs. Clinton.
The doc, also showing at the Cannes Film Festival, has received favorable reviews from some unlikely sources: MSNBC (“devastating”) and Time, whose Philip Elliott observes that it “might keep disaffected liberals at home, energize the Sanders supporters to keep up the fight even after their preferred candidate bows to reality and serve up new fodder for conservative talking heads on cable news.”
During the Q&A after the screening, audience members asked if the Sanders campaign had seen the film (they hadn’t) and why Sanders himself hadn’t used any of this material in his campaign against Mrs. Clinton. That’s when it occurred to us that the Clinton Foundation’s corruption is very complicated, and Sanders has shown no capacity to deal with complication. Trump, by contrast, at least seems to understand the big picture.
The Times had another Trump piece over the weekend, this one an attempted hit job titled “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private.” The opening is dramatic: “Donald J. Trump had barely met Rowanne Brewer Lane when he asked her to change out of her clothes.” Actually Trump offered a swimsuit to Brewer Lane, a model, who had come to a pool party at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., residence without one. She accepted and changed: “ ‘He brought me out to the pool and said, “That is a stunning Trump girl, isn’t it?” ’ Ms. Brewer Lane said.”
Then we get the nut of the story: “This is the public treatment of some women by Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president: degrading, impersonal, performed.” After eight more paragraphs in this vein, we get the anticlimax: “For Ms. Brewer Lane, her introduction to Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago was the start of a whirlwind romance.” (Trump was “in the midst” of a divorce at the time.)
At that point we stopped reading. The best they can do for an opening anecdote is an example of Trump’s successfully pitching woo?
This sort of bogus scandal story is a rite of passage for Republican presidential candidates—recall John McCain’s friendship with a female lobbyist, Mitt Romney’s alleged bully-boy behavior in high school , and Marco Rubio’s “luxury speedboat.”
Politico reports that Brewer Lane, appearing this morning on “Fox & Friends,” disputed the Times account:
“Actually, it was very upsetting. I was not happy to read it at all,” Brewer Lane said. “Well, because The New York Times told us several times that they would make sure that my story that I was telling came across. They promised several times that they would do it accurately. They told me several times and my manager several times that it would not be a hit piece and that my story would come across the way that I was telling it and honestly, and it absolutely was not.”
Asked what the reporters got wrong, Brewer Lane said they took her quotes and “put a negative connotation on it.”
“They spun it to where it appeared negative. I did not have a negative experience with Donald Trump, and I don’t appreciate them making it look like that I was saying that it was a negative experience because it was not,” Brewer Lane said.
Trump himself tweeted: “With the coming forward today of the woman central to the failing @nytimes hit piece on me, we have exposed the article as a fraud!” Again, it may not be dignified, but McCain, Romney and Rubio all managed to lose with dignity.
For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.