One of the arguments most frequently made for the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner, is that he’s the party’s only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton, who is somehow once again the presumptive Democratic nominee. All those same polls that Trump and his supporters love to talk about show that he’s the only Republican and one of the few human beings on the planet with even higher un-favorability ratings than Clinton, and that he consistently loses to her in head-to-head match-ups and fares far worse against her than his remaining rivals, but we’re assured that at least he fights.
The same can well be said of Trump’s only significant remaining rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but the worry is that even such a notoriously pugnacious fellow as he won’t make it as personal and nasty and down-in-the-gutter as will be required. There are no such worries about Trump, of course, who has the undeniable advantage over Cruz of being unbound by any notions of political correctness or social propriety or the basic human decency that refrains lesser mortals from mocking the handicapped and disparaging servicemen who suffer wartime captivity or commenting on another candidate’s face or a pesky journalist’s menstrual cycles. The thinking that Trump’s shock jock insult comic shtick will work at least as well against such a vulnerable target as the dishonest and corrupt and incompetent and scandal-ridden and under-investigation Clinton as it has against the distinguished and admirable governors and senators and physicians and business executives that he’s already vanquished has some plausibility, but we’re not at all convinced that even such a knock-down-drag-out type as Trump will be able to prevail in a personal and nasty and down-in-the-gutter brawl with the likes of anybody named Clinton.
Trump is already running an on-air attack ad against Clinton that features her much-laughed-at barking-like-a-dog routine from a few weeks back, with shots of a laughing Vladimir Putin and a scowling Islamic terrorist interspersed, and the ominous warning that “We don’t need to be a punchline.” It’s a point well taken, we’ll admit, but anyone who has lately tuned into the late night comedy shows and shock jock radio programs and other leading indicators of the American mood has surely noticed that Trump also figures in a lot of punchlines, and in this fight the thin-and-orange-skinned Trump will be leading with a glass jaw. Should Clinton decide to retaliate with footage of Trump acting in at least equally un-presidential ways she can choose from hours of footage of Trump shaving Vince McMahon’s head in World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Battle of the Billionaires,” or of him comparing himself to Napoleon and Alexander the Great while pitching “Trump: The Board Game,” or talking about how he picked all the top people to teach “Trump University” students how to be great just like he’s going to make America great again, or wearing overalls and holding a pitchfork to sing the “Green Acres” theme with that woman from that oh-so-gay “Will and Grace” sit-com from a few years back, not to mention the rest of his 40 years of tabloid and reality television celebrity, or even his recent admission he was flattered by Putin’s praise and figured that the Russian dictator’s occasional assassinations were morally equivalent to America’s politics. As ridiculous as it was, that barking-like-a-dog bit was a mere sound-bite-sized part of a folksy anecdote about an old Arkansas political ad that Clinton’s fans found quite endearing, and even to such Clinton-loathing Republicans such as ourselves all that Trump footage is harder to rationalize.
Better to go after Clinton on all the dishonesty and corruption and incompetence she’s exhibited over her own long and tawdry tabloid and reality television career, which the public currently acknowledges, or on the disastrous policies she proposes, which the public might yet come to understand, and which such a notoriously pugnacious but bound-by-civility sort as Cruz might do, rather than a sound-bite sized moment when she barked like a dog. Alas, even the promethean Trump does find himself bound in these lines of attack. The phony-baloney foundation that Clinton and her satyric husband and spoiled rich kid founded and which was largely funded by nations and people seeking the family’s influence is an under-investigation scandal that could be exploited, but Trump wrote it a one-hundred-grand check and during the first general election debate the supposedly shrewd businessman will be hard pressed to explain how he thought it was helping some poor Haitian earthquake victim. Her remarkable string of luck from her gazillion-to-one cattle futures-trading to the thousands-per-minute rates she charged for speeches at universities where she lamented the student’s tuition rates are unconscionably high, but not by someone who will have to acknowledge she made the smart deal. She’s down for Obamacare, which all the anti-Republican Republicans are still fuming that the awful Mitt Romeny couldn’t exploit because of his own heresies on socialized medicine, but Trump is fine with that individual mandate that he blames Supreme Court Justice John Roberts for and has promised that no one will die in the streets under his watch and is proposing a Medicaid expansion beyond what either Clinton or Obama ever suggested, so it will take an actual Republican to address that issue. Trump has already rightly noted that Clinton’s family history makes her an unfit spokesperson for the feminist cause, but even his Republican opponents are already running attack ads with all his outrageously misogynistic statements over the years and up to very recently, and we don’t expect he can win that personal and nasty and down-in-the-gutter fight.
Clinton has promised not to do anything about the entitlement programs that are hurtling America toward bankruptcy, but Trump, who came out of four corporate bankruptcies boasting about his billions, is similarly sanguine about this un-barking problem. Clinton has lately embarrassed herself claiming that no American lives were lost as a result of her disastrous push to bomb Libya, and will forever be tarnished by the fact that four Americans died as a result of her deaf ear to their pleas for added security, and that she lied to the public and blamed it on a citizen who exercised his First Amendment rights to make a little-watched video, and had him imprisoned, but Trump’s claims that he opposed her Libyan intervention have already been revealed as a lie, and he’s got his own problems with that damned First Amendment, which has so often proved embarrassing to him over his long tabloid and reality television career.
At least Trump fights and he’ll point out that Clinton is aged and unattractive and is married to a well-known adulterer, but he’s older than Clinton and not exactly Paul-Newman-in-“Hud” good-looking himself and can’t help bragging about all the hot and married babes he’s bagged, to the point that avoiding sexually-transmitted was his own “personal Vietnam,” and how at least he didn’t get captured, like those POW losers, but we can’t see it ending well for him or the country at large. No matter who the Republicans nominate the candidate will be typecast as a racist and sexist and homophobic and downright kicking-widows-out-of-their-homes villain, but at this point they still have a chance to pick someone who won’t provide the video proof.
If they do, they’ll still have an outside chance to pick someone who can win a fight somewhere above the gutter, where Clinton doesn’t fare so well.
— Bud Norman