This is the critical time when candidates for president must define themselves to a wider electorate, many of whom are just beginning to pay attention after tuning out the raucous primaries.
Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump took a major step toward seizing the narrative of the race in a post-primary speech Tuesday night. “I’m going to be America’s champion,” Trump said. “Because you see, this election isn’t about Republican or Democrat. It’s about who runs this country: the special interests, or the American people.”
Trump is smart to seize this time to define himself and his own candidacy, at the same time applying pressure on Clinton’s existing negatives.
Trump can build on the foundations set by the speech Tuesday with another major address set for Monday, in which he said he plans to lay out his case against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Secretary Clinton even did all of her work on a totally illegal private server,” Trump said Tuesday, “designed to keep her corrupt dealings out of the public record, putting the security of the entire country at risk – and a president in a corrupt system is protecting her.”
“I am going to give a major speech addressing these issues next week,” Trump continued, teasing the speech slated for Monday.
In that speech Trump can expand on and cement the narrative he established Tuesday by putting Clinton’s existing negatives and failures in the context of his overreaching message.
Fortunately for Trump, Clinton is largely already defined by her negatives, meaning the building blocks are already assembled for the winning campaign narrative to be hammered home. A decades-long public profile marred by scandal and self-aggrandizement has given Clinton historically high unfavorable numbers and planted deep distrust of her priorities among voters.
The mogul can set up Hillary’s negatives in a way that defines the contest between the Establishment status quo that has robbed the nation of jobs and opportunity and an America First platform, between a corrupt, scandal-ridden figure and someone with no ulterior motive to run besides bringing real change to Washington.
A dismal jobs report released by the Labor Department this week showed the private sector added just 25,000 jobs in May. Trump can use the salient news to hammer Clinton for her vacillations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and her past support for lopsided free trade deals that have gutted American manufacturing.
To hammer Hillary’s flip-flops on TPP in particular will give Trump a concrete way to call out Clinton’s conniving, finger-in-the-wind attitude towards politics, segue into her ongoing email scandal and demonstrate that when it comes to the Clintons — everything is interconnected.
The email scandal recently erupted back into the news when the State Department refused to publicly release Clinton’s communications with the U.S. trade representative on TPP, communications that likely demonstrated Clinton’s rapid support for the trade deal she now vows to oppose.
The topic also recently made headline when an inspector general’s report concluded that she violated State Department protocol with her use of the private email server, exposing previous Clinton statements that what she did was permitted as lies.
The lack of transparency intersects with the cold, calculating and unprincipled way the Clintons conduct their business in the public sphere, which of course intersects with the allegations of quid pro quo around the Clinton Foundation.
“Hillary Clinton turned the State Department into her private hedge fund,” Trump said in his victory speech Tuesday, “the Russians, the Saudis, the Chinese, all gave money to Bill and Hillary and got favorable treatment in return.”
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The Clinton Foundation has been the conduit for the Clintons to mix influence peddling and financial gain. A film was released last month highlighting the charity’s connections to foreign governments and businesses tying to curry favor.
The Clintons’ focus on personal gain sets the stage perfectly for an examination of Hillary’s failures in foreign policy. Clinton and President Obama promised a Pacific pivot to counter China, but China is belligerently asserting itself in the South China Sea, expanding the trade deficit with the U.S. in its favor. Likely state-sponsored hackers stole thousands of U.S. government records with impunity.
Clinton and the president promised a reset with Russia, only to see Putin seize previously unimaginable influence over the Middle East and seize territory unimpeded in Eastern Europe.
Clinton doubled down on her support of the administration’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, backed the Syrian “red line” that obliterated U.S. credibility in the conflict and, probably worst of all, failed her one true test of leadership the night extremists murdered a U.S. ambassador in Benghazi. Clinton even lied to the families of Americans lost in the assault.
Trump is smart to seize this time to define himself and his own candidacy, while at the same time applying pressure to Clinton’s existing negatives. The cemetery of presidential politics is littered with the bones of candidates who failed to define themselves or their opponents during the summer doldrums.
Then-Sen. John Kerry vowed to stay above negative politics for much of the summer of 2004. After enduring weeks of unanswered blistering attacks from the independent group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on his record in Vietnam, it was too late for Kerry to recover. Kerry was defined by the attacks from the Bush-aligned group.
While Kerry failed to define himself in 2004, Sen. John McCain failed to define his opponent in 2008. Though electoral conditions and other missteps played no small part in his presidential demise, McCain refused to deploy reams of powerful opposition research against then-Sen. Barack Obama. McCain allowed Obama to define the contest as one between the old days of Bush and a future of change. It was too late in the game when McCain finally allowed ads to air showcasing Obama’s preacher Jeremiah Wright spewing virulent anti-American rhetoric and exposing Obama’s close ties to domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.
Trump has the tremendous opportunity Monday to define Clinton in the context of America First versus the corrupted status quo. Exactly how he approaches the chance is all that remains to be seen.