Hillary Clinton needs to steal the country’s attention from Trump

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(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Apparently, there is a famous woman running for president against Donald Trump who has a very good chance to win, not that there is much said about her in the media. Most days on cable TV news shows, in the political blogs and in the newspapers nearly all the discussion is about Trump’s latest weird tweet or bellicose speech or impulsive campaign stunt.

Is this good for Hillary Clinton? Some opine that it is. All the focus on Trump deflects attention from the nagging questions, both fair and unfair, about her actions as secretary of State, her mishandled email and her complicated ties to the Clinton Foundation. It allows her to be selective about when she talks to the media. And it frees her to spend lots of time flying around to ultra-exclusive fundraisers from Beverly Hills to Nantucket.

Arguably, this is working. Current projections put her on an open path to the 270 electoral votes she needs to capture the presidency, while Trump is struggling to maintain a lead even in solid Republican states such as Georgia and Arizona. So, who cares if Trump dominates the news?


Clinton should care. In a country where far too many voters seem more interested in being entertained than enlightened, Trump is a good show. Even though the electoral map favors Clinton, national polls do not indicate that there is much of a popular-vote gap between the two candidates — both hover in the 40s. The voters who remain undecided will be swayed by impressions they get from watching television, and it seems a bit of a gamble to cede the cameras to Trump in the hope that he will continue to offend more people than he pleases.

Additionally, not all victories are the same. If Clinton wins by a tiny margin, the Trump camp’s bogus, but inevitable, claims of a rigged election will put a cloud over the outcome. The large percentage of Americans who get their news exclusively from Fox News and talk radio and who have been taught to despise and distrust Hillary and her husband will claim another reason not to accept her as a legitimate occupant of the White House. If Clinton has no coattails and Democrats fail to take the Senate (the House is a long shot in any circumstance), her administration will be politically hamstrung from day one.

Clinton needs something close to a landslide if she hopes to have any kind of mandate and if she hopes to bring a more friendly Congress into office with her. To get such a large margin of victory, she must do more than let Trump beat himself. She needs to steal the attention from him and get more people enthused about the idea of having her as president.

Right now, in his erratic way, Trump is doing a good job of reinforcing the pervasive right-wing caricature of Hillary as dishonest, corrupt and even criminal. As preposterous as his rhetoric may be, it is being heard day after day while Clinton’s voice is largely absent. The upcoming presidential debates offer a vitally important opportunity to project an appealing image of competence and command of issues, but, given that Clinton will face a very unpredictable opponent on the debate stage, she cannot be certain those three battles of wits will work in her favor.

If Clinton wants to grab the spotlight, she must confront very directly and very effectively the bad image that so many people have lodged in their brains — a tough task that carries with it plenty of risk. The temptation will be to play it safe and coast on current momentum to a slim victory. But barely beating the most absurd candidate Republicans have ever nominated will not give Clinton the clout she will need in the toxic political battles certain to come once the votes are counted and the hard work of governing begins.


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