Analysis:: Trump and Clinton are giving people lots of reasons to vote against them
In the span of a few days, the campaigns of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have each stumbled over flaws in the candidates that could mar the presidency of whichever one wins in November.
For Trump, the publication over the Fourth of July weekend of a tweet using anti-Semitic imagery underscored his willingness to use bigoted characterizations to advance his political career. His statements since, including denying the tweet’s connections to a white supremacist website, highlighted his repeated and documented use of falsehoods to push his case.
For Clinton, the blunt critique from FBI Director James B. Comey, who on Tuesday called her recklessly sloppy when it came to classified emails she handled as secretary of State, demonstrated anew that Clinton seeks to avoid scrutiny even when doing so skirts the law. The email episode also showed that Clinton had no one in her inner circle — at least at that time — with the standing to dissuade her when her instincts erred.
None of those characteristics that the candidates displayed is beneficial to a presidency, to say the least. Each speaks to a different willingness to ignore the means to an end.
The depth to which the presidential campaign has sunk was evident beginning Saturday. Clinton was interviewed for 3 ½ hours by FBI officials investigating her use of a private email server and her handling of sensitive information during her tenure at the State Department. The investigation alone might have doomed Clinton’s campaign months ago, but for her hold on the Democratic Party and the decision by her challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, not to discuss the issue during the primary season.
But even news of the interview took a back seat to Trump’s flagrant tweet that day, which included a graphic that superimposed, over a cascade of money, Clinton’s face and a six-pointed star.
After Trump was accused of catering to allusions of Jewish greed, his campaign masked the star with a circle but added the moniker AmericaFirst, a term used by Trump but also by anti-Semitic isolationists before World War II. Trump later asserted that the star was “a sheriff’s star” — although it lacked the rounded ends that traditionally mark those — “or plain star.”
In both cases, voters were confronted with candidates hobbled by their own judgment, or lack thereof, more than by world events, economic turns or the demographic tides of the nation.
Not surprisingly, recent polls show that while Clinton and Trump have enthusiastic supporters, they have inspired widespread dissatisfaction.
In a USA Today/Suffolk poll published Monday, 53% of voters had an unfavorable view of Clinton while 60% had a negative view of Trump. About 1 in 5 voters castigated both candidates.
A Fox News poll released June 29 explained why: Asked whether Clinton was honest and trustworthy, only 30% of registered voters said she was while two-thirds of voters said she was not. It was the most negative finding for Clinton among nine characteristics presented to voters.
As for Trump, a similar 34% said that he was honest and trustworthy compared with 63% who said he was not. But Trump also suffered from negative attributes not ascribed to Clinton: More than 4 in 5 voters, for example, said he was obnoxious and hot-headed.
The absence of trust in either one of the presumptive 2016 nominees is a startling thing by historic measures and predicts a race that will be relentlessly negative. Each candidate, bereft of positive wishes from the electorate, will try to convince voters that the other is a worse bet.
Their responses to the most recent stumbles seem to have only added to that trajectory.
Trump has flatly refused to acknowledge that his broadsides against Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims and, more elliptically and most recently Jews, had any grounding in bias. When he came under criticism for his Star of David tweet, he blamed Clinton for “trying to divert attention from the dishonest behavior of herself and her husband.”
He has not dealt head-on with the fact that many Republicans are put off by his actions and have publicly called on him to tone down his flamboyant rhetoric. The fact that Trump is contemplating a national convention featuring more speeches by sports coaches or outsiders than his party’s political establishment suggests the continued fear his candidacy stokes among other Republicans.
Trump has given little indication that he listens to the counsel of anyone not named Trump; it took the intercession of his children to get him to fire his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
But intimations that a new candidate would result after the firing have proven false. Trump traveled to Scotland and ended up touting the upside for his personal fortune of economic chaos roiling America’s foremost ally following the vote to leave the European Union. He said that he had predicted the vote when he did not. Then he came home and in short order, lofted yet another insult in the form of the Star of David tweet. (On Tuesday night in North Carolina, he praised Saddam Hussein.)
Although she has taken a step that Trump won’t and acknowledged errors, Clinton often has done so in a glancing way. After much to-and-fro last year, she eventually said that it was a mistake to use a private email server to do public business. But on the larger issue of trust, she has often laid blame on her critics, much as Trump does.
“I’ve made mistakes,” she added. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. So I understand people having questions.”
A reminder of the constant churn of controversy in the Clinton family’s earlier turn in the White House came last week when Bill Clinton took it upon himself to chat privately with Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch, who was in charge of the email investigation that formally came to a close on late Wednesday.
That act drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike and revived the complaint that, once again, the Clintons were playing by their own rules.
Clinton survived in a legal sense on Tuesday, since she was not indicted, a standard that would be laughable in any campaign other than this one. She also, again, profited from her opponents.
Trump and many of his fellow Republicans — having primed their fans to expect an indictment even though legal experts predicted none would come — focused less on Comey’s harsh criticism of Clinton than on the FBI itself.
In seizing on the notion that the FBI had faltered, Republicans put themselves at war with an FBI chief widely seen as brimming with integrity, instead of pointing to a Democratic candidate that chief had just humbled with his critique.
The winner in November’s election will enter a White House that has historically seemed only to enhance, not mitigate, the shortcomings of its occupant. The actions of the last few days — how the candidates got there and how they responded — suggest that both could be haunted in the future by their own failings and that a campaign that is less inspirational than dispiriting could flow into a troubled administration.
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