WASHINGTON, September 10, 2016 – Political campaigns teetered again this week, with all four (yes, four) presidential candidates stumbling as they head toward the November polls.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump did themselves any favors with the undecided vote this week, while those already committed continued to dig in their heels.
Hillary Clinton had what may prove to be her “47% moment” when she flat out insulted Trump supporters.
At a Manhattan fundraiser on September 9, Clinton made a statement that sounded like a tactic from the early Trump campaign, saying “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?”
In case that wasn’t enough, she added, “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
It’s one thing to go after your opponent, but it’s another thing to sharpen your knives against supporters – especially when you are trying to woo some of those same supporters to your own camp.
The gaffe quickly fueled social media, the playground of Donald Trump, with #BasketofDeplorables going viral and Donald Trump capitalizing on Clinton’s misstep.
Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2016
As expected, the Clinton campaign quickly ducked and covered, with Hillary Clinton expressing regret at her gross generalizations by Saturday. She issued a statement saying, “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong.”
She was sorry, but not that sorry. Her next statement was, “It’s deplorable that Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia, and given a national platform to hateful views and voices, including by retweeting fringe bigots with a few dozen followers and spreading their message to 11 million people.”
Ah, the sarcasm approach is all fun and games, Secretary Clinton, until you start losing voters. And this latest headline fodder is unlikely to help Clinton in those tightening polls.
For his part, Trump failed to use the heavily criticized “candidates forum” to boost confidence in his abilities. He limply explained that the reason he is qualified to oversee the military as commander-in-chief is because he built a great company. That head-scratching answer characterized most of his statements, which lacked substance and left many viewers feeling far from satisfied.
Trump also restated his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, saying Putin has been a better leader for Russia than President Barack Obama has been for the United States. This effort to disrespect Obama also misses some critical points about Putin, including his willingness to invade sovereign countries, kill of the opposition, disallow protests, and blithely ignore any pesky rule of law that constrains him.
The statement also set off a firestorm from anti-Trumpers, suggesting that Trump likes the Putin style of autocratic-if-not-dictatorial leadership over democracy any day.
Although Trump likely didn’t lose any of his followers this week, he also didn’t bridge any gaps.
And the substance thing is keeping many watchers out of the Trump sphere, at least for now.
Not to be outdone, the other two presidential candidates also faltered this week.
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson flubbed badly when asked about Aleppo. When asked by MSNBC what Johnson would do about Aleppo if he was elected, he was puzzled. “Aleppo?” he asked. This lack of awareness of a major city in Syria, one that has suffered a massive humanitarian crisis, has even supporters a little embarrassed for the third party candidate.
Then on Saturday, Johnson had a very painful five minutes where he struggled with the issue of the Syrian civil war. Syria is a complicated issue, but one that a presidential candidate should likely bone up on.
Johnson blazed into the campaign promising to shake things up, and considering the flaccid reaction to the two major party candidates, people thought he had a shot of at least making a dent in America’s two party system. That’s becoming less and less likely. He’s still below the 15 percent threshold required to be included in presidential debates, and mistakes like these two this week are not going to help him.
On the other hand, many Americans now at least know who he is, and will no longer respond to the question of “What do you think about Gary Johnson?” with the question, “Johnson?”
Green Party candidate Jill Stein was not about to let the other three hog the spotlight. On Friday, the Sheriff’s Department in Morton County, North Dakota, announced there was a warrant for Stein’s arrest. Stein, and her vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka (“Baraka?”), had attended a protest rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline and in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux. While at the protest, she accessed private property and spray-painted a statement on a bulldozer blade. And she did so proudly.
Now she faces a charge of misdemeanor criminal trespass and criminal mischief.
Stein may actually gain backers from the move. Many on the left support the indigenous group in the dispute, and were dismayed that the courts ruled against them.
But progressives aren’t exactly lining up in favor of Stein. She’s currently polling around 5 percent, and is as un-loved on the left as she is on the right. A Slate article in July called her, “…an absolutely awful torchbearer for the far left. She’s a Harvard-trained physician who panders to pseudoscience. She mangles pet policy issues. And her cynical retelling of the past eight years has nothing to do with the reality of recorded history.”
Apparently revved up from her recent headlines, Stein is now calling for a new 9/11 investigation, saying the 9/11 Commission report contains “omissions and distortions.”
But unfortunately for Stein, there is little she can do at this point to overcome the question of “Stein?” when Americans talk about the election, and she almost certainly will not be on that debate podium.
With the debate still 16 days away, there is plenty of time for more faux pas, missteps, embarrassments and explosive outbursts. And this group of candidates is sure to deliver.