The Slatest

Hillary Finds the GOP’s Trump-Sized Weakness

Hillary Clinton greets supporters after speaking at New York University on July 24, 2015 in New York City.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Fox News isn’t the only one using Donald Trump to score points. Hillary Clinton is too. The overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination has spent months trying to convince liberals that she’s a fighter. Thanks to Trump, she’s finally getting to act like one on the campaign trail.

Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire on Monday, Clinton blasted Trump for making his controversial (and arguably menstruation-themed) remarks about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly after last week’s debate. Hillary, though, didn’t just take the political gimme that Trump’s comments provided and move on; she made sure to hit the entire Republican field in the process.

“They brag about slashing women’s health-care funding,” Clinton said of her GOP rivals. “They say they would force women who’ve been raped to carry their rapist’s child. You don’t hear any of them supporting raising the minimum wage, paid leave for new parents, access to quality child care, equal pay for women, or anything that will help to give women a chance to get ahead.”

This is the opportunity that The Donald offers Hillary—and the danger his surprising durability represents to the eventual Republican nominee. It’s easy for someone like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, or Marco Rubio to play the role of grown-up alongside Trump’s petulant child on the debate stage. It’s quite another thing when Clinton can point out that several of their underlying policy positions are even more extreme than the tough-talking reality TV star’s. Hillary’s smart to recognize that, and to seize on it.

Clinton was always going to have the advantage with female voters in 2016, but the odd combo of Trump’s incendiary remarks and (relatively!) moderate positions tilts the playing field even further to her advantage. Consider: The GOP’s Big Three all want to defund Planned Parenthood. Trump, though, says he’s open to preserving some of the organization’s federal funding. Rubio and Walker have made it clear they want to outlaw abortions even in the cases of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk. Trump, though, supports such exceptions. If you strip away Trump’s misogynistic comments, then, and compare him only to his GOP rivals, his Trumpian claim that he’d “be able to do things for women that no other candidate would be able to do” doesn’t sound so ridiculous.

That’s a very real problem for a party that is desperate to avoid the same war-on-women narrative that hurt it in 2012. Republicans will need to find a way to limit Clinton’s obvious advantages with women in the general election—but that becomes an even more difficult task if she has already convinced voters that the eventual GOP nominee’s views are actually to the right of a man who calls women “slobs” and “disgusting animals.” If the belligerent billionaire represents the conservative fringe—and for many Americans, he does—then what does that say about those establishment candidates who are even further from the center than he is? That’s a question Hillary will be more than happy to pose (and answer) for voters.

Clinton has been slowly ramping up her attacks on her GOP rivals of late, but our current 24-Trump media environment is tailor made for her to throw more punches—and throw them harder—than she has been. A sly jab at Bush might get noticed by those paying attention, but a roundhouse that hits Jeb is impossible to miss if she’s saying Trump’s name in the process.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.