Donald Trump is currently committing public acts of racist and/or religiously bigoted garbage sleaze at a rate of about one act of garbage sleaze per day. He is also leading the race to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. This reality is upsetting to our nation’s many sane and nonracist Republicans—Trump’s “unfavorable” ratings among Republicans are closer to those of failing candidates like John Kasich and Jeb Bush than to other top contenders like Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz. The erstwhile real-estate developer and reality-television celebrity is even more unpopular among members of the general population. And these are polls that were taken before Trump endorsed inflammatory hoax “facts” about treasonous New Jersey Muslims and black murderers.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is very likely to become the Democratic nominee for president. She’s not super well-liked herself and at this point it seems that the general election next year is probably going to be a close one. So with (apparently) little to fear from her top challenger, Bernie Sanders, Clinton is doing her best to look toward the general by trying to associate Republicans as a whole with Trump’s hateful rhetoric—right?
Nope. Clinton, in fact, didn’t mention Trump’s name in either Democratic debate except to use him as an example of a rich person while arguing that rich people’s kids don’t need the government to pay for their college educations. She didn’t mention Trump in this Sept. 27 Meet the Press appearance or her high-profile foreign policy speech last week. He only came up in this Oct. 7 PBS interview in the context of the federal budget. The New York Times actually has a piece out today about the recent general election–oriented shift in Clinton’s rhetoric—but each example the Times cites is of Clinton criticizing the Republican Party in general, not Trump in particular. Democratic adviser Bob Shrum is the only person quoted in the Times piece who mentions Trump, asserting that attacking him could work to Clinton’s advantage.
Shrum’s point makes sense to me. Hyping up your most extreme and unelectable potential opponent is a time-honored political strategy, and Clinton right now has the opportunity to start tying the GOP to its Trump-shaped anchor. So why isn’t she doing it?
Perhaps Clinton is worried that by playing up Trump’s lunacy, she’ll make an eventual non-Trump Republican nominee (Marco Rubio, say) look sane and reasonable by comparison. But couldn’t a close race with Trump also force Rubio to dabble in right-wing zealotry himself, delaying his own general-election pivot toward the center? More broadly, Clinton has already seemed to suggest that she’s going to run an oppositional campaign against the Republican Party. She’s positioning herself as a fighter willing to tear into the GOP to get things done, not a hopey-changey-compassionate uniter like Obama or George W. Bush. Why not get started on that by being the candidate who stands up to Donald Trump’s white-nationalist nonsense while incidentally mentioning over and over that Trump is currently the most popular figure in an increasingly extreme Republican Party that seems to be rapidly abandoning the values and beliefs of the typical nonracist American? After all, it’s true.