Hillary Clinton gave every indication that she is going to start to pivot to a general election message against Republican front-runner Donald Trump in her victory speech on Tuesday, as wins for the former Secretary of State in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina clarified the Democratic primary contest further.
While she couldn’t claim presumptive nominee status at the end of the night, her already large lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders widened to the point where she clearly felt comfortable moving toward messages we’re more likely to hear during a potential fall campaign against Trump. The pivot comes even as the real estate magnate failed to secure the critical state of Ohio that would have all but sealed his own nomination and was left to continue to fight his own three-way race with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Without directly saying she was talking about Trump, Clinton argued that he could not be trusted as the next president, either from a national security standpoint or from the standpoint of America’s standing on the world stage.
“The second big test for our next president is keeping us safe. We live in a complex and, yes, a dangerous world. Protecting America’s national security can never be an afterthought,” she said. “Our commander in chief has to be able to defend our country, not embarrass it. Engage our allies, not alienate them. Defeat our adversaries, not embolden them.”
Pointing out the risks of a Commander-in-Chief Donald J. Trump seems like a smart tack. But focusing on national security could leave her open to a pointed attack that Trump had success in using against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the Republican campaign trail, specifically calling out the failure of the Iraq War and the part that his rivals have played in that. Clinton voted in favor of the war, and that vote was one of the key reasons Barack Obama was able to defeat her for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
Clinton also previewed other avenues of attack, specifically noting the terrifying nature of Trump’s proposals for millions of people in this country and the bigotry of his plans and statements.
“When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering United States, when he embraces torture, that doesn’t make him strong, it makes him wrong,” she said. “We should be breaking down barriers, not building walls. We’re not going to succeed by dividing this country between us and them. You know, to be great, we can’t be small.”
This line about divisions actually echoed something Sen. Marco Rubio said in his own speech announcing his withdrawal from the Republican race after losing to Trump in his home state of Florida. “The politics of resentment against other people will not just leave us a fractured party, they’re going to leave us a fractured nation,” he said. “They’re going to leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other because they have different political opinions.”
While that vaguer and more optimistic message has clearly not succeeded in this year’s Republican nominating contest, it seems likely that Clinton might have better luck with it when the contest is not just among disaffected voters angry at an incumbent president from the opposition party but among the entire country, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike.