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Gerald Caplan
Gerald Caplan

Gerald Caplan

Why Trump can beat Clinton Add to ...

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former New Democratic Party national director and a regular panelist on CBC’s Power & Politics.

Hillary Clinton is perhaps the best-qualified candidate for the American presidency since Thomas Jefferson and she will lose to Donald Trump in November. Few candidates have had her experience, knowledge and competence to be president, which is also one of the Achilles heels that will bring her down.

Ms. Clinton has for years been among the bright stars in that political establishment that so many Americans blame for their poor fortunes. It’s these millions of disillusioned Americans who gave us Donald Trump and who almost gave Ms. Clinton Bernie Sanders. Can Ms. Clinton present herself as the person who understands their grievances and who can credibly promise to address them?

In fact, the opposite argument is far more credible. Given her background and her network, it’s far more plausible to expect Ms. Clinton to administer a government dedicated to and run by the same Wall Street barons who ran her husband’s administration and who have since been so lavishly generous to the Clinton family foundation and to Ms. Clinton personally. It will be easy, if rather ironic, for Mr. Trump to argue that Ms. Clinton will be the president of the 1 per cent while he would be the president of the aggrieved workers.

Besides any such line of attack, Mr. Trump in general is Ms. Clinton’s nemesis. Anyone who has watched her in those endless TV debates with Mr. Sanders has seen a brilliant debater, almost impossible to trap on any policy issue, but someone who is programmed right to her teeth. She is always ready for anything – except the unpredictable. Which is Mr. Trump’s middle name.

No one ever knows what grotesque insult he will next pull out of his bag of wonders, which is precisely what will most rattle Ms. Clinton. She can’t prepare for him like she can prepare for a question about Bill Clinton’s philandering or the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and this will make her vulnerable to Mr. Trump every time they face each other. She will be permanently flustered and prone to making costly gaffes.

And if they’re not directly debating, you can be sure that reporters, many of whom openly dislike her, will happily repeat every new accusation from Mr. Trump.

But for most of Mr. Trump’s craziness there is no reply at all. This will badly shake Ms. Clinton’s confidence and leave her vulnerable to the phenomenon of feral Trumpism, which he will instantly grasp and exploit.

But Mr. Trump will not be alone in trying to undermine Ms. Clinton.

First comes the Republican Party, and, broken as it by its own crackpot ideas and internal stresses, it remains a power in the land. We must never forget that the mediocrities who lost to Barack Obama still won more than 46 per cent of all the votes cast: Mitt Romney, John McCain-Sarah Palin! Despite everything, Mr. Trump is likely to get those same Republican votes, and won’t need many more to win.

Second comes the real power in American political-economic life, a vast extremist right-wing conspiracy pervading every corner of the republic, as described by investigative journalist Jane Mayer in her powerful and deeply chilling new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Featuring the reactionary oil barons Charles and David Koch and their fellow ultraconservative billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, this is a tale of how money hijacks democracy in the United States.

Once the final act of the 2016 presidential campaign begins, their sole target will be Ms. Clinton. Despite her closeness to the 1 per cent, they hate her beyond explanation. Almost a billion dollars in advertising, social media, ground organizing and dirty tricks of every possible kind will be launched at her. She won’t know what hit her.

And here’s the thing about Ms. Clinton: She is deeply vulnerable to such attacks. She has always attracted visceral and often irrational hostility. She is seen as too ambitious (which really means a woman with any ambition), inauthentic, programmed, opportunistic, dedicated only to her own success, forever politicking (which really means she’s a smart politician). Averaging the last 379 polls by 40 pollsters, 53.8 per cent of Americans give her an unfavourable rating, and only 41.5 per cent a favourable verdict. This is deeply humiliating for Ms. Clinton and potentially fatal for her chances.

Indeed, from first to last over her 25 years in politics, with and without Bill, she has offered hostages to fortune, beginning perhaps with her joining Wal-Mart’s board while Bill was governor of Arkansas, where the company is based. Ever since, it has often seemed that Ms. Clinton, sometimes deliberately, has walked a fine line, as if she was looking for trouble, which she always has found. They trail nosily behind her like the tin cans on a wedding vehicle.

The situation was summed up in a recent Politico magazine: “Those younger voters who doubt her trustworthiness likely have no memory, or even casual acquaintance with, a 25-year history that includes cattle-futures trading, law firm billing records, muddled sniper fire recollections and the countless other charges of widely varying credibility aimed at her.”

“Countless other charges” is the key phrase here. These charges have never stopped from the moment she became a public figure, and if young Americans don’t recall them, you can be sure the Koch campaign will hammer them home until Hillary Clinton can stand no more, literally or figuratively.

Of course, this all means that Donald Trump will be president. And if you can’t face that, just remember this: I’m not always right.

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