Has he said this before? It feels like an applause line that he delivers at every rally but I can’t remember being struck by hearing him put it this way previously. WaPo was also struck by it hard enough to cut the clip and post it on their website. There’s no more efficient way to make the case against Hillary Clinton than this one line. “Crooked Hillary” is effective, but it suffers from the fact that Americans believe most politicians are crooked. WaPo’s own ongoing coverage of Trump’s charity is all about making the case that he’s crooked. Reminding voters that Hillary is corrupt even by Washington standards is useful, but it didn’t stop the public from handing her an eight-point lead in various polls a month ago. Crookedness is a major weakness but maybe not a fatal weakness.
Telling Americans that nothing will change if they vote for her feels more like a fatal weakness.
We’re coming up on 15 straight years of Americans believing that the country’s on the wrong track, and the margins aren’t close. Apart from a brief honeymoon after Obama was sworn in seven years ago, “right track” hasn’t been within 20 points of “wrong track” since Dubya’s first term. That’s hard sledding for the incumbent party, which means it was a sure thing that Trump would be using this line no matter who his opponent was. Having been blessed with Hillary Clinton as the competition, though, the line becomes 10 times more potent because it’s obviously true. She’s the ultimate establishment known quantity; with the possible exception of Trump’s old nemesis Jeb Bush, there’s literally no one whom either party might have nominated who better captures the idea of “status quo” than Clinton. All of that is already part of Hillary’s dismal political stock, of course, but Trump hasn’t really drilled down on it. Sometimes he attacks her for lacking “stamina,” sometimes he criticizes her for interventionism, sometimes he needles her about her emails or the Foundation, but it’s all over the board. If he can turn the election into a straightforward “change or no change?” question for voters as an umbrella for all of those other issues, he wins. If I were Trump, I’d be dropping this line on her 10 times a day and using it as my closing argument in all three debates. He’s already primed the pump in his message to black voters: What the hell do you have to lose by trying something different at this point?
Hillary’s counterargument is equally straightforward, though, thanks to Trump’s own weaknesses: “No change — or insane change?” He’s the one candidate whom the GOP might have nominated who gives Democrats ammo to plausibly claim that, as bad as things are now, they actually can get worse. That’s what all of Clinton’s “loose cannon” messaging towards Trump is about, of course. If you’re driving on a mountain road and all you want to do is change directions, you can achieve that by jerking the wheel and driving over the cliff. But that’s a hard defense for a politician to make — yes, things are bad and I’m just the sort of underwhelming leader who’ll do little to improve them, but they could be worse. A skilled politician like Obama might be able to make that sale. A politician like Clinton is stuck with a 50/50 election coin flip, and her odds are only even that good because Trump keeps giving people reasons to think, “You know, it really could be worse.”
Seriously, though, this is the strongest card he’s holding. He should play it at every opportunity.