Hillary Clinton’s campaign prepared for the first presidential debate not just tactically but also strategically. Hillary offered up at least two attacks on Trump that launched new campaign themes, the first of which attempts to paint Donald Trump as a misogynist by raising Alicia Machado as a surrogate. That effort might not pan out as well as Team Hillary hoped, as they seem to have done a remarkably amateurish job of vetting their new spokesperson.
That might not be the worst of the two strategies, however. Politico’s Annie Karni reports that Hillary has turned an attack on Trump’s inheritance into a claim that the Clintons got wealthy from the sweat of their brow, or something:
But on the debate stage Monday and on the campaign trail in North Carolina on Tuesday, Clinton made a strategic shift to show her privilege as different from his: The Clintons came from nothing and lived the American dream; Trump, she said, was just born that way.
“Bill and I have been blessed,” Clinton said at a community college gymnasium here in Raleigh, speaking to a crowd of about 1,400 supporters, where she touted her plans for paid family leave and debt-free college. “We didn’t come from millionaire families. My husband’s father died before he was born.” …
Contrasting the candidates’ upbringings is critical for Clinton, in part because Trump’s message is resonating with working-class voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. “You can’t negate that by simply saying it’s bad policy,” Begala added, “but you can say also it’s coming from a guy who is an untrustworthy messenger.”
Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street, her love of a six-figure paid speech and a big donor confab, are parts of her that even admirers can be put off by — and Bernie Sanders’ baggy-suited, man-of-the-people persona was a big part of his progressive appeal. Clinton often talks about her decision to go work for the Children’s Defense Fund straight out of law school rather than join a fancy, white-shoe law firm — but skeptics arch an eyebrow at the fact that she has to reach back four decades into her life to produce that noble moment.
It’s true that Trump’s father was wealthy, and that Hillary Clinton hails from a solid middle-class background. However, Trump made his money in the private sector and built that inheritance into a much larger fortune, even if it’s still a matter of opinion just how large it actually is. Trump built skyscrapers and carried payrolls, employing tens of thousands of people, a point which even those critical of Trump’s business practices would have to concede. (Those business practices are certainly fair game for debate, considering Trump’s reliance on his business acumen for credibility in the presidential race.)
In contrast, Bill and Hillary Clinton have spent decades in the public sector — at the state level since the late 1970s, and at the federal level ever since. One or the other held high federal office from 1993 to 2013, a remarkable 20-year run — and that’s the same period when they made their wealth. Both benefited from astronomical book advances, but their real money came while Hillary served as Secretary of State.
Their tax returns show that the couple earned $57.5 million in the four years she ran the State Department (2009-12), thanks in large part to Bill’s speaking career at events tied to entities with business before the State Department. For instance, Bill got an $18 million contract over a five-year period as an “honorary chancellor” at Laureate International Universities, which means that his position wasn’t exactly a high-pressure job. That started in 2010, after Laureate’s CEO started getting invited to State Department dinners — a useful bit of access for someone running for-profit schools in foreign countries.
The Clintons didn’t work hard for their wealth, even if their parents might have struggled to get by. They got their cash from trading on their connections to power, abusing their public trusts, and corrupting government. Do working-class people have that path to wealth?