Instead, allies are bracing for an ugly general election against a candidate the campaign is still struggling to nail down strategically. Trump is louder and more commanding of the news cycle better than any “bully” Clinton has faced before, offering no clear historical precedent. (“She’s done pretty well against bullies,” as one former aide put it, “but this is a whole different stratosphere.”) Already a cause for unease is his willingness to venture aggressively and without apology into personal attacks and family matters, as he has in recent weeks against Ted Cruz and did against the Clintons last December.
“It makes me nervous. It makes me very nervous,” said Patti Solis Doyle, campaign manager on Clinton’s first presidential bid, on the question of personal attacks.
She added, “I calm down when I think about the electoral map and the potential blowout for Hillary.” (Less than 50% of Republicans support Trump, according to recent polling, and Clinton aides feel confident about facing a nominee who has already divided so much of his own party. Her pollster Joel Benenson told reporters on Monday that Democrats would see new opportunities to expand their battleground map.)
But when it comes to the recurring question of if, when, and how forcefully to respond to Trump and all that comes with his campaign, operatives have yet to work out a clear approach to Trump, three people close to the campaign said. And on the issue of the personal attacks in particular, “they really don’t” have a strategy, one said.