As they look ahead to the general election, some commentators envision a campaign in which Donald Trump attacks viciously and Hillary Clinton makes a virtue of her refusal to stoop to his level. “I think Trump’s method will be to turn on the insult comedy against Hillary Clinton,” declared GOP consultant Mike Murphy earlier this week. “Her big judo move is playing the victim.” Vox’s Ezra Klein speculated earlier this year that “Trump sets up Clinton for a much softer and unifying message than she’d be able to get away with against a candidate like [Marco] Rubio.”
I doubt it will play out that way. Rope-a-dope isn’t Clinton’s style. When facing political threats, her pattern has been to strike first—and with great force.
In Carl Bernstein’s biography, A Woman in Charge, he notes that when Clinton was 14, a bigger girl bullied her. Declaring, “There’s no room in this house for cowards,” Dorothy Howell Rodham told her daughter to punch the girl, which Hillary did. That’s pretty much been Hillary’s instinct since she and Bill entered politics. In his first campaign, a bid to unseat Republican Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt in 1974, Bill Clinton vowed to eschew negative attacks and “just stick to the issues.” But in their biography, Her Way, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. claim that Hillary urged attacking Hammerschmidt’s “morals and his judgment.”