General Election Battle Lines: Personality Trumping Policy
In the primary season, both candidates played to their strengths to win over support. However, things are about to shift into a very different general election season.
Trump, the real estate mogul and former host and star of the show “The Apprentice,” showed in the Republican primary season he could exert his personality over the media world like no candidate before, saturating the 24 hour news cycle with all things Trump.
Not being an experienced politician for more than a year helped to cement this strategy. While Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were arguing about each others’ history on immigration reform, Trump had no experience to attack, said what he felt, and attacked his opponents’ credibility and personality.
To that end, he pinpointed their weaknesses and exploited them as the other GOP candidates challenged him on his policy positions, not realizing that policy was merely a sidebar to his candidacy.
Conversely, Hillary Clinton ran a polar opposite candidacy in the Democratic primary. Time and again, she was challenged on her decades of experience in foreign policy, pushed to rethink past policies on trade, and sparred with Bernie Sanders over ties to big banks and campaign finance.
Since Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination, she has drawn up very different battle lines than Trump was used to in the primaries—she’s going to go after his personality.
Trump’s former opponents—Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich—were not in the same position as Clinton. Debate after debate, those opponents faced the same basic question: “Can you definitively say you will support the Republican nominee, even if that nominee is Donald J. Trump?”
And with every one of his opponents firmly planted in the Republican party, they chose the sanctity of the party over a personal opposition to Donald Trump.
Clinton doesn’t have that obligation, and that lack of obligation to party lines allows her to attack Trump in the same way Trump has gone after his opponents.
“He’s not just unprepared—he’s temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility,” Clinton said of Trump during a foreign policy speech in San Diego.
If that line of attack sounds familiar, it’s because it’s an almost identical to an attack that Donald Trump alleged at Ted Cruz during the last days of his candidacy after Cruz called him a “pathological liar,” “amoral,” and “a narcissist”:
“Today’s ridiculous outburst only proves what I have been saying for a long time, that Ted Cruz does not have the temperament to be President of the United States,” said Trump in a statement.
The seeds are already planted for temperament and credibility to be the axis that both Clinton and Trump run their campaigns. For two candidates’ who have credibility problems, it’s up to the candidates to get voters to believe them.