Campaign Attacks and Weakness


Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been doing this politics thing for most of their adult lives. So why do they seem so bad at it? Or maybe: to every commentator and pundit writing articles about how the ongoing Democratic Primary is weakening the Democratic Party, let me ask you - is this why you spent three years at the Ohio State Journalism program?

There are two kind of attacks. One is a ‘weak’ attack, where you’re basically glad that it happened. An attack like this is an opportunity. When Clinton surrogates piled on Sanders’ health care plan and accussed him of trying to repeal Obamacare, he was able to use this as a very real opportunity to expand his fundraising and popularity. The same (in reverse) was true when he said that Clinton was ‘unqualified’. In many ways he was trying to respond to a similar attack, made in a more veiled way. But there was a reason it was veiled - because it wasn’t a very good attack.

At the moment, though, people are complaining about attacks that are much ‘stronger’. They are not neccessarily completely accurate, but they are attacks that leave the victim more vulnerable. But it’s important to understand why. When the Sanders camp criticizes Clinton for her close and secretive relationship to the financial sector, this is a ‘strong’ attack for two reasons. One: it’s quite clearly true, and two: she does not have a good way of responding to it. Likewise with Sanders’ relationship to the gun industry. What is going on here is that there is a disconnect between the politics of the candidates and the voters overall, and they have been unable to persuasively argue their point in an effort to change public opinion.

Public opinion is not fixed however, and attacks that seemed obvious and devastating a year ago (“Socialist!”) now do not have that same impact, specifically because of a campaign of ideas around the issue. But for things like Wall Street (and less so, guns) the attitude seems to be that this is not something that can be expressed to the voters, so it’s best to dodge the question and move on. Which to me make any attack along these lines completely justified - because the attack doesn’t generate a weakness, it exposes one. That could be the point at which a candidate begins to improve themselves and their platform - so far, not yet.

The ‘election fraud’ attack is much more tenuous (in terms of facts), but still points to a very real weakness of Clinton’s campaign. She has repeatedly been more than satisfied with technical or procedural victories, rather than electoral success, despite her commanding lead in the popular vote. Her attitude towards the primary is that it is a means towards her becoming president, and therefor being able to accomplish her agenda. Political engagement, beyond that, is not her goal, which is a point of frustration for many people who have recently become politically engaged. Suddenly, as their preferred candidate loses his last few chances, they see themselves being shut out of the political process.

Clinton is weak to this in a way that Sanders is not weak to the attack that his supporters are violent rioters. We’ve had eight years of a popular Democratic president with disappointing results, especially for the young voters who support Sanders. The feeling that the election is being ‘stolen’ reflects the feeling that the election is no longer representing them, and no longer will once Clinton is the nominee. This is a true reflection of both her platform and her political approach (i.e. not a political revolution). If she is weak to this attack it is because she is weak as a candidate, in this way.

A thousand calls for ‘unity’ and being ‘polite’ and ‘respectful’ won’t change that.

Written on May 20, 2016