US Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton this week revealed a formula she hopes will help beat Republican presidential rival Donald Trump in November — a not-so-subtle suggestion he is unhinged.
A string of this year’s presidential hopefuls have tried to land a punch on “The Donald” with little effect.
Trump has brushed off earnest-sounding accusations that he is not presidential, largely because many Americans seem to be clamoring for an unconventional leader.
Democratic strategists privately admit that casting Trump as a “loose cannon” similarly misfired — that tack, they said, only played to the Republican’s tough man brand.
So in San Diego on Thursday Clinton tried a new formula.
Trump, she argued, is not just unpresidential and unpredictable, he is too unhinged to be in power, or as she put it — “temperamentally unfit” to be commander-in-chief.
“This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes — because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin,” she said.
She even suggested psychiatrists explain his “affection for tyrants.”
This could be called Clinton’s “Daisy strategy.”
In 1964, then US-president Lyndon Johnson faced a challenge from tough-talking Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
Goldwater was a US Senator and friend to former Democratic US president John F. Kennedy, but he was also from the right fringe of the political mainstream.
Goldwater was endorsed by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, campaigned on a platform of withdrawing from the UN, and advocated the use of tactical nuclear weapons against north Vietnam.
His nuclear position prompted Johnson’s campaign to build and unleash “Daisy.”
One-minute long, and only broadcast by Johnson’s campaign once, the attack ad would become one of the most famous in US political lore.
It starts with an angelic young girl counting as she picks petals of a flower.
Then, suddenly, an ominous sounding voice from mission control begins a countdown to zero — which brings a boom, blinding light and a mushroom cloud that would be unmistakable to voters so soon after the Cuban missile crisis.
“These are the stakes” says Johnson, who is playing the narrator. “To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other. Or we must die.”
A caption fills the screen: “Vote for President Johnson on Nov. 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
The message was unmistakable: Vote for crazy Barry Goldwater and the little girl gets it.
Johnson was criticized for the ad, but he nevertheless won by a landslide.
This line of attack, particularly when linked to security, is one that Trump might find difficult to parry.
Trump’s response so far has been to suggest Clinton should go to jail over an e-mail scandal and asserting he has a “good temperament.”
“I don’t have thin skin,” Trump told CNN. “I have very strong and thick skin.”
Some believe that will not wash.
“He has obviously shown himself to be a non-traditional candidate, but this is an area where ad hominem attacks aren’t going to work,” said Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Trump’s personal attacks on Clinton “may work with his base, but they will hurt him in the long run,” Skelley said. “He can’t just resort to that. You need to put on a real presidential posture.”
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