This should have been the worst week of Hillary’s campaign to date. Although FBI Director James Comey declined to legally, literally indict Clinton Tuesday, his announcement was a searing indictment of her actions as secretary of State and her lies about it. In the hands of any* one of the other 16 Republican candidates for president, Comey’s words and Hillary’s lies would have been a perfect fodder for wall-to-wall Hillary bashing on the campaign trail.
But the GOP nominee is set to be Donald Trump. When the last big story broke about Clinton’s email scandal in the form of the Inspector General report, Trump spoke at a rally in New Mexico that night. Instead of hitting Clinton, he struck a glancing blow at best before moving on to an aggressive attack on Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who had distanced herself from the candidate before his trip (with assurances from Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort that such a thing would be fine).
In the wake of Comey’s explosive announcement, many wondered what Trump would do to steer attention away from this hugely beneficial news cycle. Would he pick a fight with a fellow Republican? Maybe attack some of his former rivals from the primary, already vanquished but apparently not forgotten? Red State’s Kyle Foley was particularly prescient.
We all know Trump will make comments about the star at his rally tonight and we'll forget all about the Comey presser.
— Kyle Foley (@KFoleyFL) July 5, 2016
Trump decided to pick a fight with himself. At a rally in Cincinnati, just hours after Comey’s announcement and hours into near-blanket coverage of Clinton’s demonstrable lies, Trump rehashed the “Star of David” controversy caused by a campaign operative’s tweet of a meme featuring a six-point star and associated with an alt-right, anti-Semitic message board.
Laying aside for a moment one’s judgment on the relative importance of this Trump controversy, his inability to take full advantage of the news cycle and Clinton’s ample weaknesses is emblematic of a problem the candidate will have for the next four months. It will manifest itself again and again in missed opportunities and whiffed punches.
On this day, of all days, it was not necessary to spank the media for the entertainment of his current supporters. It was not necessary to defend a rather small controversy of his own when a much larger one was looming over his opponent. There’s an old adage: “When your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, don’t interrupt him.”
Trump cannot resist the desire, not only to interrupt his opponent, but to wrest the gun and put his own foot under it. There are real opportunities every day to point out the Democratic nominee’s great weaknesses and liabilities to an American electorate that already dislikes her. The Republican nominee gets enough live news coverage of his rallies and speeches to steer a story in the national media with a power no other GOP candidate has ever had.
He chose to bring attention to his own liabilities at a nationally televised rally instead of prosecuting the case against Clinton the FBI has chosen not to. His populist campaign message about a “rigged” system is complemented perfectly by Clinton’s special treatment by the Justice Department, but it seems he’s far more interested in talking about “rigged” systems when he’s the victim at the moment.
Later that night, Trump compounded his mistake by tweeting a picture of a Disney “Frozen” book with a six-point star:
This gave Clinton**, a woman not known for her deft cultural references, the opportunity to lay a righteous “Frozen” burn on the GOP nominee.
Dannnng, Elsa. She always has been a bit of an ice queen.
We shouldn’t overblow one tweet, but Clinton getting the better of Trump on this day, of all days, is a sign of real trouble for the GOP nominee. The American electorate has made quite clear that it is more interested in tweet wars and pop culture than policy or character in this election.
Often this benefits Trump, a candidate uniquely positioned in both the Twittersphere and the pop culture imagination. But Americans will choose a clever Disney joke over an anti-Semitic, alt-right meme every day of the week. If Clinton learns to deliver the former and Trump continues to trip himself up with the latter, no amount of Crooked Hillary news is going to help him.
* Yes, even Jim Gilmore
** Clinton’s social media person