WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton told a “pants on fire” whopper on national television last weekend.
A few days earlier, second-quarter economic growth staggered in at a measly 1.2 percent.
And a few days before that, the Democratic Party approved its most liberal platform in memory – one that calls for using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions and the expansion of President Obama’s health care program.
Now you might be wondering how you missed all that big news, much of it potentially troublesome for Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. But you should cut yourself a break. You may have been distracted – or, more precisely, dis-Trumpted.
Donald Trump has gone full Trump in the past week, warring with the father of a slain soldier and the Republican speaker of the House and the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. The Republican presidential nominee has espoused a “stick with it” solution for women facing sexual harassment, claimed that the election will be rigged, lashed out at a crying baby, and so on and so forth.
The cumulative effect of all of this has been Trump pushing the mute button on what would have been the post-convention message for any conventional Republican presidential nominee: that Clinton is a dishonest politician who has nothing to offer to grow Barack Obama’s weak economy, but rather just some kooky far-left ideas that many Americans wouldn’t like.
Watching it all has proved to be frustrating for Republicans like James E. Campbell, a nationally renowned political scientist at the University at Buffalo.
“He’s not running against the Muslim father of a fallen soldier,” Campbell said in reference to Trump’s endless battle with Khizr Khan, who verbally attacked Trump at the Democratic National Convention. “What happened to Hillary? Where did Hillary go?”
Well, for one thing, she went on “Fox News Sunday” this week. There, she got into an exchange with host Chris Wallace about whether she was honest with the American people when she said that when she was secretary of state, she never used her private email server to send or receive information that was classified at the time.
“After a long investigation, FBI director James Comey said none of those things that you told the American public were true,” Wallace noted.
Somehow, though, Clinton heard Comey say something very different.
“Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails,” she said.
So who’s right? What did Comey say?
“We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI,” he said at a congressional hearing July 7.
But when asked at that hearing if it was true when Clinton said publicly that there was nothing marked classified on her emails, Comey offered a very different answer.
“That’s not true,” he said.
Not surprisingly, PolitiFact, the fact-checking website allied with The Buffalo News, called Clinton’s statement a “Pants on Fire” falsehood.
The Washington Post Fact Checker gave her response “Four Pinocchios,” which is the most any liar can get.
Given these gifts, Trump responded with a Tweet portraying Clinton as Pinocchio. But on the same day, he said he wasn’t ready to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan or Sen. John McCain. And on the same day, he made his inflammatory comments about sexual harassment, continued his battle with the father of that slain soldier, and dissed a baby at a rally in Virginia. So that tweet about Clinton got lost in the media frenzy that Trump created.
Trump committed further political malpractice last Friday, when the Commerce Department reported that the economy grew by only 1.2 percent at an annualized rate. Trump’s response?
Not even a tweet.
Instead, Trump won his share of daily headlines that day by lashing out at the Colorado Springs Fire Department for limiting attendance at his rally there and for taking to Twitter to take shots at “‘little’ Mike Bloomberg,” the former mayor of New York who endorsed Clinton at the Democratic convention.
And ever since that convention ended, Trump has made nary a mention of a Democratic platform that includes a number of provisions a more-typical Republican candidate probably would attack in hopes of revving up the GOP base and right-leaning independents. For example, the platform that calls for lifting the ban on public funding for abortion – even though a July Marist College poll found that 62 percent of those surveyed oppose lifting that ban.
Not all of this is Trump’s fault, said Nicholas A. Langworthy, the Erie County Republican chairman and an early Trump supporter.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that so little attention has been paid to things like what Hillary Clinton said on Fox News on Sunday,” Langworthy said. “It’s completely lost because of a national media obsession with coverage of Donald Trump.”
True, that. But Trump wouldn’t mean ratings and clicks if he didn’t keep saying and doing things that leave even his allies appalled.
Most notably, Trump responds like Pavlov’s dog whenever a Clinton ally attacks him, turning his campaign into a mishmash of counterattacks that miss the main target: Clinton.
“He’s getting baited expertly by the Clinton campaign,” said one national Republican consultant who asked not to be identified by name. “They’re playing him.”
In other words, that consultant said, the Clinton campaign has accomplished something none of Trump’s primary opponents could.
“They’ve cracked the code” for how to campaign against Donald Trump.
That code says attack, mercilessly and endlessly, from all directions.
And while it’s no secret code, it seems to serve a second purpose: keeping Clinton’s vulnerabilities quiet.