Clinton Should Confront Vulnerabilities Head-On to Strengthen General Election Bid

At this stage in the 2016 race for President, Hillary Clinton is not just in a better position than Donald Trump according to polling data, but also because her primary battle is over, and his isn't.
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sen. hillary clinton speaks at ...
sen. hillary clinton speaks at ...

At this stage in the 2016 race for President, Hillary Clinton is not just in a better position than Donald Trump according to polling data, but also because her primary battle is over, and his isn't.

Given her insurmountable delegate lead over Bernie Sanders, Clinton is flying faster than the speed of light towards the Democratic Party's nomination. Having raked-in roughly 90% of the needed delegates, it's plausible that she could lose every state moving forward and still be crowned as the Democratic Party's nominee.

Trump, on the other hand, is in a significantly weaker position. Short of Ted Cruz and John Kasich dropping out of the race, he still needs to secure close to 47% of the remaining GOP delegates to clinch the Republican Party's nomination. That means Trump has to legitimately compete all the way to California.

Meanwhile, Trump has to find a way to marry the warring factions within the GOP and fuse together a cohesive coalition among Trump supporters, Cruz loyalists, Washington GOP elites, Tea Party activists, evangelicals, the anybody-but-Trump alliance and others. This won't be an easy undertaking by any measure.

The more that this reality sets in, the more that the political chattering class is making the assumption that Clinton will handily defeat the expected GOP nominee, Donald Trump, in November. President Barack Obama even implied such this past weekend during his remarks at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

It's indisputable that Clinton is a far more seasoned campaigner than Trump, and at this point, basically every poll to date shows that she pummels him at the ballot box.

Despite her sturdy position in the race over Trump and her virtual guarantee of becoming the Democrats' standard bearer, Clinton ought to take advantage of this ripe opportunity to grapple with and attempt to dismantle her vulnerabilities before the race becomes a one-on-one match-up.

Why? Because as we've seen throughout this unpredictable and mind-blowing election that is full of surprises, anything can happen. Clinton can and should build up her defenses by limiting her liabilities and fortifying her assets.

Prior to Sanders' entrance into the nomination battle, Clinton was riding high, polling with strong net favorables. Now, while not nearly as low as Trump's, her poll numbers are under water, hovering at double-digit unfavorables. Much of this is due to the prolonged trench warfare between Sanders and Clinton and the extended period of mudslinging that raised her negatives.

Sanders, like Trump, campaigned in the primary on an outsider versus insider platform, portraying Clinton as part of the problem with Washington. It didn't work for Sanders among party faithful Democrats, but he did make some inroads with independents and working-class voters-- groups that Trump will certainly target in the general election. Both Sanders and Trump vilified Clinton-backed free trade deals, demonized big-monied special interests and their control over Washington, and criticized her judgement and trustworthiness.

With the general election on the horizon, Trump is gearing up to capitalize on attacks lobbed by Sanders against Clinton. He's already openly elaborating about his general election playbook, making public about how he plans to focus like a laser on these issues, glue Clinton to them, and exacerbate the rift between Sanders' supporters and the predicted Democratic nominee.

Considering that she has a lock on the Democratic Party's nomination, Clinton should use this moment in the campaign to rehabilitate her image and minimize her baggage for the looming November contest.

How? First, she must confront her Achilles heel, which is voters' concerns over her trustworthiness. A lot of this has been driven by the onslaught of attacks from the Republican Party's political machine. And, without bluntly stating that Clinton can't be trusted, Sanders used this issue for political gain by weaving innuendos about her into his narrative. In an attempt to fan the flames, he also raised questions about Clinton's honesty by making a case that she's hiding something by not releasing the transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street firms.

Most political strategists will acknowledge that a candidate being perceived as untrustworthy is a worse issue than a perception that a candidate is too cozy with Wall Street.

The solution? Clinton should take a preemptive strike against the notion that she's not trustworthy. To begin the cleansing process, Clinton ought to publicly release her transcripts to show that she's not hiding anything and that she's willing to be upfront and transparent about what she's said behind closed doors. Such a move will help to calm the nerves of skeptical voters, many of which may have previously sided with Sanders.

Now that the primary is essentially over for Clinton, the worse case scenario is that if the transcripts reveal a warm and fuzzy relationship with the financial industry, she'll need to put the issue in perspective by illustrating the Grand Canyon sized gap between herself and Trump when it comes to finance issues. Clinton's job will be to contrast whatever she said to Wall Street against Trump's shoddy business record, which is full of fraudulent practices, bankruptcies and deceptive scams like Trump University.

Beyond publicly disclosing the transcripts to rinse herself of the perception that she's not trustworthy or that she's hiding something, Clinton will have the upper hand in making the case in a general election that Trump is concealing his true colors by not divulging his taxes to the American people. It's an issue that plagued Mitt Romney against President Obama in the 2012 election and can have a similar negative affect on Trump.

Just as important for Clinton to tackle the honesty issue will be to deal with working class voters' animosity towards free trade. Sanders won several rustbelt states like Michigan and Wisconsin in large part because he has railed against a free trade system he's claimed is rigged in favor of the wealthy and which ships homegrown American jobs oversees. It's a message that has resonated with American workers who feel marginalized and that such policies work against their interests.

Invoking a similar theme, Trump has condemned free trade on the stump just like Sanders. He's also using it a justification for how he can shake up the electoral map in a general election and put traditionally blue states like Michigan and Pennsylvania in play for the GOP.

To combat a barrage of attacks Trump will no doubt aim towards Clinton on the trade issue, somehow, some way, she needs to make a compelling case to disenfranchised working-class voters that she will stand against any free trade deal that puts their jobs at risk.

Perhaps it's candidly calling the TPP deal a mistake instead of the "gold standard," like Clinton did of NAFTA, in 2008. Otherwise, she could potentially put forward an alternative fair trade proposal that better safeguards American jobs. Either way, Clinton will need to convey a convincing argument to these voters that she'll be better for them than Trump, particularly given his duplicity on trade as he's reaped millions in profits by shipping Trump clothing manufacturing, and thus jobs, overseas.

While Clinton remains far better positioned than Trump to prevail in November, confronting her vulnerabilities head-on when it's still technically the primary season will allow her to move past them and diminish their potency come general election time. It'll also solidify her robust standing in the race as she attempts to trump, Trump at the ballot box. The question is, will Clinton address these challenges now to minimize their impact later, or will she run the risk of ignoring them at the present time and take her chances with them against 'The Donald' later?

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