THE MORNING PLUM:
Early in the 2012 campaign, when top Democratic strategists were debating how to target Mitt Romney, they worked to hone their message about him down to a single, tight, pithy phrase. According to one senior Democrat in on the discussions, they finally settled on this:
“When people like him do well, people like you get screwed.” While this sentence never appeared in any Dem messaging, it functioned as a thematic guide, the senior Dem tells me.
Now Democrats are wrestling with how to deliver a similar message about Trump, while also dealing with a key strategic problem: In many ways, Trump is a very different kind of billionaire from Romney.
Elizabeth Warren delivered an extensive, blistering speech last night about Trump that will serve as a template for how Democrats will attack him — both in terms of how they’ll prosecute his business past and how they’ll try to undercut his central arguments about the economy. Here’s a video of highlights:
The line that is driving all the attention this morning is Warren’s suggestion, in the context of Trump’s 2006 comment that a housing crash might enrich him, that the Donald is a “small, insecure money-grubber.” But Warren isn’t merely dissing Trump’s manhood. Warren — who went on to note that Trump “roots for people to get thrown out of their house” because he “doesn’t care who gets hurt, as long as he makes a profit” — is making a broader argument. Trump is not just a small, greedy person, but a cruel one, too.
That theme is also threaded through Warren’s broadside against Trump on taxes. He isn’t just paying as little as possible — and openly boasting about it — because he’s greedy. He isn’t just refusing to release his returns because he doesn’t want to reveal he’s not as rich as he claims (another shot at Trump’s self-inflated masculinity). All this, Warren suggests, also reflects a larger moral failing: Trump plays by his own set of rules, engorging himself, while simultaneously heaping explicit scorn on social investments designed to help those who are struggling in the same economy that made him rich. Warren notes that Trump recently likened paying his taxes to “throwing money down the drain” — i.e., he is reneging on the social contract — after “inheriting a fortune from his father” and “keeping it going by scamming people.” Thus, Warren is making a broader argument about Trump’s fundamental cruelty.
One lingering question is what kind of affirmative argument Hillary Clinton will make in terms of how she’d be better than Trump on the economy. Trump argues that Clinton belongs to a corrupt elite that has screwed over working people for decades, with bad trade deals that sucked jobs out of the industrial Midwest and lax immigration policies that gave Americans’ livelihoods away to parasites and criminals. The system is failing those people, and he’d snap it over his knee and get it working again.
The Clinton response is to cast Trump as a sleazy fraud, to undercut his claims to economic prowess. But it’s also to lay out a programmatic economic agenda: A minimum wage hike; equal pay for women; paid family leave; expanded child care; investments designed to boost American businesses’ ability to compete in a globalizing economy, rather than protectionism that would start destructive trade wars. (Warren laid out a similar slate of policy solutions in her speech’s conclusion.) Clinton strategist Joel Benenson has argued that policies designed to make a concrete difference in people’s lives actually can win the argument against the seemingly seductive, but ultimately empty, story Trump is telling.
It remains to be seen whether that will be enough as an affirmative argument for Clinton. But one thing is now clear: Democrats are honing an attack on Trump that is subtly different from the one on Romney. The challenge in both cases: How to drive home that the GOP nominee isn’t actually on your side. Romney was depicted as a plutocratic, aloof elitist and symbol of the rapacious cruelties of global capitalism: When he did well, people like you got screwed. Trump is not like Romney; he is adeptly posing as the Man in the Street’s Billionaire. But he is personally cruel and rapacious: He, and his presidential candidacy, are directly screwing you.
* CLINTON HONES ARGUMENT AGAINST TRUMP: The Post reports that Hillary Clinton’s team has settled on their broader argument against the Donald:
Clinton’s aides say they have settled on the big story they want to tell about Trump: He is a business fraud who has cheated working people for his own gain, and his ideas, temperament and moves to marginalize people by race, gender and creed make him simply unacceptable as commander in chief.
But, as noted above, it still remains to be seen whether Clinton’s affirmative economic argument will be enough.
* REPORT: PAUL RYAN TO ENDORSE TRUMP: ABC News scoops:
Senior level Trump campaign sources confirmed to ABC News Wednesday that House Speaker Paul Ryan will be endorsing presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. It’s unclear when the endorsement will take place, but Ryan has a briefing on the House GOP agenda scheduled later today in Washington.
But wait, Ryan and Trump have vast, deep ideological differences that cut to the core of Ryan’s principled limited government conservatism. This can’t possibly be happening, can it? (Note that a Ryan aide is denying that an endorsement is imminent.)
* RIGHT WING MEDIA FINALLY SEES WISH COME TRUE: With Donald Trump going hard at the Clintons over Bill’s sexual exploits, the New York Times reports that right wing media are gratified to see a candidate who is finally willing to get tough enough:
That the Republican Party has embraced someone willing to traffic in the most inflammatory of accusations comes as wish fulfillment for an element of the right that is convinced that the party lost the past two elections because its candidates were unwilling to attack President Obama forcefully enough.
These losses in national elections are always the fault of either the candidate’s refusal to traffic in the sleaziest of right wing attacks, or his insufficiently pure conservatism: It’s the fantasy that will never die.
* DEMS DISCUSSING DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ’S OUSTER? CNN reports on whispering among Democratic lawmakers about whether Debbie Wasserman Schultz has to go as chair of the DNC, amid the Sanders camp’s scalding criticism of the primary process. There is no formal effort underway, CNN notes.
Hillary Clinton and her top advisers surely want to see the DNC manage the coming unity efforts effectively; this looms as a key test with very high stakes, since it could help determine whether Sanders supporters get behind Clinton against Trump.
* TRUMP INSULTS HILLARY AND ELIZABETH WARREN: Hillary Clinton has been slamming Trump for saying he sorted of wanted the housing crash to happen. Here’s Trump’s response, with a shot at Elizabeth Warren thrown in:
In his own defense, Trump called Clinton a “low life” for using a clip of his comments about the housing crisis in an ad. “I’m a businessman, that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Trump said at a rally in Albuquerque on Tuesday night. He also targeted Warren, calling her “Pocahontas” and accusing her of saying that she was Native American because “her cheekbones were high.”
Trump is “unpredictable” and “unconventional,” which means you should be terrified that these schoolyard insults will actually prove frighteningly potent and persuasive.
* TRUMP’S FLIRTATION WITH VINCE FOSTER NONSENSE, DEBUNKED: With Trump flirting with suggestions that maybe the Clintons murdered Vince Foster, Glenn Kessler publishes a definitive look at his suicide and the multiple investigations that tried to lay this matter to rest. Note:
Let’s take Trump at his word, that he doesn’t know enough about the issue to discuss it. Here’s a guide to the five investigations and their findings. We trust that once he reads this summary, he will agree that the Foster matter should no longer be considered campaign fodder….There is nothing fishy or mysterious about Foster’s tragic suicide. Anyone suggesting otherwise earns Four Pinocchios.
Of course he will!