US Elections 2016

Clinton lies low, letting Trump be Trump

Clinton supporters during her visit to a high school in Cleveland on Wednesday. The Democratic presidential nominee is appearing in swing states but breaking no new ground in policy proposals.
Clinton supporters during her visit to a high school in Cleveland on Wednesday. The Democratic presidential nominee is appearing in swing states but breaking no new ground in policy proposals.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

CLEVELAND • Campaigning in the battleground state of Ohio, Mrs Hillary Clinton ticked off her plans to lift the middle class. The Democrat levelled some zingers at her Republican opponent, telling the crowd on Wednesday that "friends don't let friends vote for Donald Trump". And she left the stage 32 minutes later to boisterous applause.

What Mrs Clinton didn't do was break any new ground. The rally in a high school gym here was the latest in a series of workmanlike, largely news-free appearances by the Democratic nominee, who seems content to let Mr Trump's troubles dominate the headlines for now.

"When your opponent is committing suicide, you don't have to commit homicide," said Mr Hari Sevugan, a Democratic communications consultant and former campaign spokesman for President Barack Obama, when asked about Mrs Clinton's strategy of laying relatively low.

ON TRUMP'S TROUBLES

When your opponent is committing suicide, you don't have to commit homicide. 

MR HARI SEVUGAN, a Democratic communications consultant and former campaign spokesman for President Barack Obama.

Indeed, by the time she arrived in Cleveland, it was already clear that the political news of the day was going to be the staff shake-up at Mr Trump's struggling campaign. It was the latest in a near-daily dose of developments on the Republican side dominating the agenda on cable news shows.

In a move expected to generate local headlines but be ignored by the national press, Mrs Clinton toured the recently rebuilt high school in which she would later speak, surveying the use of robotics, 3D printers and other innovative teaching aids. She ignored reporters' questions about what Mr Trump's reshuffling says about the race.

"I for one am really proud of this high school and what that represents," Mrs Clinton said upon taking the stage, drawing some of the loudest cheers of her rally. She touched on her plans to rebuild the country's infrastructure, expand early childhood education, make college more affordable and raise taxes on the wealthy. All are central to her campaign - and all have been outlined time and time again.

Her campaign aides have long said that their most powerful weapon against Mr Trump is Mr Trump himself. Most television ads created by the campaign and the pro- Clinton group, Priorities USA, have featured his own words prominently.

And there has been plenty of material of late, including his sparring with the family of a Muslim American soldier who was killed in Iraq; calling Mr Obama the "founder" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group; and his invitation to Russia to seek out missing Clinton e-mails.

"When your opponent is making news that hurts him, then give the press and voters every opportunity to pay attention to it," said Ms Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant. "Why would you do anything to distract them?"

Mrs Clinton has kept a relatively light campaign schedule this month, during a stretch when Mr Trump's missteps have helped hurt him - and lift her - in the polls. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week showing her leading Mr Trump by a 14-point margin among registered voters in Virginia was the latest in a series of polls showing her gaining ground in battleground states and nationally.

The former secretary of state's schedule has been drawn to put her in front of strategically chosen constituencies in swing states. There was a retail stop on Monday focused on white working-class voters in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a voter-registration drive on Tuesday in an African-American neighbourhood in Philadelphia. But there's been little effort to roll out anything new.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton lies low, letting Trump be Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe