Clinton turns focus to attacks on Trump
DADE CITY, Fla. — Hillary Clinton moved on Tuesday to return the nation’s focus to the character and behavior of Donald Trump, hoping to define the presidential race again as a referendum on her opponent after spending days in open conflict with the FBI.
Though Clinton’s aides continue to insist that FBI Director James B. Comey acted improperly by delivering an ambiguous update last week about the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, her team seems to have arrived at a firm conclusion about the election’s final sprint: It is better for Clinton to be talking about Trump.
“When I think about what we now know about Donald Trump,” Clinton told supporters here at an outdoor rally, “he sure has spent a lot of time demeaning, degrading, insulting and assaulting women.”
“I would frankly rather be here talking about nearly anything else,” she insisted, but “we’ve got to talk about something that, frankly, is painful. Because it matters. We can’t just wish it away.”
Her remarks signaled the campaign’s direction in the homestretch: a barrage intended to disqualify Trump with brutal efficiency and destined to overshadow any high-minded message about Clinton’s vision, as she seemed to admit.
Trump: Trump, campaigning on Tuesday in Pennsylvania before Clinton took the stage, made clear his intent to keep the pressure high. He fused a policy speech, ostensibly on health care, with his more typical broadsides against Clinton, briefly holding forth on his announced subject, the Affordable Care Act, but quickly meandering to other topics.
“Hillary Clinton wants to expand Obamacare and make it even more expensive,” Trump said to cheers in King of Prussia. “She wants to put the government totally in charge of health care in America. If we don’t repeal and replace Obamacare, we will destroy American health care forever. It’s one of the single most important reasons why we must win on Nov. 8.”
As Trump hoped to capitalize on the renewed FBI attention to Clinton’s email server, Clinton decided, for the first time in days, not to allude to the controversy at her first public appearance.
Her calculations seemed clear. Her campaign has often been most successful when highlighting Trump’s controversial statements and behavior, baiting him with well-placed jabs or simply staying out of his way as he lashes out at broadly sympathetic targets, like a Gold Star family or a federal judge of Mexican heritage.
The hits: On Tuesday, Clinton played all the hits.
She reminded the crowd of Trump’s comments about Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whom he suggested last year was not a war hero because he had been captured.
She recalled Trump’s history of questioning President Barack Obama’s birthplace.
And her introductory speaker was a familiar figure: Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe whose weight Trump once disparaged. Clinton’s invocation of Machado at the first presidential debate ensnared Trump in a protracted feud with the pageant winner, damaging his already precarious standing with women.
“I was scared of him,” Machado said, adding, “He thinks he can do whatever he wants and get away with it.”
Contrast: By again elevating Machado, and seeking a more direct confrontation with Trump, Clinton aimed to establish the kind of direct contrast that aides believe served her well in all three presidential debates.
Her sweeping rebuke of Trump marked a departure, though, from the tone she has sought to set at times in recent weeks, when Clinton hoped — particularly as her lead in the polls seemed to expand — to end her campaign with a largely affirmative case for her candidacy.
She has spoken often of wanting to give Americans “something to vote for, not just against.”
Clinton did not entirely abandon earnestness on Tuesday, urging the crowd to unite behind her “positive, optimistic, hopeful and unifying” message.
“I will give my heart to this mission to making the country all it should be,” she said, asking voters about the example they hoped to set for their children.
New ad: But the thrust of her address was clear, buttressed by the campaign’s broader efforts to reach voters in the contest’s last days as polls have shown the race tightening, at least somewhat.
Before Clinton’s event, her team released a minute-long television ad focusing on Trump’s treatment of women, scheduled to be broadcast in several battleground states.
Titled “What He Believes,” the ad touches on the accusations of sexual assault against Trump, his tape-recorded boasts about forcing himself on women, his penchant for wandering into beauty pageant dressing rooms and his remarks insulting the appearance of women through the years.
Onstage, Clinton repeated the charges — noting that he even stood accused of walking in on contestants for “Miss Teen U.S.A.,” drawing out the second word — and turned her attention to Machado.
“She was Miss Universe!” Clinton shouted, later asking the crowd to again “stop for a minute and reflect on the absurdity of Donald Trump finding fault with Miss Universe.”
“The bottom line is,” Clinton continued, “he thinks belittling women makes him a bigger man.”
A supporter yelled back: “Lock him up!”
Emails: For Clinton’s campaign, it seemed a welcome change after a weekend spent on the defensive, parrying questions about an FBI review of the emails of a top aide, Huma Abedin.
The heightened attacks on Trump began Monday, when Clinton said her opponent could not be trusted with a nuclear arsenal. Her aides also introduced a television ad modeled on Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous “Daisy” commercial, which was directed at Barry Goldwater in 1964 to emphasize the dangers of placing nuclear weapons in unsteady hands.
Though Clinton advisers are eager to spark a furious response from Trump, as they succeeded in doing during and after the debates, he largely declined to take the bait, at least initially, in his first appearance on Tuesday.
Instead, he turned his gaze to the president’s health care law, saying its repeal should be a top priority for voters casting ballots over the next week.
He said that if elected, he would call a special session of Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and asserted that millennials would be “totally crushed by these massive health care costs before they even get started on their journey through life.”
Trump has said he wants to take more of a free-market approach to health care, reducing federal regulation and coverage requirements so insurance would cost — and cover — less. He would also not require Americans to have health insurance, as the Affordable Care Act does.
In a radio interview last week, Clinton said she was committed to making “changes to fix problems” in the health care law while reaffirming her alliance with Obama, whose diverse coalition of supporters is crucial to her electoral strategy.