Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and U.S. president Barack Obama greet supporters during a campaign rally on July 5, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty

Obama, Clinton stop separating Trump from his party

It was a strategy many congressional Democrats hated. Hillary Clinton, eager to reach as broad a slice of the electorate as possible, made a conscious decision to draw distinctions between the Republican Party and Donald Trump. Sure, he’s the GOP’s presidential nominee, the argument went, but Trump is so extreme in so many ways that rank-and-file Republicans should see him as something altogether different.

For Democrats, this message appeared likely to help Clinton, but not her down-ballot allies who desperately want to tie Trump – his scandals, his unpopularity, his radical agenda, et al – to other Republicans. The more Clinton separated the two, the more difficult the partisan task became.

President Obama nevertheless sided with Clinton in this fight, saying in his Democratic convention speech, “Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s precisely this contest of idea that pushes our country forward. But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican – and it sure wasn’t conservative.”

That was in late July. The Democratic strategy has since changed.

The New Republic’s Brian Beutler had a good piece the other day explaining that anti-Trump Republicans weren’t especially moved by Clinton’s and Obama’s not-so-subtle invitation, so the party’s top two figures have adopted a more combative posture.
“I think it’s pretty stunning that after the debate, the speaker of the House has to come out and say that he will no longer defend Donald Trump and that each Republican member of Congress has to decide for themselves whether or not they’re going to support their party’s nominee,” Clinton’s communications director, Jen Palmieri, told reporters Monday. “I understand why they’re doing that, but Paul Ryan and other leaders in the Republican Party—there was a time where they could have spoken out. That time was this summer. And obviously it’s too late now. Somewhat of a civil war is breaking out in the Republican Party, but I think that Donald Trump didn’t become the nominee of his party on his own. These leaders helped legitimize him and I think they have a lot to answer for and the voters I imagine will hold them accountable.” […]

The unambiguous message is that Clinton’s offer not to treat Trump as a totem of the Republican Party has expired.
This dynamic was also abundantly clear in President Obama’s remarks last night in Ohio, where he made his most direct case to date that Trump and his party must be linked, and GOP officials and candidates should be held responsible for their candidate’s dreadful presidential campaign:
“[T]he problem is not that all Republicans think the way this guy does.  The problem is, is that they’ve been riding this tiger for a long time.  They’ve been feeding their base all kinds of crazy for years, primarily for political expedience.  So if Trump was running around saying I wasn’t born here, they were okay with that as long as it helped them with votes.  If some of these folks on talk radio started talking about how I was the anti-Christ, you know, it’s just politics. You think I’m joking. […]

“I’m really not exaggerating.  Everything I’m saying are actual things that have been said and that people – a fairly sizable number of people in the Republican primaries believe.  And the people who knew better didn’t say anything.  They didn’t say, ‘Well, you know what, I disagree with his economic policies, but that goes too far.”  They didn’t say, ‘Well, I’m not sure if his foreign policy is the right one for America, but we can’t allow our politics to descend into the gutter.”

“People like [Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio], they stood by while this happened.  And Donald Trump, as he’s prone to do, he didn’t build the building himself, but he just slapped his name on it and took credit for it.

“And that’s what’s happened in their party.  All that bile, all the exaggeration, all the stuff that was not grounded in fact just kind of bubbled up, started surfacing.  They know better, a lot of these folks who ran, and they didn’t say anything.  And so they don’t get credit for, at the very last minute, when finally the guy that they nominated and they endorsed and they supported is caught on tape saying things that no decent person would even think, much less say, much less brag about, much less laugh about or joke about, much less act on, you can’t wait until that finally happens and then say, ‘Oh, that’s too much, that’s enough.’ And think that somehow you are showing any kind of leadership and deserve to be elected to the United States Senate.

“You don’t get points for that.  In fact, I’m more forgiving of the people who actually believe it than the people who know better and stood silently by, out of political expediency, because it was politically convenient.”

“And if your only organizing principle has been to block progress and block what we’ve tried to do to help the American people every step of the way, so you’re not even consistent anymore – you claim the mantle of the party of family values, and this is the guy you nominate?”
Over the next 25 days, expect to hear this message quite a bit.

Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Obama, Clinton stop separating Trump from his party