It started with a seemingly off-hand comment at a debate. Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton argued persuasively that Donald Trump’s bigoted rhetoric has the effect of helping America’s enemies. We need to make sure, Clinton said at the debate, that Trump’s more hateful rhetoric doesn’t “fall in receptive ears” abroad.
“He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter,” she added. “They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”
As it turns out, there is no such video and the Clinton campaign has since clarified the argument, but the charge has nevertheless prompted an ugly series of exchanges between the two major parties’ 2016 frontrunners, including Trump’s vulgar rhetorical shots, which included criticizing Clinton for, of all things, going to the bathroom.
By all appearances, the back and forth between the two is entirely sincere, but the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had a good piece yesterday explaining that both candidates are likely “very happy to be embroiled in this spat.”
[T]he Clinton camp has cheerfully fed the flames of this fight, in what appears to be a concerted effort to boost Trump among GOP voters. The theory may be that Trump benefits among those voters if he is perceived as a chief antagonist of Clinton, thus helping him spread more intra-GOP damage.
I have no idea if this week’s developments were part of a carefully thought-out plan – did Clinton use that line in the debate deliberately, knowing Trump wouldn’t be able to control himself? – but it’s certainly working out in ways that benefit the Democrat’s campaign.
As the early primaries and caucuses draw closer, Trump continues to generate headlines and fire up his base, even while looking past his Republican rivals, focusing on the other party’s frontrunner, and presenting himself as the GOP candidate who’s taking on the likely Democratic nominee.
Clinton, meanwhile, keeps the spotlight on the GOP candidate she does not fear, denying attention to more credible rivals, and offering a possible preview of a general-election match-up that would be the talk of the world.
Don’t be too surprised if Team Clinton continued, with varying degrees of subtlety, to poke the Trump Bear with a stick, seeing what kind of outbursts they can create.