- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2016

Faced with the brutal reality that two-thirds of voters believe her to be dishonest, Hillary Clinton and her campaign surrogates are intent on launching an all-out assault on Republican Donald Trump’s character and credibility, aiming to convince voters that he’s even more untrustworthy than the former first lady.

Political analysts say that the historically high unfavorable ratings for both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump have left both campaigns with little choice than to focus the bulk of their efforts on tearing the other down, hoping that when the war of attrition finally is over, swing voters ultimately will decide their candidate is the lesser of two evils. For the Clinton campaign, the strategy involves using the next 95 days to paint a picture of Mr. Trump as a heartless business tycoon and pathological liar, a conman who simply cannot be trusted on both domestic and foreign policy.

While Mrs. Clinton, vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine and other campaign voices certainly spend time on the stump touting policy proposals, they’re spending equal, if not more, time relentlessly ripping Mr. Trump. Given Mrs. Clinton’s sky-high unfavorable ratings, specialists say that approach is a sound one, as focusing on the Republican’s negatives gives the Clinton campaign its best chance to win while also directing attention away from voters’ deep reservations about the Democratic nominee.

“If Hillary Clinton can make it a referendum against Trump — his unfitness for office, his lack of understanding about the political system, his absolutely horrible levels of empathy toward the American public — then she wins,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University.

“There is a way in which ‘crooked’ will beat ‘unstable,’” she added, referring to the “crooked Hillary” nickname Mr. Trump has given his opponent. “The only way you hold your nose and vote for one of these people is if you think your worst nightmare is going to come true.”

For the Clinton campaign, assailing Mr. Trump is a more appealing strategy than trying to rehabilitate their candidate’s image over the next three months. A CNN poll released this week found that a whopping 64 percent of voters say Mrs. Clinton is not honest or trustworthy. Between now and Election Day, there seems to be little chance for the former secretary of state to convince voters she’s an honest candidate.

But Mr. Trump is seen in an equally harsh light. The same CNN survey found that 64 percent of voters also believe the billionaire Republican is not honest or trustworthy.

Like Mrs. Clinton, those figures seem to be irreversible. Long before Mr. Trump jumped into the presidential fray, he was seen as dishonest.

In April 2011, when Mr. Trump still was best known as a businessman and reality TV star, 61 percent of Americans still considered him dishonest and untrustworthy, polls show.

Even as they attack Mr. Trump for his controversial policy proposals, Democrats believe an even more potent line of attack is to repeatedly tell voters they shouldn’t believe anything the Republican says.

Trump doesn’t really have a plan. What he says is, ‘Believe me,’” Mr. Kaine said at a campaign rally earlier this week. “We’re going to be rich, believe me. We’re going to beat ISIS, believe me. We’re going to build that wall and make the Mexicans pay for it, believe me. There’s nothing in my tax returns that’s unusual, believe me. Well, I’ve got a question for you: Does anybody in this room believe Donald Trump?”

Mrs. Clinton continued that theme Thursday in Las Vegas. In a speech ostensibly about her own economic plan, she spent much of her time ripping Mr. Trump’s record, hitting him over past allegations he stiffed subcontractors and actively rooted for the housing market to fail so he could profit.

The charges from Mrs. Clinton surely will do nothing to make her a more appealing candidate. But they could very well succeed in making Mr. Trump unpalatable to a majority of American voters.

“The bottom line, I think, which is becoming clearer every day, is that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president, and he is temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Democrats’ strategy, analysts say, would be less effective against a more conventional candidate, but is uniquely suited for Mr. Trump, who very well may be one of the few Republicans with unfavorable numbers as high as Mrs. Clinton‘s.

“In the end, voters might say to themselves, ‘Well, my choice is between someone who I don’t find entirely trustworthy, or perhaps even mostly trustworthy, but [if] the difference [is] between her and someone who I think is unfit to be president, I’ll choose the person I distrust over the person I’m convinced is incompetent,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. “That argument would not work against the great majority of [GOP candidates], but it might work in this case.”

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