- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Going further in her attacks than ever before, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday labeled Donald Trump a real threat to democracy and said he’d act as a tyrant if elected, warning Americans that the billionaire businessman would trample the Constitution and use the power of the state to crush his political enemies.

Her strong words come as the 2016 presidential contest increasingly becomes less a contest of policy ideas and more of an attempt by each candidate to paint the other as unworthy of holding office and, in some respects, as un-American — a trend analysts say will continue over the coming months.

Mr. Trump, who routinely refers to Mrs. Clinton as “crooked Hillary,” has all but called the former first lady a criminal in connection with her private email server scandal. Other Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, have said she can’t be trusted with classified information.

While heated rhetoric has been a staple of the White House race for the past 12 months, Mrs. Clinton took it to a new level Wednesday. Speaking in the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “a house divided” speech, she characterized her opponent not just as unqualified to be commander in chief but also as constitutionally illiterate and a threat to the very ideals of America.

“His campaign is as divisive as any we have seen in our lifetimes. It is built on stoking mistrust and pitting American against American,” she said in a speech at the old Illinois state house in Springfield.

The address began on a somber note as Mrs. Clinton addressed race relations, police misconduct and the need for all Americans to address the thorny issues of implicit bias and prejudice.

But her address morphed into an all-out assault on Mr. Trump, warning about the threat posed by a president who might use the IRS and other agencies against political enemies.

“He’s banished members of the press who have criticized him. Is there any doubt he would do the same as president?” she continued. “Imagine if he had not just Twitter and cable news to go after his critics and opponents but also the IRS, and for that matter, our entire military? Given what we have seen and heard, do any of us think he’d be restrained?”

Mr. Trump didn’t directly address Mrs. Clinton’s criticisms, though he did take to Twitter to celebrate poll numbers that show him ahead in several key battleground states, and also jabbed his opponent.

“#CrookedHillary is not qualified,” he tweeted.

Political analysts say the harsh rhetoric surely will continue through the summer and into the fall as the fight between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump focuses on character, integrity, intelligence and respect for the country itself.

“My guess is that this will be the overarching narrative,” said Matthew Dallek, an assistant professor of political management at George Washington University. “There will be moments when particular issues will come up and there will be debates about, for example, gun control or health care. But the big theme is framed — Hillary Clinton is corrupt and can’t be trusted. And Donald Trump is unhinged, racist, unfit to be president, and has dictatorial tendencies. That is where we are, and that’s why the rhetoric is pretty sharp.”

As she seeks to win over independents and even moderate Republicans who remain uneasy about Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton also took a direct shot at the effect Mr. Trump has had on the GOP.

She said the businessman ought to be unpalatable to anyone who respects the Constitution, adding that he’s brought shame to the party.

“The very first thing a new president does is take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. To do that with any meaning, you’ve got to know what’s in it, and you’ve got to respect what’s in it,” Mrs. Clinton said, going on to ridicule Mr. Trump’s reference to a nonexistent “Article 12” of the Constitution.

“This man is the nominee of the party of Lincoln. We are watching it become the party of Trump. And that’s not just a huge loss for our democracy — it is a threat to it,” she said.

For their part, Republicans have mounted somewhat similar attacks on Mrs. Clinton, though they certainly have stopped short of branding her a tyrant in waiting.

On the heels of the decision by the Justice Department not to press charges against Mrs. Clinton for mishandling classified emails, GOP leaders said the former first lady has proven herself untrustworthy and cannot be allowed to deal with any sensitive material in the future.

Mr. Ryan said Tuesday night that the private email server case proves Mrs. Clinton believes the rule of law and the Constitution do not apply to her.

“I believe that she has gotten preferential treatment throughout much of her career in that she believes she is above the law,” he said at a CNN town hall. “She holds herself above the law, and I believe everybody should be held accountable.”

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