The other day, I read an article -- by John Fund in the National Review -- that talked about the clouds over Hillary Clinton and speculated that her candidacy might implode and lead the Democrats to turn instead, at the convention, to an altogether different ticket like Biden/Warren.
Because Mr. Fund and the National Review are part of that right wing cohort that has long demonized Hillary, the article likely blows out of all proportion the problems that hang over her campaign problems -- like the highly critical report from the State Department's Inspector General about Hillary's "damn emails," and the related problem of widespread public mistrust of Secretary Clinton.
But it got me thinking:
Wouldn't it serve the Republicans right if all of a sudden -- after all the energy the Republicans have spent trying to smear Hillary since it became clear a few years ago that she was the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee -- the Republicans were faced with someone entirely different? All that demonization for nothing!
Which got me to think further about a way that the Republicans have lately been cashing in on their years of demonizing Hillary Clinton. Here's how their smearing of Hillary is now paying off for them.
The emergence of Trump as the Party's presumptive nominee has confronted Republican politicians with a dilemma: on the one hand, their party is nominating a man who is manifestly unfit to be president, but, on the other hand, their personal political ambitions require them to support him. (One might note that just about all the Republicans who still criticize Trump -- like Romney and the two George Bush's -- are people who presumably don't expect ever to run again for office. They can afford to alienate the 40% or so of Republicans who not only accept Trump as the nominee, but actively wished for him to win.)
As is usual with the Republicans, we can see that they've come up with a collective talking point as a means to resolve this dilemma. As one Republican after another rallies behind their grotesque, standard bearer -- putting party and ambition ahead of the good of the nation -- they are justifying their opportunistic endorsement by saying "We can't allow Hillary Clinton to become president." (Their listeners are expected to shudder at the thought.)
By waving in front of the public eye the image of the devil they've spent years developing -- Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi -- they distract their followers from the fact that the candidate they are endorsing has been displaying a degree of belligerence, bigotry, as well as an extraordinary indifference to truth, that, in any healthy polity, should automatically disqualify him from the highest office in the land.
Conjuring up the dread Hillary, in other words, to divert attention away from the reality that their party is nominating, and that they are endorsing, a man who is manifestly more dangerous to the United States than Hillary Clinton would be even if all the right-wing smears were true. (Just ask America's best friends around the world.)
Be that as it may, my guess is that this "God forbid it should be Hillary" ploy is working for these Republicans. It is allowing them, that is, to avoid alienating the Republican base that has raised Trump up onto the main stage, while also giving these Republican pols cover for endorsing a candidate rightly denounced not so long ago -- by prominent Republicans -- as a "con man" and a "pathological liar."
But there may be a way to undercut that Republican maneuver. Not to disarm it altogether, but at least to help expose the real opportunism and partisanship behind the embrace of the repulsive Trump by these Republican politicians.
Which is important. Because Trump should be an albatross hung around the neck of every Republican -- or, to use a different metaphor, the smell of Trump should cling to every Republican, especially those who declare their support of this abominable Republican standard-bearer.
In all probability, Hillary will indeed be the nominee. So it is unlikely that any switcheroo at the convention will steal from the Republicans the demonic image they've worked so long to instill in the minds of their followers.
But these Republicans can be asked--by every candidate using the Hillary image in this way--a simple question: "So who might the Democrats nominate [or have nominated] that would have meant that you would not support Donald Trump?"
It is unlikely that they will be willing to name anyone. Which opens up the possibility of various follow-ups:
"Does your support of Trump mean that you would support absolutely anyone the Republicans could possibly nominate over anyone the Democrats could possibly nominate? (After all, if you're willing to support a nominee who [and here name all the disqualifying aspects of Trump], who would you not support?") Why do you put loyalty to your party ahead of loyalty to America?
"If you're willing to help a man that your fellow Republicans have rightly told us is a con man and a pathological liar, tell me: How can it be OK for the United States to have a con man as president? What does it say about you that you're willing to help such a man become president of the United States? Are you putting your own political position -- staying on the good side of Trump's voters -- ahead of your country?"
"The voters should consider that, for the sake of his party, and to serve his own ambition, my opponent is willing to help a man -- who picks needless fights almost compulsively, and who doesn't mind what damage he does so long as he wins -- become the commander-in-chief of America's armed forces, with his finger on the nuclear trigger."
"Shame on you!"
This approach actually can deliver a two-fer for the fall campaign.
• It can be useful against the down-ticket Republicans.
• And by using a portrait of the Republican nominee as the means to attack their Republican opponents, Democratic candidates can also be effective voices to help drive voters away from Trump in the presidential race.
That latter point means that even candidates running against Republicans in "safe Republican" districts, can use this approach to constructive effect in states that are or might be in play at the presidential level. (For example, this approach could be used in my own District, in which the Republicans have a 2:1 advantage, and which is represented by Bob Goodlatte--a 12-term entrenched incumbent who has endorsed Trump.)
Even though these Democratic candidates may be unable to win their own elections, they can use the megaphone of their campaigns to deliver to the public -- in the guise of attacking their opponents -- to become warriors in the national Democratic effort to keep Donald Trump from becoming the President of the United States. (One shudders to think.)
Postscript: Confronted with such an attack on their endorsement of Trump,many Republican politicians will justify their support of Trump by referring to the Supreme Court, assuming their supporters will share their desire to make sure that it is a Republican who makes the appointment to the vacant seat the Republicans have been refusing to allow President Obama to fill.
A possible rejoinder for a Democratic candidate going toe-to-toe with a Republican in a debate format, or in an exchange through the media, might be addressed to potential Republican voters along these lines:
"My opponent is your man if you applaud the Supreme Court decisions--like Citizens United--that have opened the floodgates wide for money to take over our election. He's saying you should vote for him if you want the kind of Court that put government up for auction like never before, taking power away from the American people to give to Big Money. All the justices who have given us those decisions were appointed by Republicans, and my opponent says we should put a man like Donald Trump in the White House so we can have more decisions like that, serving the special interests at the expense of average citizens."