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Political experts devise best strategies to defeat Clinton or Trump

Tom Fontaine
| Saturday, March 5, 2016, 10:40 p.m.
A combination photo shows Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
REUTERS
A combination photo shows Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd at his rally inside Century II in Wichita, Kan., Saturday, March 5, 2016. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd at his rally inside Century II in Wichita, Kan., Saturday, March 5, 2016. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets the audience after speaking during a post-Super Tuesday rally in New York on March 2, 2016.
AFP/Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets the audience after speaking during a post-Super Tuesday rally in New York on March 2, 2016.

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump and former first lady, senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are prohibitive favorites to win their parties' nominations and square off in November.

With that assumption, political strategists from both parties already are planning how to attack the would-be nominees. Both provide large targets for opposing campaigns, given their polarizing natures and lengthy histories in public life. And both have shown a willingness to go negative.

“This campaign will be mutually assured destruction, all-out nuclear war,” said Philip Harold, a political science professor at Moon's Robert Morris University.

Here's how their respective strategies are shaping up as the nominating process continues to develop.

Strategist: To win, opponents must sow seeds of doubt about Trump

Go on the offensive. But don't be offensive.

That's the key to defeating the Republican Trump, according to two strategy memos released in recent weeks. One came from Our Principles PAC, a conservative, anti-Trump political action committee; Democracy Corps, a Democratic polling and consulting firm headed by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, produced the other. Carville served as the lead strategist on President Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992.

“Telling voters Donald Trump is a liar, a fraud, a liberal is counterproductive. They will shut down and discount other accurate and valuable information,” Our Principles PAC executive director Katie Packer Gage wrote in her group's memo.

So far, Trump's Republican opponents can't seem to resist that approach. Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Trump a phony and a fraud during a speech Thursday.

“Our research shows, overwhelmingly, that putting out information, in (Trump's) own words, and then asking voters a few questions such as, ‘How much do you really know about Donald Trump? Can we trust him?' is the most effective route to highlighting his conservatism of convenience,” Packer Gage wrote.

Republicans haven't spent much money challenging Trump. Packer Gage estimated that Republicans had spent more than $215 million to place ads and contact voters through Feb. 22, and only $9 million of that was spent on challenging Trump.

Packer Gage said, “Running ads on a single issue won't stop Donald Trump. Rather, it's the cumulative effect of highlighting his positions” on many issues.

She cited 11 of them, from his stance on government-sponsored, universal health care to him once proposing a one-time tax increase on the rich that would have raised $5.7 trillion to eliminate the national debt. Trump no longer supports the proposal, which would have been the largest tax increase in history. She said he's flip-flopped on illegal immigration; supported Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats; and praised Planned Parenthood.

Packer Gage also referred to the civil case against Trump involving his former Trump University. On Friday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told CNN that Trump faces millions of dollars in fines for committing “fraud” by not hand-picking instructors and helping to design the school's curriculum as he said he would.

The public needs to be reminded of Trump's “shallow and incoherent comments about serious issues relating to foreign policy and America's role on the world stage,” Packer Gage said.

Democracy Corps said the strongest attacks against Trump focus on his character and leadership qualities, based on their poll of 800 likely Republican voters.

Democracy Corps found that 24 percent of Republicans who said they wouldn't vote for Trump had serious concerns that he's an “egomaniac and entertainer that cares more about gaining power and fame than helping the country,” while 20 percent had serious concerns that he's disrespectful toward women and 19 percent similar concerns that he's “not qualified to deal with national security issues and shouldn't be trusted with our nuclear weapons.”

“The conventional wisdom has been that Trump would stumble at some point, but he just never has. He has proved to be a very skilled politician, and he's able to talk himself out of a paper bag,” Harold said. “The danger is, his shtick could get old at some point.”

Conservatives view ethics as Clinton's Achilles heel

Hillary Clinton has been a polarizing fixture in American politics for the past 25 years.

“Hillary has such a long record, and that is such a liability, even more so now than when she ran in 2008,” RMU's Harold said. “We will be reminded of her record constantly.”

Just to show how reviled she is by the Republican Party, Clinton has a tab atop the Republican National Committee's website that appears before the tab for the GOP's presidential candidates.

Click on Clinton's tab, and you're taken to a blog by Raj Shah called, “Hillary on the Issues: Everything You Need to Know About Clinton's Record.” It has more than 100 posts about her record on the economy, education, energy, foreign policy, health care, immigration, crime and veterans' issues, along with a section dedicated to her email scandal.

The posts cast her as a flip-flopper, pan her policies and raise questions about her character and decision-making.

Shah writes that Clinton's “growing email scandal casts doubt on her judgment and trustworthiness,” while her record as secretary of State “shows that she can't be trusted to keep America safe.”

Trump has indicated he plans to target Clinton over the email investigations. Trump said Thursday he looked forward to running against Clinton, “assuming she's allowed to run, assuming she's not arrested for the email situation.” He added, “Let's assume the Democrats will protect her.”

The RNC will have help attacking Clinton's record from political action committees such as America Rising PAC and Stop Hillary PAC. Both can raise unlimited money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals and then spend it freely to campaign against candidates.

“Our three main lines of attack on Secretary Clinton are as follows: She's unethical, she's untrustworthy and she has a failed record at the State Department,” said Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for the conservative America Rising PAC.

With Trump helping to fan the flames of anti-establishment sentiment across the country, Clinton's many years in Washington will be used against her, Harold said.

When asked whether he thinks Clinton might wilt under the barrage of attacks that will come her way, Harold said, “I think she's tough, seasoned and experienced,” pointing to her composure in November during 11 hours of testimony on the 2012 terrorist attack at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi and how “she pulled her campaign up by the bootstraps earlier this year when it was going down the tubes” as Bernie Sanders' popularity was rising.

Pointing to declining turnout at Democratic primary contests so far, Harold said Clinton must find a way to build enthusiasm around her campaign.

“I'm sure that's keeping her campaign up at night,” Harold said.

The Associated Press contributed. Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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