Hillary Clinton didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the controversial real-estate mogul’s presence in the Republican presidential field.
In her first national-television interview since launching her presidential campaign in April, the Democratic front-runner Clinton seized on Trump’s accusations that Mexico sends “rapists” and drug-runners to the United States. And she promptly used those comments to tie him to the rest of the Republican field.
“They are all in the same general area on immigration,” she said. “They don’t want to provide a path to citizenship. They range across a spectrum of being either grudgingly welcome or hostile towards immigrants.”
Greg Valliere, the chief political strategist for the Potomac Research Group, told Business Insider recently that Trump is a “very generous gift to Hillary Clinton.”
But pretty much every Democrat, from the top on down, is not hiding his or her excitement that Donald Trump will likely be on stage at the first Republican primary debate in early August. They gleefully watch Trump dominate the news cycle. They smirk as he surges in the polls.
“We are gleeful. We should be gleeful. He is ridiculous, and he makes the whole Republican Party look ridiculous,” said John Hagner, a veteran Democratic campaign operative who is now a partner at Democratic strategy group Clarity Campaign Labs.
Though the real-estate mogul is highly unlikely to become the Republican nominee, his presence in the race alone is good enough for Democrats. He’s currently polling in seventh place among Republican candidates nationally, according to a Real Clear Politics average of recent polling. The top 10 candidates make it to the first, premier night of the debate.
Democrats hope Trump will, in effect, help them by alienating a voting bloc with which Republicans desperately need to improve to win the White House in 2016: Latinos.
“Next November, I don’t know if [he] is going to have a big impact. But it means that all summer long, instead of talking about serious Republican candidates, we’re talking about a clown,” Hagner said.
He added: “Having [Trump] on the debate stage is going to make sure that Hispanic voters look at the Republican Party and see people who don’t care about them and don’t take them seriously.”
Trump has faced huge backlash from high-profile businesses and Republican presidential rivals after labelling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and drug runners in his presidential announcement speech.
But he has also continued to poll consistently well, in part because he represents a loud segment of Republican voters who want to crack down on illegal immigration. Republican voters overwhelmingly oppose immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and they list the issue as one of the most important issues.
The Republican National Committee, in its “autopsy report” of the 2012 election, emphasised Latino outreach as a key point heading forward. President Barack Obama had walloped Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a 71-27 margin with Latino voters in 2012, helping push Obama over the top in several key swing states like Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Florida. The feeling is that Trump could hurt the party with Latino voters once again.
“What separates them is Trump’s over the top rhetoric. If they don’t shout that down now, if they don’t contrast themselves now, they will find that they’re associated with it come the general” election, said Rodell Mollineau, a former spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) who is now a partner at communications firm
Many Republicans in the race have already criticised Trump over his comments on immigration. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said he was personally offended. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) took a shot at one of Trump’s business losses.
“As a general rule, it would be hard to get elected president if you can’t represent a mattress company,” he told Business Insider last weekend, referencing Serta’s announcement that the company would not renew its contract to carry the reality television star’s line of mattresses.
But during the debate, a crowded but strong field of GOP candidates will likely be forced to confront Trump directly, presenting a complicated situation for Republicans who have either brushed him off or denounced him. And thereafter, as Hagner pointed out, they will have choices to make about their positions in early-voting states.
“If Trump forces Bush or Rubio to go to his left, that’s just going to make their job with base voters in Iowa that much harder,” Hagner said.
Perhaps most significant, however, is that Trump takes some of the air out of a field that has experience running major offices — with major policy achievements and legacies.
Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told Business Insider that Trump’s likely presence on the debate stage and in the race will detract from the policy and rhetorical strengths of the rest of the Republican contenders. Any outrageous statement from Trump can eclipse substance from the others. And Democrats hope voters will remember those statements next November.
“This is probably the strongest Republican field for president in a long time, and then you have Donald Trump,” Burton said. “He’s a distraction, he’s an embarrassment to the process.”
He added: “Unless part of your strategy is to call Donald Trump out and to stand up to him, then it’s not helpful because he’s going to eat up time. His personality is so big that he’s going to dwarf candidates who might actually have serious policy points to make.”
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