Hillary Clinton should have paid more attention to her husband's former adviser Paul Begala, who once said, "Never interrupt your opponent when he's destroying himself." And even if the former Democratic nominee resists that strategy, her party might want to insist on it. Because Clinton's highly publicized and problematic book tour is rescuing President Trump from a political corner into which he had largely painted himself.
Trump has had a bumpy month with his base, thanks to some surprise engagements with Democratic leadership and a continuing reshuffle of White House personnel. His core group of populist voters have become restive, with anxiety growing over the president's commitment to the border wall and immigration enforcement. Isolationists drawn to his primary campaign have expressed dismay over his escalation of personnel in Afghanistan. When Trump undercut Republicans in their attempts to leverage the debt ceiling for budget cuts, many hardcore Trump supporters flipped out.
Thus far, the president's base has still mostly held together even through these twists and turns, but not everyone has remained on the "Trump Train." Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter has repeatedly offered harsh criticisms of Trump as he looks to broaden his appeal, especially after a tweet that indicated the much-ballyhooed border wall might be more of a renovation and beefing up of existing barriers on the southern border, at least in the near term. After White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short announced that Trump would cut a deal to enshrine the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in statute, Coulter blasted Trump for allowing "the swamp" to overwhelm his presidency.
In any administration, the transition from campaigning to governing presents challenges. Presidents find that promises made might not be realistic after all. But voters expect to see results quickly, and it takes some finesse and salesmanship to keep them in the fold while negotiating through a three-branch federal system designed explicitly to force cooperation on policy.
For Trump, the challenge is even more difficult, as he ran as an outsider who could "drain the swamp" and disrupt business as usual in Washington, D.C. Eight months into office, his supporters still back him, but some of them have begun to doubt him. Until this month, Trump repeatedly cast Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer as villains blocking his initiatives in order to delegitimize his presidency. His direct negotiations with the two Democratic leaders on the debt ceiling and DACA robbed him of that argument, at least for the near future, and raised questions about whether Trump might start aligning with liberals to get some legislative wins.
Things were looking bad for the president ... until Hillary elbowed her way back onto the national stage.
In an NPR interview Monday for her campaign memoir What Happened, Clinton seemed to suggest to Terry Gross that she might launch a legal fight to contest the 2016 election results.
"Would you completely rule out questioning the legitimacy of this election," Gross asked, "if we learn that the Russian interference in the election is even deeper than we know now?"
"No," Clinton replied, "I would not." When Gross persisted, Clinton reiterated, "No, I would not rule it out."
Now, none of this should be read as Clinton insisting on a do-over, or even planning to challenge the nearly year-old election results. But the fact that she won't rule it out is illustrative of her ongoing delusions.
Let's remember that no one has ever suggested that votes got changed via outside interference, nor did vote-counting machines get corrupted. Thanks to Jill Stein's challenges in the so-called Blue Wall states that gave Trump his victory, we have recounts that validated the Election Night totals in both Michigan and Wisconsin. Other than recounts on a state-by-state basis, there are no legal means to change election results, let alone throw out a presidential election and demand a do-over.
Remember, too, that Clinton herself demanded that Trump accept the outcome of the election in a presidential debate last October. When Trump said he'd wait and see how the election was conducted, Clinton called the remark "a direct threat to our democracy." In further remarks, Clinton added, "He's denigrating — he's talking down our democracy. I for one am appalled that somebody who is the nominee of one of our major two parties would take that kind of position."
My, how one's position changes when the ox that gets gored is one's own.
Clinton's implied threat is nonsensical, unconstitutional, and delusional. And it's hugely counterproductive, too. It allows Trump to remind his voters that he's still the outsider targeted by the establishment, the man whose mere presence so frightens the swamp that they'll do anything to get rid of him. Clinton's comments, and her broader blame-casting publicity tour, only serve to remind conservatives of why they opposed Clinton so strongly last year, which will inevitably lead to at least some renewed coalescing around Trump.
In short, Clinton is giving a gift to Trump at a time when Democrats believed they either had him on the ropes or had at least softened him up to get their priorities through Congress. And it gives Democrats yet another reason to ask why Hillary Clinton won't get off the stage so they can pick up from the debacle of 2016 and find ways to connect to the voters she managed to lose.