Flat-footed responses cripple both campaigns
CHICAGO — If it seems that voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump constitutes a lesser-of-two-evils choice, one thing is clear: Never mind evil — neither has a lick of sense, if the ability to think on their feet is any indication.
Exhibit A: Donald Trump went on an ill-advised and damaging media rampage against Khizr Khan — the father of a U.S. Army captain who was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004 — after a Democratic National Convention speech in which Khan accused the Republican nominee of not understanding the concept of sacrifice.
When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviewed Trump about the poor reception that people had to his harsh statements about the Khan family, Trump was asked what sacrifices he has made. Trumped responded. “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs. … I think I’ve done a lot. … Oh sure, I think they’re sacrifices. I think when I can employ thousands and thousands of people, take care of their education, take care of so many things. … ”
Really? This is the silver-tongued businessman with the ability to seduce financial titans into multimillion-dollar deals? The master-media-manipulator reality-TV star?
Trump had one public relations task in addressing his attacks on the parents of a fallen soldier, and that was to simply acknowledge their loss. All he had to do was to say, “I will never know the sacrifices made by the families of our men and women who have died in the line of duty,” before regurgitating his resume highlights.
But, obviously, Trump just can’t control his motor mouth.
After a week when even more of the Republican Party elite publicly distanced themselves from his carnival of hatred — and his favorability ratings took a post-Khan-bashing nosedive — Trump ran his mouth some more, calling Hillary Clinton a “monster,” “unstable” and “unhinged.”
One wonders if Trump has ever heard of the psychological concept of projection, a theory that humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others.
Trump, however, is not alone in being caught flat-footed in responding to journalistic pressure.
Moving on to Exhibit B, Clinton addressed a joint gathering of the National Associations of Hispanic and Black Journalists late last week. When Lori Montenegro, a national correspondent for Telemundo, asked Clinton whether her campaign, and the Democratic Party, takes Latino voters “seriously” or takes them “for granted,” Clinton fumbled.
She prattled on with statements about taking Hispanics “seriously” because she has “had the great privilege of working for many years with Latino leaders, activists, business men and women” and yadda, yadda, yadda.
We know her stump speech components about baby-sitting Latino kids on Saturdays while their families went to work in the farm fields, sitting in Latino church basements with Spanish-speaking families, and being a Legal Services lawyer.
“I don’t take any voter for granted, I particularly don’t take any voter who is placing their trust and confidence in me for granted,” she continued, finishing by noting again that she has “such close working relationships and friendships” with Latino leaders. She was having Latino business leaders over to her house that night!
No, no, no.
By agreeing to speak directly to Hispanics via their journalists, Hillary had one job: Show some respect. And she blew it.
Clinton could have said: “I do not take Latino voters and their families for granted, and I never will.”
Or: “Maybe I haven’t done a very good job of demonstrating my commitment to Latinos as voters and as a key constituency in this country, but I vow to be held accountable to you from this moment forward.”
Others, like Victor Landa, had some thoughts, too. The founder and editor of the Hispanic news site NewsTaco wrote: “This is what I wish she had said … that she will include Latinos and not take them for granted because the Latino experience is an American experience and deserves more than the rote, pandering answer that so many before her have given.”
It’s stunning: Two candidates spend millions on campaign strategists and communications experts yet they can’t muster a modicum of respect for their audiences when it matters most. This is the ultimate example of a choice that is even worse than merely settling for the lesser evil.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is [email protected] Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group