Hillary Clinton has a lot to get done Wednesday night in her third and final debate with Donald Trump – a wounded bear who will be on the attack because it’s the only campaign style he knows. (Remember when pundits predicted that Trump would “pivot” to a more conciliatory persona? That seems like a long time ago.)
Although the Democratic nominee is leading in almost every poll, she still wants to increase her advantage – not only to ensure she wins the presidency, but to help her party secure a Senate majority and prove she has a “mandate” to govern.
Clinton used the first two debates to convince most voters that Trump is unfit for the White House. Trump helped, of course – as did the leaker who released the recording in which he boasted of abusing women.
Now she needs to present a clearer defense to the farrago of charges Trump has raised based on the WikiLeaks documents and recently released FBI interviews.
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Trump says the documents prove various forms of “collusion” among the State Department, the FBI director, the Clinton campaign, the Clinton Foundation, the Democratic National Committee and a network of international banks.
The Clinton campaign’s reflex response has been to dismiss the WikiLeaks documents as illegitimate because they were hacked, and because Russia appears to be involved. That’s not enough.
Here, for example, is a serious and entirely fair question Clinton should face: What, exactly, did she mean when she said: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders”? And how does that “dream” square with her flip-flop on the Trans-Pacific Partnership? (She was for the trade deal before she was against it.)
But Wednesday’s debate need not only be a survival-show ordeal for Clinton. It’s also an opportunity: a chance for her to make her candidacy bigger and her increasingly probable presidency a little more likely to succeed.
She’s already tried to focus a little more on the positive parts of her agenda, “to give you something to vote for, not just someone to vote against,” she says. She’s marched through a list of policy speeches – on the economy, on child care, on energy – that have mostly been drowned out by the louder and lewder parts of the campaign.
There’s one more step she can take in the debate in what may be her final chance before Election Day to talk directly to an audience of millions.
She should seize the opportunity to speak to the roughly 45 percent of voters who say they’ve chosen Trump, and tell them she wants to be their president, too.
Yes, she called half of them “deplorables.” She might even want to apologize for that – no matter how deplorable the slogans on some of their T-shirts are.
Not all Trump voters are deplorable Internet trolls or members of the alt-right. Many are merely Republicans who are voting for Trump out of party loyalty (in some cases, reluctant loyalty). Some are independents who have voted Democratic in the past, but are so frustrated by Washington’s inability to fix the country’s problems that they’re willing to take a chance on a volcanic mogul. (I’ve talked to some of them at Trump rallies.) Clinton should offer them an outstretched hand.
One reason is practical politics: It’s a message of inclusion many undecided voters want to hear. Much of the recent increase in Clinton’s strength in the polls has come from undecided voters and third-party voters moving into her column. More outreach could mean a bigger majority.
It’s also a good way to push back against Trump’s divisive narrative, especially his charge – weeks before Election Day – that the vote is already “rigged.”
Even if Clinton wins by a solid majority, many Republicans in Congress will oppose nearly everything she proposes, just as they opposed nearly everything Barack Obama proposed after winning by convincing margins in 2008 and 2012.
By extending her hand now, she can’t prevent that kind of obstruction, but she can make it more difficult.
And even if her appeals fall on deaf ears, they can’t hurt. To borrow a phrase from her opponent: What the hell does she have to lose?
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angles Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.