Hillary Clinton took a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book on Thursday, assailing the presumptive GOP nominee in unusually sharp and personal terms in a speech in San Diego.
It was an attack that thrilled Democrats, in part because it gave them some respite from doubts that had been growing about Clinton’s campaigning style.
The former secretary of State is temperamentally the opposite of Trump, and experts counsel that she should not try to ape the Manhattan businessman too closely, no matter how heated their expected general election battle becomes.
“Trump is one of a kind, and to try to either mimic or do your own version of someone like that is a fool’s errand,” said Tobe Berkowitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications. “There is no way she is going to succeed by trying to out-Trump Trump.”
But others argue that there are some elements of Trump’s approach that the Democratic front-runner could adapt for her own purposes.
Here are five lessons Clinton could stand to learn from Trump.
Be Less Cautious
Clinton’s proclivity for caution is one of her most deep-seated habits. This cycle, she has had particular problems appealing to young voters, who find little inspiration in her risk-averse approach and boilerplate rhetoric.
No-one could ever accuse Trump of being over-cautious. And his cavalier willingness to roll the dice with incendiary statements and deeply personal attacks upon his rivals was integral to his victory in the Republican primary.
Even Democrats acknowledge that an increased willingness to accept even some degree of risk would serve Clinton well.
“I think she is overly cautious,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “She thinks about everything and runs it through her mind 17 times before she says something. Maybe Trump is at the other extreme where he is not cautious enough. But I think it is a problem that, with a lot of the stuff that comes out of her mouth, she isn’t really saying anything.”
Seize the initiative
Several experts who spoke to The Hill for this story noted that Clinton’s speech skewering Trump last week dominated the news — and that it was rare for the Democratic front-runner to do this with a story of her own making.
Compare that to Trump, whose entire campaign has revolved around his capacity to drive the news cycle. Democrats and Republicans alike suggested Clinton would help herself if she shifted from being reactive to the news to setting the agenda herself.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell even drew attention to the contrasting ways in which Trump and Clinton used social media, particularly Twitter.
“He’s trying to generate headlines, and she is saying, ‘Oh, great speech with so-and-so.’ She can’t let him get too far ahead on that point.”
More broadly, O’Connell added, “basically she is chasing the news but he is generating the news. If you’re generating the news, you can drive the coverage. He can wag the media dog. She can’t.”
Engage the agenda
Relations between Clinton and the media have been marked by mutual suspicion for years.
Trump gets plenty of negative coverage, too. But the businessman has been unusually accessible to the media, especially by the standards of a modern presidential candidate. He has learned from his years courting, and clashing with, the New York tabloids, that every media storm keeps his name front and center.
Clinton does not typically fare well at news conferences. One such event, held last summer in a Las Vegas gym, was widely panned. A sarcastic Clinton responded to a question about wiping her private email server by asking, “What? With like a cloth or something?” and finally walked away from the press while giving a frustrated shrug of the shoulders.
But there are other ways to improve her media image, experts say, including one-on-one TV interviews.
“I would guess that the next thing she is going to do is interviews with people who you know are not going to be throwing hardballs, fastballs, at her — which pretty much means any of the network anchors,” said Berkowitz. “It is not in their nature to really go aggressively after established politicians.”
Let the mask slip
One of Clinton’s biggest and most long-standing problems has been authenticity — or, as many voters see it, the lack of it. She consistently scores very poorly when poll respondents are asked whether she is honest and trustworthy.
Last September, a New York Times story on how Clinton aides were planning for her to show more spontaneity drew derision even from other Democrats.
“Today's @nytimes story on HRC read more like The Onion: Her detailed plan to show more authenticity and spontaneity. #Justdoit!” David Axelrod, the former senior advisor to President Obama, tweeted soon afterward.
Conversely, one of the most compelling moments of Clinton’s long political career occurred in 2008, when she came to the verge of tears while discussing the toll of campaigning shortly before the New Hampshire primary. She won that primary, despite polls having shown her trailing then-Sen. Obama by a wide margin.
More of those human moments might well pay political dividends.
Embrace family, warts and all
It’s an understatement to call the political dynamics of the Clinton family complicated.
Former President Bill Clinton’s White House affair with intern Monica Lewinsky will dog him forever. The nature of the couple’s marriage has been dissected in the media throughout their quarter-century at the forefront of national life.
Hillary Clinton also has to execute a delicate dance in reminding voters of her husband’s political achievements while reassuring them that he would not play an outsize role in her White House, if she is elected.
But, at least at a personal level, Clinton’s life is hardly more complicated than the thrice-married Trump, whose love life was a New York media staple for years and who once said, “if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
Yet for all that, Trump’s family — Ivanka in particular — has played an important role in humanizing the rambunctious businessman.
Former President Clinton has been an effective surrogate for his wife this cycle — in contrast to his contentious role in 2008 — but some experts said the couple would benefit from addressing their private life more candidly.
Brad Bannon argued that if Trump attacked Bill Clinton again for his treatment of women, Hillary Clinton should respond in kind.
“I don’t know if she would do this, but I would advise her to say, ‘Hey, listen here — Bill and I were having a bad time, but we stuck together, worked things out and we’re still married. When Donald Trump has a problem in a relationship, he dumps her.’ I don’t understand why she — or somebody — hasn’t come back and replied that way.”