Hillary Clinton’s first stabs at rebranding the Republican nominee left something to be desired: “Dangerous Donald” sounded too much like the sexiest guy at tenth-grade detention. “Poor Donald” made it seem like the worst thing about the authoritarian tycoon is that he might not actually be a billionaire. But on Wednesday, Clinton seemed to find a perfect nickname for her presumptive general election foe: “Sociopathic Fraud With a Documented History of Conning Struggling Parents Into Giving Him Their Children’s Meal Money Donald.”
“Trump and his employees took advantage of vulnerable Americans,” Clinton told supporters at a rally in Newark, referring to newly released documents that show Trump University — the tycoon’s for-profit “real-estate school” — encouraged prospective students to finance their “education” via massive credit card debt. The documents also show that several former employees believe that the school was a “fraudulent scheme” and that the university’s recruiters were explicitly instructed to exploit the desperation of single parents with hungry children.
“This is just more evidence that Donald Trump himself is a fraud,” Clinton continued. “He is trying to scam America the way he scammed all those people at Trump U.”
Clinton isn’t exactly the first person to recognize the utility of this metaphor. Marco Rubio spent the last days of his campaign shouting “Donald Trump is a con man” over and over, taking breaks only to insinuate that the mogul has diminutive genitals. But by the time Trump’s Republican rivals got around to pointing out that he was a manipulative fraud, the tycoon had already established an unbreakable bond with the GOP base.
For Clinton, the "con man" attack has much to recommend it: It’s simple, undermines the core of Trump’s populist appeal, and happens to be obviously true. Imagine how a con man would talk, if he were campaigning for the presidency. Now read this quote from Donald Trump’s trip to North Dakota last week:
Politicians have used you and stolen your votes. They have given you nothing. I will give you everything. I will give you what you’ve been looking for for 50 years. I’m the only one.
There’s been some hand-wringing about how Clinton will make criticism stick to “Teflon Trump.” But as Vox’s Matt Yglesias points out, “Teflon Trump” is a baseless myth. The candidate’s myriad offenses against civil society and human decency have turned roughly 60 percent of the country against him. The man’s vices are not subtle; they’re the foibles of a comic book super-villain. And he appears to be incapable of suppressing those vices for the length of a presidential campaign. You don’t need fancy nicknames to take Trump down — just the ability to communicate, in a matter-of-fact way, all the heinous things he can’t stop himself from doing. Like, for example, boasting that he gave $1 million to veterans charities but only actually writing the checks four months later — after being shamed into doing so by the national press. And then calling the press dishonest! You can’t make this stuff up! More importantly, you don’t have to.
“Just yesterday we learned the truth about Donald Trump’s big talk about helping veterans,” Clinton said Wednesday. “It turns out it wasn’t until the press shamed him that he actually made the donations he had promised. For months, it was all just a publicity stunt.”
If telling the truth about Donald Trump, over and over — from here to November — can’t prevent him from being elected, it’s hard to imagine that anything can.