Sanders Challenges Clinton, but Trump May Be His Own Worst Enemy

He's confirmed the nomination and lined up most of the GOP, but the New York tycoon continues with scorched-earth tactics.

Donald Trump applauds after singing the National Anthem during a rally in Anaheim, California, May 25, 2016.
Jae C. Hong, AP

The case of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen should sound familiar to most Israelis. He was convicted last year of accepting $177,000 in illicit payments from a food supplement manufacturer. During the trial, Virginians learned that the idyllic marriage of their governor had been a well-staged act. In pleading for leniency, McDonnell and his daughters claimed that Maureen was emotionally unstable, was given to fits of rage and was the main reason McDonnell was driven to corruption. It was a case of Mrs. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde, the Governor’s chef explained.

The Supreme Court heard McDonnell’s appeal last month, and observers reported that the Justices sounded sympathetic. They wondered whether the ban on public officials accepting private gifts, monetary or otherwise, was even constitutional. Unfazed by Citizens United, which unleashed unfettered billions on political campaigns, the Court may be poised to do the same for public service. They seemed much more worried that the illegality of private “gifts” gives unelected officials such as attorney generals and prosecutors too much sway over elected officials such as mayors and governors.

Netanyahu would welcome such a legal precedent, though he doesn’t really need it. For many years he’s succeeded in eluding prosecution for the gifts and favors he’s received, replacing stubborn attorneys and ambitious comptrollers with compliant ones and thus saving Israeli judges from the need to consider the issue. Unlike American public opinion, which was repelled by the sordid, small time money, gifts and loans secured by the McDonnells, Israelis have had enough of allegations of improprieties in the Prime Minister’s Office, especially if his name is Netanyahu. If some Inspector General or Comptroller jumped in now and added that Netanyahu had also violated government regulations concerning his emails, they’d be laughed off the stage to oblivion.

In America, however, the State Department report on Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized email habits was received with condemnations worthy of crimes against humanity. It was another harsh blow for the Democratic frontrunner, in a week that wasn’t going too well for her in the first place. Donald Trump was suddenly catching up in the national polls and Bernie Sanders continued to cast a dark shadow over her presumptive candidacy. When news broke of an embarrassing Trump-Sanders debate in the offing, it seemed to confirm many Democrats’ suspicions of the Vermont Senator’s motivations and potential collusion with the enemy, though it later emerged that Sanders had been taken for a ride by Trump, who is now stipulating that $10 million in charity be raised before the debate takes place.

Barring his most ardent admirers, no one really believes that Sanders stands a chance of overtaking Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination. Even if one accepts the once unthinkable scenario that he will beat her on June 7 in California, she will still clinch the threshold number of delegates needed for nomination by winning New Jersey on the same day or Washington DC a week later. But the significance of a humiliating defeat in the largest state in the Union cannot be overstated: Clinton would come to the Convention not as conquering hero but as a vanquished warrior with mortal wounds. Add to that the riotous Convention promised by Sanders’ supporters, especially on issues related to Israel, and you get a Democratic nightmare in the making.

The main thing working in Clinton’s favor right now seems to be Trump himself. Perhaps he feels he need to compensate for what seems to be a certain fatigue of the news networks from his shenanigans: now that the Republican race is over and Trump has clinched the number of delegates he needed, the 24/7 live broadcasts of his every word have abated. His campaign appearances draw attention mainly when they are accompanied by violent disturbances. Trump is nonetheless trying to maintain his previous levels of harsh invective and coarse insults even if that runs contrary to his own self-interest. 

After all, Trump should now be concentrating on lining up the last Republicans holdouts, who are wary of his style, and starting to pivot to those in the moderate center, who are apprehensive about his substance as well. Instead he conjured a sordid conspiracy theory that has been thoroughly debunked by five separate investigations that concluded that the Clintons, in fact, did not murder former confidant and White House aide Vince Foster in 1993 and that he had committed suicide instead. In North Dakota on Thursday, Trump tried to walk back his feigned speculation on the Foster affairs, saying that he had nothing to add, “Unless new evidence emerges.” It was the same tactic he has used in the past to float allegations that the Federal government was concealing a mass outbreak of Ebola and was covering up evidence of the harm done to children by vaccinations. It comes from the same creative mind that supposedly witnessed thousands of Muslims dancing in the streets of New Jersey as the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11, the same unique insight that uncovered the Mexican plot to flood American with murderers and rapists, the same discerning vision that compelled Trump to insist that President Obama had forged his birth certificate.

Perhaps Trump is convinced that one shouldn’t argue with success and that the same inventiveness and vulgarity that has secured his GOP nomination will pave his way to the White House as well. Perhaps he understands better than others that his supporters don’t care whether he lies or speaks the truth, as long as he puts on a show. But even his blindest admirers find it hard to explain his attack this week on New Mexico Governor Susannah Martinez, who Fox’s Bill O’Reilly has billed as Trump’s ideal Vice Presidential candidate. Trump was apparently miffed at Martinez’s decision to stay way from his campaign rally, so he savaged her in public and criticized her performance as governor. Given that Martinez is both a woman and Hispanic, two groups that Trump is struggling with, it’s hard to rationalize his behavior other than as an irresistible impulse which, when applied in Criminal Law, absolves perpetrators of responsibility.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also seems to be getting under Trump’s skin. She is now the designated Democratic attack dog, answering Trump in kind and cutting him down to size, as he does to his rivals. She has described Trump as a petty money-grubber, a bully, a racist, a narcissist, a misogynist, a failed businessman and worst of all: a loser. He has reacted by describing the popular Warren as failed senator with a “big mouth”, which won’t endear him to women, as well as Pocahontas, in order to bring up the issue of her mention of mixed heritage in her Harvard application form. So Trump can probably forget about the Native American vote as well.

Trump seems supremely confident, as he usually is, while his liberal rivals bicker among themselves and descend into premature depression, which is characteristic of them as well. Adding Clinton’s woeful campaigning and Trump’s apparent hubris to their shared world record of being the most united presidential candidates ever, one can safely make the following election projection: the winner won’t be the one who beats his or her rival but the one who somehow avoids knocking out himself. Or herself.