Several Democrats argued that Mrs. Clinton, should she be her party’s nominee, would easily beat Mr. Trump. They were confident that his incendiary remarks about immigrants, women and Muslims would make him unacceptable to many Americans. They had faith that the growing electoral power of black, Hispanic and female voters would deliver a Clinton landslide if he were the Republican nominee.
But others, including former President Bill Clinton, dismissed those conclusions as denial. They said that Mr. Trump clearly had a keen sense of the electorate’s mood and that only a concerted campaign portraying him as dangerous and bigoted would win what both Clintons believe will be a close November election.
That strategy is beginning to take shape, with groups that support Mrs. Clinton preparing to script and test ads that would portray Mr. Trump as a misogynist and an enemy to the working class whose brash temper would put the nation and the world in grave danger. The plan is for those themes to be amplified later by two prominent surrogates: To fight Mr. Trump’s ability to sway the news cycle, Mr. Clinton would not hold back on the stump, and President Obama has told allies he would gleefully portray Mr. Trump as incapable of handling the duties of the Oval Office.
Now, Mr. Mook and his colleagues regard Mr. Trump as a wily, determined and indefatigable opponent who seems to be speaking to broad economic anxieties among Americans and to the widely held belief that traditional politicians are incapable of addressing those problems. Publicly, the Clinton operation is letting the Republicans slug it out. But privately, it and other Democrats are poring over polling data to understand the roots of Mr. Trump’s populist appeal and building up troves of opposition research on his business career.
whether he can really be relied on as a champion for anyone but himself
“Hillary has built a large tanker ship, and she’s about to confront Somali pirates,” said Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for former President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, who is now an independent.
The greatest weapon against Mr. Trump, the Clintons believe, is his tendency to make outrageous, even hateful comments that can come across as unpresidential.
The plan has three major thrusts: Portray Mr. Trump as a heartless businessman who has worked against the interests of the working-class voters he now appeals to;
broadcast the degrading comments he has made against women in order to sway suburban women, who have been reluctant to support Mrs. Clinton;
and highlight his brash, explosive temper to show he is unsuited to be commander in chief.
Mr. Obama has already argued that Mr. Trump should not be trusted with the job and has told allies he will continue that charge. In February, asked about Mr. Trump, he said the president has “the nuclear codes with them and can order 21-year-olds into a firefight.”
Mrs. Clinton’s uneven performance with male voters so far, especially white men, could create an opening for Mr. Trump to attract Democrats and independents who are socially and culturally moderate and open to his call for a strong military, fearless foreign policy and businessman’s approach to the economy.
Those voters could give him an edge in places like North Carolina, which Mr. Obama won in 2008. But Clinton advisers also worry about Ohio, Florida and Democratic-leaning states in presidential elections that Mr. Trump has vowed to contest, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“They’ll flip their top, and they’ll flip their panties…” read the subject line of a recent news release from Emily’s List, a group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. The quote came from comments Mr. Trump made about women on “The Howard Stern Show” in the 1990s, unearthed by BuzzFeed last month.
But as Democrats hold their breath for the next sexist comment, they also acknowledge a problem that opposition research cannot fix: Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are polar opposite politicians, and Mr. Trump’s direct and visceral style could prove difficult for Mrs. Clinton, whose inclination is detailed policy talk and 12-point plans.
“Can you imagine what he’ll do?” Mr. Dowd, the former Bush strategist, said. She will bring up equal pay for women and abortion rights, Mr. Dowd said, “and he’ll turn to her and say, ‘You can’t even handle your stuff at home.’ ”
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