As I write this, Hillary Clinton's harsh voice is crackling as she excoriates Donald Trump on the TV in the next room. She condemns Trump's business dealings as just one "scam" after another and warns that, if Trump became president, he would pull "the same old scam" again–but this time on the entirety of the American people.
This got me thinking: it might be instructive to compare Trump's scams to Hillary's scams. The verdict: it's mostly a matter of style, and indeed there are numerous traits the two presumptive nominees share but express in differing ways. On the scam front, though not on policy, my ruling was six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Let's start with Trump's attack on the integrity of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing the Trump University case (lucky him). Trump, as you no doubt remember, charged that the Indiana-born Curiel could not be fair to Trump because he is of Mexican descent. "He's a Mexican," Trump explained, somewhat inaccurately. "We're building a wall between here and Mexico," he added, also likely inaccurately.
Mrs. Clinton doesn't actually mind this kind of crudity, and she has employed it often–but mostly through surrogates. Hillary, for example, helped formulate the campaigns against women who alleged affairs or other sexual conduct on the part of her husband, but she generally delegated the dirty work, such as spreading the rumor that a 21-year-old intern was "a stalker," to others. The Clintons might not directly insult the judge overseeing their case (though they certainly did everything in their power to demonize Special Prosecutor Ken Star back in his day). Rather faced with a legal jam (and legal jams are a way of life for both the Clintons and Donald Trump), Hillary's husband would simply have his private plane taxi up the tarmac to the plane belonging to whatever legal authority had ultimate power and pay a social call. In a really desperate situation, Hillary might let it drop that she is considering the official in question for a plumb job in a Hillary Clinton administration.
Hillary pioneered the art of hiding, delaying, and losing documents that have become common features of the Obama administration. Clinton handled the email scandal the same way the administration handled the Lois Lerner scandal–by losing documents, stalling and denial despite plain evidence. In Clinton's case, the FBI was willing to piece together an email trail, but not to make the obvious criminal referral. But the tactic was the same as was the result. No accountability, and the main lasting damage done just to the concept of the rule of law and the public’s faith in our institutions.
While Hillary engages in a sly, mostly hidden process, relying on aides (who often end up burned), Trump has a positive zest for doing his own dirty work and doesn't require surrogates to go out on the campaign trail and say the nasty things that are in normal times beneath the dignity of the candidate. Which candidate is the more proficient in this endeavor? We don't know overall, but in the legal arena, while how the Trump University case turns out remains to be seen, I’m willing to bet that he won't make out as well as Clinton in her recent email scandal.
It is true that FBI Director James Comey outlined a devastating case against Mrs. Clinton that gave the lie to just about everything she had said on the matter. But he backed off at the last minute. Hillary's strategy worked.
The business practices that have made both Trump and Clinton extremely rich will certainly be discussed in the campaign. The Clinton's have leveraged political influence into a global operation beset with credible pay to play accusations about how the Clintons became extremely rich almost overnight. Trump, who started with inherited money, has built a large and diversified skein of companies, which has included great successes and several bankruptcies. Trump's hucksterism is more crass–remember his QVC pitch for steaks, pretending that his steak company had not gone belly up.
The Clintons, meanwhile, prefer to behave like royalty—above such crass matters of dollars–and they get away with it all while raking in cash. Bill Clinton reportedly made $16.4 million from Laureate Education, a for-profit college company. Laureate had numerous legal problems, but Bill's for-profit university did not attract as much attention as Trump's. Still, we don't know nearly enough about either candidate's fortune, including how those fortunes were made. The most we can say is that they have different styles of being rich are different, and the Clinton’s is hardly nobler than his.
Most alarming, both Trump and Clinton have indicated that they will carry on President Obama's policy of government by executive order, so I don't see a new age of constitutionalism dawning under either of the candidates. Yet it’s telling that the media and Washington intelligencia are horrified at the idea of Trump wielding such powers, but haven’t minded a bit as Obama has used his phone and pen to legislate and transform public policy outside of the checks and balances that were so carefully considered by our Founders as fundamental to preserving our Republic.
Everyone who was aghast by Trump’s insults of a judge presiding over his case, worrying about the impact of his potential presidency, should recognize the nature of our choice. Hillary is more sophisticated than Trump, but it’s still just the same scam again and again.