Trump is ‘the marquee name in a horror show’

Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee
Getty Images
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee

To watch the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is to witness what happens when a litigator comes face to face with an entertainer.

Clinton is, at root, a litigator, or, more specifically, a deponent looking to avoid saying anything that will trigger an adverse judgment. The goal of a deponent is not to step on any landmines. The goal of an entertainer is to step on all of them. Which Trump the carnival barker is doing splendidly not due to any strategy but because that's what he does.

The recent Wikileaks release of Hillary's emails and Trump's "Access Hollywood" sexual aggression jubilee have resonated because they serve as maximum confirmation that both candidates are precisely who we already knew them to be. Clinton took multiple positions on issues like trade and investment banking while the Trump video confirmed that he views women as dogs in heat.

The crises that often resonate the most do so not because they shock but because they validate. Think Tricky Dick and Randy Bubba.

"Trump isn’t really still alive as much as he is the 'undead,' blast by blast, losing support from political leaders and voting blocks (suburban women, moderate Republicans) with every step."

It's interesting what happens when candidates like Clinton and Trump attempt to play against type. When Clinton tries to use a Reaganesque catch-phrase like "Trumped Up Trickle Down Economics" it becomes a "Saturday Night Live" punchline. When Trump tries to be a deliberate statesman you can actually witness him losing his mind while he tries to pull it off.

If Trump keeps stepping on landmines, why did he become his party's nominee and how has he done as well as he has? Setting aside that a lot of people like his hustle, for the last year and a half, we've been living in a political sewer so foul that we can't smell anything anymore. Besides, Trump isn't really still alive as much as he is the "undead," blast by blast, losing support from political leaders and voting blocks (suburban women, moderate Republicans) with every step.

Where once Trump was starring in a thriller, he's now the marquee name in a horror show whose body count won't be tallied for another month. Indeed, Trump's present failure has become a failure of entertainment because instead of provoking fascination he's triggering a feeling of wanting to avert your eyes. (Three debates are too much for me.)

Trotting out the alleged victims of Bill Clinton's sexual escapades — who may have legitimate grievances that were not taken seriously two decades ago — now seems desperate against the backdrop of an enfeebled-looking former president who is not even on the ballot, not to mention a vindicator in the form of a man who once declared these very same accusers to be ugly opportunists. Trump even once suggested that President Clinton was their victim.

If American history is any indication, entertainers win sprints but litigators can win marathons. I have spent a career working on mostly corporate crises where the pundit class complains about insincere apologies and plodding resolutions yet these besieged entities live on and on. In politics, the Huey Longs and George Wallaces eventually go supernova, but litigators are playing a longer game.

What often gets lost in the historical legend is that Abraham Lincoln was a litigator — a corporate one no less — before he was an inspirational icon, an achievement that took winning a war and getting assassinated to accomplish.

Hillary Clinton is surely no inspiration, but she does possess the twin gifts of caution and endurance which may be the variables that carry her breathlessly across the finish line.

Commentary by Eric Dezenhall, CEO of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis-management firm in Washington, DC. He is also the author of "Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal." Follow him on Twitter @EricDezenhall.

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