Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president in an interview on Thursday, May 19. It’s not terribly surprising that Clinton said this, because Trump is, in fact, unqualified to be president. It is a bit surprising, though, that it took her so long to make such a statement. Trump’s lack of presidential qualifications has been clear for several decades, and Clinton could have made this the claim at any point over the last few months. Why the wait?
“No, I do not,” Clinton said when CNN’s Andrew Cuomo asked if she believed Trump was qualified to serve as president. Clinton went on to explain the specifics of why she thinks Trump wouldn't be a great POTUS:
And I think, in this past week, whether it’s attacking Great Britain, praising the leader of North Korea, a despotic dictator who has nuclear weapons, whether it is saying, ‘Pull out of NATO, let other countries have nuclear weapons.’ The kinds of positions he is stating and the consequences of those positions, and even the consequences of his statements, are not just offensive to people, they are potentially dangerous.
All fair points, but why did Clinton wait so long to wage this attack? Why not say it at one of the debates, for example, when she had a guaranteed audience of millions? Or during a campaign rally in an important primary state? Democrats have been urging Clinton to attack Trump more aggressively since at least March. Did she only just get the memo?
In fact, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this: Clinton is playing the long game. Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty rare for a presidential candidate to flat-out call their opponent unqualified, and as a result, it’s kind of a big deal when a candidate does. A comment like that is guaranteed to dominate the news cycle for at least a day — and sure enough, Clinton’s did. More importantly, it forces voters to actually ask themselves whether the opposing candidate is qualified to be commander in chief.
It’s a good strategy, but it wouldn't have worked if Clinton used it when Trump was still running in the primaries. Had she dropped this truth bomb, Trump would have turned it around and presented it as a selling point to Republican voters: “Hillary Clinton doesn’t think I’m qualified, and I think that’s a good thing!” I can hear him now.
And if Trump then won the primary, the whole “Trump is unqualified” line would have been perceived, correctly or incorrectly, as a counter-productive attack that accomplished the opposite of its intended effect, and that would take the wind out of its sails entirely.
Instead, Clinton waited until Trump became the presumptive nominee. In doing so, she shifted the debate to her own terms, pulling the media spotlight away from her own primary problems — which have been dominating headlines — and onto Trump’s qualifications, or lack thereof. Timing is everything, and she got the timing down perfectly here.
Clinton knows this election is going to be very long and very dirty, and she doesn’t want to use up all of her most potent attacks on Trump too quickly. Better to wait until the exact right moment to strike. Slow and steady wins the race.