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How Hillary Clinton has been playing Donald Trump, Republicans since last year

If there's one thing we've learnt from the 2016 edition of the US presidential election extravaganza, it's that there's no such thing as 'too dirty' when it comes to campaigns.

 How Hillary Clinton has been playing Donald Trump, Republicans since last year

File image of Hillary Clinton. AP

To name but a few of the dirty tricks pulled by candidates: Leaked emails detailed how Hillary Clinton's camp derailed Bernie Sanders's campaign and Donald Trump pulled off the surprise 'All-about-Bill Clinton' press conference with Kathy Shelton, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, hours before the second presidential debate.

But if it's trickery we're after, look no further than the way Team Clinton (quite skilfully, it must be added) played the Republican Party and Donald Trump to create an eminently winnable election for herself. Let's start in early 2015.

After deciding not to throw his hat into the ring in 2012 presidential elections, many expected 2016 to the year he would do so. This was particularly so in light of his decision in February 2015 not to renew the TV contract for his reality TV show The Apprentice. It was two months later that Trump dropped the biggest hint that we was going to enter the fray, when he said, "This time, I'm very far down the line, so we'll see what happens... I'm going to surprise a lot of people." And in June, the announcement was made:

While this is something many had expected, it is something the Clinton camp was actively counting on. At least that's what the recent tranche of emails published by Wikileaks revealed.

In an email sent on 23 April that year, member of the Clinton campaign Marissa Astor wrote to campaign chairperson John Podesta to schedule a strategy call with the following items on the agenda: A 'Clinton Cash update', a 'Phones/Pool plan' and most interestingly, the 'DNC plan'. To prepare for the third item on the agenda, a handy attachment accompanied the email. The attached memo contained a few points on goals, strategy and potential opponents.

Contained within the strategy section was this little nugget of information:

pied piper

'We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to take them seriously'

Take a moment with that last line.

Trump, as Red State points out, "was a tool for (Clinton's) campaign all along. She wanted the press to take Trump seriously, put him up as the most viable option for Republicans, and the Right took the bait, hook, line, and sinker."

And over the weeks, the Trump campaign — rooted in a wholesale rejection of political correctness — gained momentum and the backing of the hitherto fringe elements on the extreme Right, while seasoned politicians — arguably less conservative than Trump — who were expected to be the Republican Party's nominees (like Jeb Bush and John Kasich) fell by the wayside. And all along, the Clinton team was preparing for Trump as an opponent. A leaked 200-page dossier (dated 19 December, 2015) on the real estate mogul goes into great depths on the details that Clinton would exploit as her campaign wore on: Some sections include 'Trump is a liar', 'Trump is loyal only to himself', 'Trump proposed banning all Muslims' and so on.

A notable aside: The one sub-section yet to be milked — and perhaps she's holding onto that card till the third debate on 19 October — by Clinton is 'Trump's ex-wife accused him of rape'.

If there's one thing we've learnt from the 2016 edition of the US presidential election extravaganza, it's that there's no such thing as 'too dirty' when it comes to campaigns

Over the course of Clinton's own campaign, her public addresses were peppered with digs at Trump with barely a mention of any other Republican. This, as per the strategy, went a long way in legitimising him. And the next thing you knew Trump was the Republican presidential candidate.

But Clinton and team weren't done.

As this Slate article points out, Clinton was able to 'shoehorn' a criticism of Trump's remarks about beauty queen Alicia Machado into an unrelated question. What may have seemed like a very random reference at the time, was anything but. A few hours after the debate, Team Clinton had put out an advertisement featuring Machado, detailing some of the things Trump had said about her. Trump kept his cool for a few days, but eventually took the bait with a flurry of tweets, including one where he called the former beauty queen 'disgusting'.

To quote Red State once more, "hook, line and sinker".

A few days later (5 October, to be precise), came the vice-presidential debate, where Team Clinton had clearly sent vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine in with a clear brief: Get Mike Pence on the defensive. And Kaine went at it like a pitbull, uttering the word 'defend' nearly 20 times. Pence showed a firm reluctance to defend his running mate, so it could be argued that the gambit failed. Or had it?

A few hours later, this hit the internet:

So far, Trump has shown a worrying (to his supporters) willingness to play right into Clinton's hands. And his rough-around-the-edges style has earned him enough supporters and detractors within the Republican Party. Of greater concern to the GOP will be the fact that it stands on the brink of a civil war among its ranks.

Clinton's 'shoehorn the Pied Piper' strategy may deeply hurt the Republican party and it might win her the presidency.

But given this climate of mud-slinging, dirty tricks and intense polarisation, there's an important question that must be asked: What sort of an America will she govern?

That's a topic for a different article.

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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 10:27:41 IST