WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – If Hillary Clinton’s best argument for unifying Democrats and winning the White House is Donald Trump, then she picked a good week to clinch the nomination.
In a victory-night speech on Tuesday, Clinton celebrated her historic accomplishment of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. party, using a background of sepia-toned images of past feminist pioneers.
But the campaign has made clear it is ready to win ugly too, with appeals to fear and not just the heart.
Enter Trump, who had by far the worst week of his campaign at the very moment Clinton reached her milestone.
In the general election, one of Clinton’s biggest challenges may be to follow one of the oldest rules in politics: When your opponent is self-destructing, just stay out of the way.
Clinton’s camp also believes that fear of Trump can push Bernie Sanders and loyal supporters into Clinton’s camp, even though they are not going quietly yet.
“The differences between us and Trump are so much greater than the differences between Sen. Sanders and Secretary Clinton,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said on MSNBC.
The choreography now is critical, and the Clinton campaign is eager to move on quickly to solidify her status as the presumptive nominee.
President Barack Obama’s endorsement may be imminent. He called both Clinton and Sanders on Tuesday night, the White House said in a press release. Obama will also meet with Sanders in Washington on Thursday “to continue their conversation about the significant issues at stake in this election that matter most to America’s working families.”
A wave of the key outstanding endorsements should follow, including Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sanders himself — but that depends on Sanders. He has vowed to fight Clinton all the way to the party convention in late July and has said he will campaign through Saturday’s contest in the District of Columbia, though The New York Times said the campaign planned to lay off some staff members.
Clinton and Sanders had not spoken ahead of Tuesday’s contests, but Podesta said he expected the two to talk soon. The two campaign managers — Robby Mook for Clinton and Jeff Weaver for Sanders — have begun speaking with an eye toward laying out a path ahead, said one person familiar with the talks.
While she waits, the strongest hand Clinton has to play right now is to shine the spotlight on Trump, even as the former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady also wants to emphasize the historic nature of her campaign. She will try to strike that balance in network interviews on Wednesday, a speech to a Planned Parenthood convention on Friday and her public appearances Monday and Tuesday in the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible,” she told a crowd in Brooklyn.
In her speech, Clinton mentioned her daughter and granddaughter and her late mother, whom she wished could have lived to see her accomplishment. She did not mention her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who embraced her after her speech. The two then held hands and waved to the crowd.
While voters in the last six states weighed in on the Democratic primary, the presumptive Republican nominee was facing condemnation from leading Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump had charged that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University, is biased against Trump because of the judge’s Mexican descent.
Trump spent the day doing damage control, saying that his comments had been “misconstrued” and that he didn’t plan to talk about the case anymore. On Tuesday night, he gave a stilted teleprompter speech in which he pledged to fight for voters, a unusually conventional political claim from the usually unconventional candidate.
He also promised to deliver a speech next week, likely Monday, detailing his criticisms of the Clintons. Trump said that Clinton and her husband “have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves” and charged that they had made their personal fortune selling access, favors and government contracts. Trump said Clinton had turned the State Department “into her private hedge fund.”
So the general election is on.
Donald Trump is “trying to wall off Americans from each other,” Clinton said in her acceptance speech. She said Trump wants to take Americans back to a time of exclusion and is promising “an economy he cannot re-create.”
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said that while Clinton has made breaking barriers the slogan of her campaign, “it has a natural foil in Donald Trump, who is making divisiveness and bigotry and misogyny the hallmarks of his campaign.”
He added: “This moment tonight is about a lot more than just the watershed of the first woman nominee. It is about advancing the goal of making a more perfect union, and in our mind there’s only one candidate” who can accomplish that.
Several lawmakers stepped up calls on Tuesday for Sanders to get out.
“I think he should stand down now,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat. “He is in a unique position to be a unifier, and that is so important.” If Sanders stays in until the convention, Nelson said, it would be “a temporary setback” and “not fatal” to Clinton. “But it’s an unnecessary diversion at this point.”
Clinton’s path to the nomination ran through 42 states and U.S. territories. She rolled out 53 policy proposals and held 419 public events. Her campaign so far has drawn 193,000 volunteers.
“The forward march of American history has often been registered through presidential elections — Kennedy as the first Catholic, Obama as the first African-American and then Hillary as the first female nominee,” said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, calling Clinton’s achievement “a really big landmark moment in terms of women having their full and rightful place in society.”
“As we learned with Obama, it will not be the end of misogyny, just as when Obama was elected it was not the end of racism,” Shrum said. “There was resentment of him. What do people mean when they say ‘take our country back’? From whom? The guy in the White House.”