INDIANAPOLIS — For a while there it almost seemed as if we were going to see Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s face on the back of a milk carton.
Have you seen me? When last seen, I was dressed in an expensive monochromatic pants suit and I was running for president.
Clinton’s disappearance from the public stage — no speeches, no rallies, no interviews — was so complete that aides for her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, chortled that the Democrat could have buried the bombastic billionaire during his time of troubles if she’d tried. The fact that she seemed to step out of the ring, the aides suggested, gave The Donald a chance to get back in the race.
Clinton’s staff, on the other hand, took pains to say the candidate was working hard, raising money, planning strategy, researching issues.
There’s another possible explanation for Clinton’s silence while Trump was battling with the parents of a U.S. soldier killed in combat, possibly invoking the Second Amendment as a good way to veto the results of a national election, proclaiming President Obama as the founder of ISIS and having a healthy debate with himself about whether his much ballyhooed wall along the Mexican border made any sense at all.
By the end of Trump’s two-week-long self-destructive binge, he’d managed to move from being in a virtual tie with Clinton to running eight to 15 points behind her in most polls.
Long ago, when I was doing adversarial advocacy work, the people on the other side of an issue sometimes would have a bad spell. They’d do something dumb or otherwise damaging to their cause.
The folks I worked with often would want to pounce on the other side’s miscue, particularly if it was a big one.
No, I’d say. When your opponent is imploding, the last thing you want to do is impede the process. Don’t do anything that distracts attention from how bad they’ve screwed up.
That was a sound strategy for someone who had to lead one organization and had no other obligation than to win the battle at hand.
Not so much for someone who aspires to be president of the United States.
Over the past few weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton will be content to win the presidency by default.
Her message — which is hammered home daily, if not hourly, by her media campaign and her surrogates — is that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president.
Clinton and her advisors reason, probably correctly, that there is nothing they could say or do that is more damaging to Trump’s cause than Trump has done to himself. As a bonus, The Donald doubtless has done more to energize Clinton’s base and persuade wavering moderates and independents to drift her way than she could have done for herself.
The soundest strategy to produce a Clinton victory on Election Day is to step back and let Trump flail. Most of his haymakers seem to be landing in his own gut rather than Clinton’s.
The problem, though, is that the world won’t end on Nov. 8.
Someone is going to have to lead this country after all the votes are counted.
The challenge of leadership will be all the more difficult because this campaign has raised so many raw and ugly emotions.
Whoever is elected president is going to have to remind us that we are still one country, that much more unites us than divides us, that, regardless of any particular election’s outcome, we are all Americans.
And we all are in this together.
That’s supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s message.
But there’s little evidence at the moment that she’s really committed to that message.
This is a time in our history that cries for leadership.
Leadership is about more than raising money, planning a winning strategy or doing research. It’s about rallying us to a common flag.
Presidential leadership, in particular, is about summoning “the better angels of our nature,” to use Abraham Lincoln’s immortal phrase.
It’s about pulling us together when others want to rip us apart.
And presidential leadership is about more, oh so much more, than hiding under a desk while one’s opponent is self-destructing — and attempting to drag the country down with him.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.