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Clinton adopts ‘loose cannon’ phrase to unmoor Trump campaign

REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Hillary Clinton addressing a crowd while visiting La Escuelita School in Oakland, Calif., on Friday.

Hillary Clinton seems to have developed the first iteration of the attack she will be using in the general election against Donald Trump. She tried it out, among other places, in an interview with “Face the Nation” that aired Sunday. It represents the current early draft for a list of things that Trump has said that Team Clinton believes can and should be used against him in the broader electorate.

It starts with the phrase “loose cannon,” a curious choice of phrase, which Team Clinton has adopted as the summary of what’s wrong with Trump. A loose cannon refers literally to “A cannon that breaks loose from its moorings on a ship during battle or storm, which has the potential to cause serious damage to the ship and its crew.” And figuratively to “an uncontrolled or unpredictable person who causes damage to their own faction or political party.”

“Face the Nation” moderator John Dickerson asked what she meant by the term. She replied:

CLINTON: Well, I think that being a loose cannon means saying that other nations should go ahead and acquire nuclear weapons for themselves, when that is the last thing we need in the world today.

Being a loose cannon is saying we should pull out of NATO, the strongest military alliance in the history of the world and something that we really need to modernize, but not abandon. I think saying that he’s a loose cannon really focuses on some of the statements he’s made which I find concerning, going back to torture, killing terrorist families, which would be a war crime.

And those are just some of the concerns that I hear people talking about which I think does fit the definition of a loose cannon.

DICKERSON: So, his answer would be, he wants to create jobs and those jobs will raise wages. That would be — so he has been asked that question, and he just has a different view.

CLINTON: Well, he doesn’t have a view. He has a slogan. And he needs to be really pressed on that.

When he says climate change is a Chinese hoax, what does that mean? Has he ever talked to a scientist, or is he just again assuming a slogan? When he says women should be punished for having abortions, what does that mean, and how would he go about that, or rounding up 11 million, 12 million people, which he again repeated, which would entail the most comprehensive police and military action inside our borders that is imaginable?

And you combine that with a lot of what he’s said about foreign policy and then recently economic policy, when he said he’d renegotiate the national debt. Maybe he just doesn’t understand that running our government is not the same as making real estate deals, that putting the full faith and credit of the United States of America at risk would be a horrible outcome.

And it would raise interest rates. It would wipe away savings. It would cause a financial global meltdown. People need to be pressing him. And I don’t think people get, especially in the media, at least so far, into other than just the response, which then is not followed up on.

Interviewed constantly

I would agree that Trump has said many things about policies or goals he would pursue that raise serious follow-up questions about whether they would be wise or legal or would work. Those questions must and will be asked. But I would disagree with Clinton’s suggestion that they have not been asked. Trump is interviewed constantly — far more than Clinton or any other candidate — and, although many of the interviews devolve into the bizarre and focus too much on trivialities, plenty of the interviewers have pressed him for details on the policies he would pursue and pushed him to go beyond the “Make America Great Again” nonsense.

For the most part, Trump does not provide real answers. He repeats himself, filibusters, lies. Apparently he is some kind of “messaging” genius because whatever he says, which seldom constitutes a real explanation of how his proposed policies would deliver the promised results, only seems to increase his support. The question is whether that is the fault of interviewers for not asking the right questions or his followers for not demanding real answers.

Trump, of course, has also begun the attack on Clinton that, he has long assured his supporters, will change the polling that usually shows her defeating him in a general-election matchup. He has assigned Clinton her official Trump nickname (“Crooked Hillary”) and has begun talking about Bill Clinton’s sex life and labeling her as an “enabler” of it.

In a tweet Monday morning, he explained how this ends: “I will win the election against Crooked Hillary despite the people in the Republican Party that are currently and selfishly opposed to me!”

A transcript of Clinton’s interview on “Face the Nation” is here.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/09/2016 - 05:12 pm.

    A good point

    Interviewers can’t make Trump give a direct answer to a question.
    They might do a better job of pointing out that he hasn’t answered a question.
    Ultimately, it’s back to Pogo:
    “We have met the enemy and they is us.”
    Millions of people (to use Trump’s words) listen to his self contradictory statements, ignore the ones they disagree with, and use the ones they agree with to support their conclusion that he will give them what they want.
    Hopefully, millions won’t translate to the tens of millions needed to win a national election.

  2. Submitted by Roy Everson on 05/09/2016 - 03:55 pm.

    Beware the popular demagogue

    I thought Ronald Reagan was a loose cannon in 1980, that he would say stuff that sounded outrageous, that would turn off allies and decent folk, and would be repudiated by the American voters.

    If people perceive that the loose cannon is on their side, they will make allowances. Forget the loose cannon business, Mrs. Clinton. Trump should be opposed because he is on the outside of the country’s value system of political decency, by virtue of his attacks on minority races, religions and women.

    If he was running in France, in Norway, and in many, many other places whose values we identify with — Liberty, equality fraternity, All men are created equal — Donald Trump would be considered a threat to the Democracy.That should be the ONLY argument necessary. His views on issues — only telling people what they want to hear — are of no importance.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/09/2016 - 09:41 pm.

    The other descriptors along the line of “loose cannon” are far more pejorative and being held for later use.

    The word salad that Trump gives in response to questions allow for a range of interpretations. That may look like clever footwork to some, but it doesn’t fly in places where Trump isn’t being swooned over.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/10/2016 - 06:22 am.

    Loose cannon

    As a devoted reader, and only an occasional skeptic of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”, I see that Hillary has chosen a phrase that violates George Orwell’s first rule: “(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.’ “Loose cannon” is a worn and not very effective cliche and that’s not a good thing from a candidate whose biggest problem is that the voters she’s trying to appeal to are already bored with her. The question the Hillary campaign is asking here is whether the most exhausted cliche imaginable can be an effective rhetorical tool for use against a fresh, novelty candidate like Donald Trump. In addition, there is a problem with the cliche itself. Isn’t the fact that he is a “loose cannon” part of Donald Trump’s appeal? Isn’t that exactly what one would need to knock down the sclerotic establishment of which Hillary Clinton is the very embodiment?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/10/2016 - 08:46 am.

      I agree

      The people who support Trump, or who are persuadable into supporting Trump, are attracted to someone who will blow things up because the status quo isn’t working.

      Hillary Clinton represents the status quo.

      Trump’s rise has been likened to a hostile takeover of the republican party. The current board of directors are howling as one might expect, but they mismanaged the company to the point where shareholders have no sympathy for them. A new management team is exactly what’s needed and as a shareholder, I approve.

      Hillary’s charge of “loose cannon” only serves to pique the interest of those who would buy republican stock if only the product were slightly different.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/10/2016 - 09:27 am.

        Simply because its a familiar phrase

        it will predictably remind people of Trump’s habit of shooting his mouth off (the metaphor is not strained).
        With two candidates with high unfavorable ratings, this will be a race where people vote against candidates more than they do for them.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/10/2016 - 10:41 am.

        We used to call people who blew things up

        (Oh it’s sister Jenny’s turn to throw the bomb.
        The last one it was thrown by brother Tom.
        Poor Mama’s aim is bad,
        and the copski’s all know Dad.
        So it’s sister Jenny’s turn to throw the bomb).

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/10/2016 - 09:28 am.

      The sclerotic establishment itself, which got us into

      …the ruinous Iraq war, delivered the Great Recession after de-regulating the financial markets, presided over the growth of a historic economic inequality, paints SOMEONE ELSE as a loose cannon ??

      Hilary Clinton – the queen of evasion, half-truths, outright lies, and pandering – is indeed, as Hiram points out, its very embodiment. She repreaents nothing but the status quo, and will act to preserve it, no matter what words come out of her mouth.

      As she said, she “tries” to be honest. But for her, this is a tall hill to climb.

      This is not to say anything positive about Trump. But when the electorate has a choice, shoved down our throats by a dysfunctional two party system – between a devil we know and a devil we don’t know – who can blame the people for going a little whacky ?? There is no good choice here.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/10/2016 - 10:44 am.


    As she said, she “tries” to be honest.

    That was gaffe in the Michael Kinsley sense, in that she said something, however inadvertantly, that was actually true. Hillary does indeed try to be honest. She does genuinely set a standard for herself that she tries to meet. The fact that she hasn’t always over her long career met that standard is one of the most disappointing qualities as a politician. But let’s step back a bit. While it is the case that Hillary isn’t always as honest as she wants and tries to be, so many politicians she contends with make no effort to be honest at all. Her opponent in the fall race, Donald Trump is possessed of an indifference to truthfulness on such a vast and magisterial scale that it almost takes one’s breath away. I have always been critical of Clinton efforts to lower the ethical bars applied to them, but in comparison with Donald Trump, both Bill and Hillary are paragons of truthfulness, a phrase I assure you I would never have thought of applying to Bill before this year.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/10/2016 - 11:00 am.

    A good illustration of Clinton’s incompetence

    Of all of the things Hillary Clinton can be accused of, perhaps the most serious at the end of the day is being a horrible campaigner. This “attack” will fall flat because it tries to dismiss Trump instead of engage and refute him in any powerful way. This same strategy has failed to put Sanders down and it won’t work any better on Trump. Clinton is basically implying that she’s got the experience and knowledge, but all that really does is paint her as in insider and draw attention to her weakest failing which is her vote for the Iraq War. If you think Sanders has banged her over the head with that ridiculous vote you haven’t seen anything yet. We’ve seen that once we get beyond Clintinista’s every time Clinton tries to brag about her experience she can be flattened by that Iraq War vote because most American’s at this point think that vote was a big enough mistake to destroy her foreign policy credibility. If she goes there, she’ll be drawn into a debate wherein she’ll be advocating for more military intervention and Trump will be telling a nation tired of endless wars that he’s the one who will keep our troops boots on the ground here at home. Trump wins that fight, pure and simple.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If anyone can lose to Trump it’s Hillary Clinton. Trump is clearly learning from his experience and isn’t trapped by any ideological promises or constraints. The problem with loose cannons is that Clinton has absolutely no idea how to cope them.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/10/2016 - 12:59 pm.

      The last thing

      that a competent person would want to do is raise an incompetent to her level.
      That’s why she’s letting Sanders sink by himself (that race is over to everyone except the hardcore, who will always claim conspiracy rather than admit defeat).
      So she is following the same strategy with Trump:
      letting him marginalize himself while she projects calm and competence (which she does, whether you want to admit it or not). She’s the grownup in the room. Trump has got to convince people that his emotional control is beyond the kindergarten level. Otherwise, not matter how much people like some of the things that he says, they’ll be too scared to vote for him.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/12/2016 - 08:34 am.

        It’s not about conspiracy, its about numbers

        Although the odds are against him, Sanders hasn’t lost and Hillary has not yet won. The votes to nominate Sanders are still there. Clinton supporters seem to have forgotten that in her contest with Obama in 2008 Clinton did not drop out, she was forced out when Obama finally captured the votes to clinch the nomination (that happened around June 7 or 8 if I remember correctly). Yet for some reason Sanders supporters are crack-pots of some kind for not conceding defeat when over a 1,300 votes are still on the table.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/10/2016 - 11:51 am.

    Can we conclude from one interview that the “loose cannon” metaphor is going to be the basis of Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Donald Trump? I don’t think so.

    Despite the fact that Trump is, indeed, a “loose cannon.” (I laugh when I think of this interviewer trying to make Donald Trump define anything in clear terms, the way he pushes Clinton!)

    I read this morning that our national security services are preparing to set in place daily security briefings for the two major-party candidates for president. No one at the FBI or CIA or the Pentagon or NSA or the State Department is worried about Hillary Clinton being able to keep national secrets. She’s proved that she can, many times over. But, boy! are they scared of informing the “loose cannon” Trump of the same things each day that Clinton hears. This is where the whole stupid GOP flap about Hillary Clinton’s emails starts to reek of rotted garbage: she did not reveal any US secrets, or secrets of any of our allies, or anything even remotely classified, on her private email server. Check with me in November about how Donald Trump fares in that regard.

    It is truly frightening to imagine an ignorant clown like Trump having the safety and security of our country in his hands.

    And, could the Bernie Sanders folks stop attacking Hillary Clinton here, in personal terms? Bernie has lost the nomination fight (not perhaps the policy debates), and you are descending to a Trump-gutter level in doing that.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/10/2016 - 07:04 pm.

      You’re joking, right?

      “No one at the FBI or CIA or the Pentagon or NSA or the State Department is worried about Hillary Clinton being able to keep national secrets.” The FBI will soon be weighing in on that issue.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/11/2016 - 10:48 am.

        I’m not joking. Our security services are nervous about giving Donald Trump classified information. The volatile, unthinking, prone-to-ranting off-the-cuff Donald Trump. How will he “walk back” a revelation of a national security secret he blurts out?

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/12/2016 - 08:27 am.

    Constance it correct

    The loose cannon metaphor won’t be the only campaign message. The problem is that Clinton’s never had a solid campaign message, and she frequently stumbles when trying to form one. For instance the same person who has been steadfastly refusing to release her Wall Street transcripts is trying to embarrass Trump now by demanding to see his income tax returns, it’s a tit for tat strategy that frequently backfires. Trump will release his tax returns and she’ll STILL not release her transcripts and she loses that round… and so it goes. Of ALL of the things to criticize about Trump, Clinton’s demanding that he release his tax returns… this is simply obtuse campaigning. She could be capitalizing on the current row with the new Mayor of London, but instead she talking Trumps tax returns? I’m telling ya, if anyone can lose to Trump… it’s Clinton.

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