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Clinton adopts ‘loose cannon’ phrase to unmoor Trump campaign

Hillary Clinton tries out the first iteration of the attack she will be using in the general election against Donald Trump.

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

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.

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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.

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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.