Clinton, Trump offer voters a stark choice


By Carl P. Leubsdorf

Talk about an untraditional election!

American presidential races generally match two veteran male politicians. This year, neither likely nominee fits that description.

And the differences only start with saying the race matches a billionaire businessman who never before sought public office and a woman who was first lady, a senator and secretary of state.

These two aging, rather unpopular baby boomers will present voters with one of the greatest contrasts in the history of presidential politics, from the personal to the political.

The examples are endless.

Beyond likely being the first major party female nominee, Hillary Clinton epitomizes the Democratic establishment. Donald Trump is an outsider who challenged the Republican establishment he now hopes will support him.

Clinton is a traditional center-left politician, running on experience and offering stability in a time of uncertainty. Trump, a political chameleon who is difficult to peg ideologically, is running as a conservative outsider challenging the status quo and pledging his ability to make good deals that can “make American great again.”

Despite a political lifetime and two Senate election victories, Clinton admits she is not a natural politician. Trump has shown in his first political race he is one.

Clinton is cautious and carefully programmed, rationing media interviews and rarely holding news conferences. Trump is an unpredictable, shoot-from-the-hip candidate, prone to frequently revising positions while dominating cable news networks through multiple interviews with journalists.

Clinton mostly avoided personal criticism of her Democratic rivals, stressing policy differences. Trump made personal denigration of rivals a principal part of his primary campaign, and is now targeting “Crooked Hillary” and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Clinton has issued many highly detailed policy proposals on issues from the economy to student loans and is conversant with their specifics. Trump has released few, relying mainly on incendiary rhetoric and sweeping promises. He has shown little knowledge of policy details.

Clinton favors a muscular, yet cautious international role, stressing traditional American leadership coupled with restraint in committing U.S. troops. She supported — but now regrets — President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Trump favors an “America First” approach to foreign policy, threatening a lesser role in NATO and other alliances but promising sweeping successes. He touts his opposition to the Iraq war, which he initially backed.

A long-time international trade supporter, Clinton opposes the current Trans Pacific agreement. Trump made opposition to trade agreements a campaign centerpiece.

Clinton is a one of history’s most prolific fundraisers. Trump largely self-funded his primary campaign but is now seeking outside funds for the general election.

Clinton released 30 years of tax returns, disclosed lucrative outside speaking engagements, but refused to release speech transcripts. Trump says he can’t release his tax returns because he is being audited.

Clinton has been married for 40 years to Bill Clinton, despite his highly publicized extra-marital relationships. Trump has been married three times, currently to a Slovenian-born former model.

Clinton hopes to expand Democratic support from women and such growing voter groups as Hispanics because of Trump’s many statements criticizing women and minorities. Trump hopes to inspire greater participation of lower income white voters turned off by government’s failures.

Clinton favors a comprehensive immigration agreement including a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million immigrants here illegally. Trump would deport many of them, ban Muslims and erect a “very large wall” to bar illegal immigration from Mexico.

Clinton favors legalized abortion rights and opposes additional restrictions. Trump, who once held that position, opposes abortion rights, except for victims of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother, and opposes late-term abortions.

Clinton promises liberal Supreme Court justices committed to protecting abortion rights and reversing the Citizens United decision legalizing virtually unlimited political spending by private groups. Trump says he will release a list of prospective conservative court nominees.

Clinton’s economic plan would tax the wealthiest Americans to pay for programs to reduce college debt, expand infrastructure spending and increase reliance on renewable energy. Trump would give massive new tax cuts to businesses and individuals, including the wealthy, but concedes congressional compromises would reduce the latter’s benefits.

Like Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, both offer a “choice, not an echo.” But the campaign could turn on whether they modify their starkly different stances, and how they react to the outside forces that inevitably impact most campaigns.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Column courtesy of the Associated Press. Readers may write to him via email at: [email protected].

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