Every week, Fox News contributor Karl Rove wraps up the last week in politics and offers an inside look at the week ahead.
Donald Trump won last week, mostly because Hillary Clinton had such a lousy one, but also because a raft of new polls awakened some journalists to the fact that the race has tightened significantly over the last month. On Aug. 7, Clinton peaked with a 7.9-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. By late last week, her margin was down to 2.7 points.
Here are last week’s five big takeaways.
1. Hillary’s health: She started the week coughing uncontrollably in Ohio and blamed it on an allergic reaction to Trump. She ended the week having to leave a 9/11 memorial service because she wasn’t feeling well. Americans later found out it was because she was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday.
Presidential campaigns are an expression of the candidate’s attitudes, and Clinton sometimes borders on being mildly paranoid. She set up a private server because she didn’t want people to see her emails. She misled Americans about her concussion and blood clot in 2012 because she didn’t want people to know how serious it was. And now, she didn’t alert voters that she’d come down with a minor case of pneumonia that could be treated with antibiotics and without hospitalization because, well, she didn’t want to tell us.
Not immediately telling people she had pneumonia simply heightened the sense that Clinton is hiding something. Trump has been smart to have a low-key response. If he now makes his complete medical history available for review by physicians, she’ll be in a pickle.
The latest headlines on the 2016 elections from the biggest name in politics. See Latest Coverage →
2. Clinton’s email and foundation problems: These issues aren’t going away. She finally talked to the press Monday when they piled onto her new, larger campaign plane. Reporters asked about her email and charges that Clinton Foundation donors got favors and special treatment when she was secretary of state. Then Matt Lauer pressed her about the emails Wednesday at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum. She did herself no favors by telling a naval aviator who asked about her emails, “I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.” Obviously, she didn’t do what she should have done and didn’t take security concerns seriously.
3. Commander-in-Chief Forum: While Clinton suffered some damage at the Commander-in-Chief Forum, so did Trump, who again offered over-the-top praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He compounded this by appearing on RT, the Russian government’s U.S. cable propaganda channel. The Republican nominee’s embrace of the Russian strongman grates on national security conservatives, an important bloc Trump needs. They rightly view Putin as anti-American and a dangerous adversary, hostile to America’s interests and allies. Trump’s Putin comments largely obscured his speech earlier Wednesday in Philadelphia in which he laid out the case for rebuilding American military might.
The forum’s moderator, Matt Lauer, came in for criticism after the event, as left-wing pundits and Clinton’s cheering squad criticized him for his persistent questioning of the Democratic nominee over her private email server.
Lauer can take some small comfort that he wasn’t the real target; his appropriate conduct merely gave Team Clinton a chance to work the refs, to send a message to the moderators of the three upcoming presidential debates that if they ask tough questions of Hillary, they will be criticized by people they see at Manhattan cocktail parties and Georgetown soirees. Not certain if the debate moderators feel a need to win David Brock’s approval, however.
4. Hillary’s broad brush: At a Friday night fundraiser in Manhattan, Clinton called “half” of Trump’s backers a “basket of deplorables.” They are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it,” she said, before declaring, “they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”
Even Team Clinton recognized this was deeply offensive, and on Saturday Clinton offered what she thought was an apology, saying, “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ – that was wrong.” That wasn’t an apology, but a further insult. Just how many of Trump’s supporters does the Democratic nominee think are “irredeemable” and “not America,” if not half?
While it is true that anyone can find offensive individuals backing any candidate of any party, Clinton’s broad brush simply deepened the antagonism both candidates’ supporters have toward the other contender. Already, 80 percent of Clinton supporters and 83 percent of Trump supporters believe the opposing candidate will do “real damage” to America, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.
5. Events will intrude: It may not have been obvious, but events beyond the candidates’ control last week will affect voter attitudes in the campaign’s remaining 57 days. North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear device. Documents surfaced showing Department of Defense officials planned a “hardball” campaign against House GOP efforts to increase defense spending. And after blocking consideration of the 13 annual appropriations bills, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is pushing Congress to fund the government with a giant, long-term continuing resolution, raising the likelihood of a congressional spending fight this fall.
How Clinton and Trump react to these events and how these events affect the thinking of voters about what they want in their next president are both likely to influence the presidential election in ways that are not easy to calculate.
Karl Rove joined Fox News Channel as a political contributor in February 2008. He also currently serves as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads. His latest book is “The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters” (Simon Schuster, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @KarlRove.