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Will it be the Hillary We Know vs. The Donald We Don't Know?

March 14, 2016

After all that’s happened, Hillary Clinton remains the most likely Democratic presidential nominee. Even a criminal indictment may not end her candidacy if the Obama Administration intervenes on her behalf, if she can find a convenient scapegoat, or if she can arrange some sort of a quiet deal with prosecutors. Clinton seems destined to be one of the two choices offered to voters in November.

Clinton is a shrewd woman. She’s managed to convince her supporters that, though she accepted responsibility for the tragedy in Benghazi, she’s not in any way accountable. She’s convinced them that, as Secretary of State, all of her email communications contained nothing classified and consisted mostly of idle chitchat. She’s convinced them that a major criminal investigation involving more than 100 FBI agents is merely a “security review.”

But the rest of us know Hillary Clinton. We’ve known her as First Lady of Arkansas, when she had phenomenal, but improbable success in her first and only dabble with cattle futures. We watched during the White House years as she and Bill generated the Whitewater scandal, Travelgate, Filegate, and Chinagate. We remember those subpoenaed Rose Law Firm records that somehow made their way to the Clinton’s private residence. And we remember those expensive White House mementos that stuck to the Clintons’ fingers as the sauntered out of the White House in 2001. Respected columnist William Safire also knew Hillary Clinton. In a 1996 New York Times column, he referred to her as a “congenital liar.”

Hillary hasn’t changed a bit. She’s gotten herself embroiled in another scandal by using a private internet server to transmit highly classified material while serving as the highest official in the State Department. Because of the potential impact on our national security, this time, the FBI is involved. Considering all of this, it’s easy to scoff at Clinton’s candidacy. It’s easy to believe that she would be roundly defeated by any honest and competent candidate put forth by Republicans. But Hillary is resilient, and if Republicans expect to defeat her, they had better be sure that there are fewer skeletons in their nominee’s closet than in hers.

Vast numbers of Republican voters have flocked to a new kind of candidate. He’s an outsider, a wealthy businessman who tells it like it is. We don’t know much more than that, but it seems to be enough for his supporters. It’s the very same kind of emotion-driven support that thrust Barack Obama into the presidency nearly eight years ago.

This time, eight months into his campaign, we are finally getting a glimpse into some of Donald Trump’s vulnerabilities. The recent debates exposed the myth of Donald Trump, the straight-shooter. Viewers saw that it’s hard to shoot straight when shooting from the hip. They learned that what was perceived as straight talk was really just a blend of wishful thinking and old-fashioned bluster.

The most breathtaking example was Trump’s claim that, as President, he would authorize our military to target the families of terrorists and to inflict torture on prisoners of war. While most agree that ISIS is a brutal and ruthless enemy that deserves no compassion, Trump was asked about his proposal from a different angle. He was asked what he would do as Commander-in-Chief, if the military refused to obey an illegal order. He unequivocally assured the moderator and the viewers that the military would obey his orders. Later reminded about the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Constitution, Trump reversed himself the very next day. During a more lucid moment, he acknowledged that “the United States is bound by laws and treaties,” and that he would never order our military to violate those laws.

We learned some other things during the debates, like the pending lawsuit against his now-defunct Trump University, charging, among other things, “financial elder abuse.” It’s a matter that he assures us will be resolved in his favor - years after he’s already in office. We also learned about his tendency to hire illegal aliens over union workers for his construction projects. With so much at stake, reasonable people have to wonder if there’s more.

Donald Trump clearly took a lot of shortcuts, broke a few rules, and stepped on a lot of toes to get where he is. His supporters don’t want to confront the chinks in his armor, but if they’re not exposed by Republicans now, they certainly will be by the Democrats, should he win the nomination. If damaging information is revealed after that, it will be too late, and Hillary Clinton’s lifelong fantasy will be fulfilled. In fact, the most recent survey by NBC News/Wall Street Journal already shows Clinton defeating Trump by 13 points.

The things that unite Trump supporters, conservatives, and Republicans are greater than what divides them. All of them want to strengthen our military and reinforce our borders, to bring jobs back, and to restore our once-robust economy. They are passionately patriotic, and all want to make America great again. To do that, they need to defeat Hillary Clinton in November.

Still, Trump supporters are determined to make a statement. It’s unfortunate for them and the Republican Party that the statement seems to be: “We will stand with The Donald even if it costs us the election.”

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Peter Lemiska has spent more than 28 years in government service. He is a former Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Secret Service and an Air Force veteran. His political commentaries have been widely published online and in print.