What Clinton learned from Trump's GOP rivals

Clinton tries to attack Trump on his campaign strength
Clinton tries to attack Trump on his campaign strength

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    Clinton tries to attack Trump on his campaign strength

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Clinton tries to attack Trump on his campaign strength 03:37

Story highlights

  • Clinton has a formidable cavalry hitting Trump fast, hard and often
  • Trump, meanwhile, is largely the star of his campaign

(CNN)Donald Trump's Republican primary challengers first ignored him, then taunted him.

Hillary Clinton and her allies aren't making those mistakes.
    The presumptive Democratic nominee and her formidable cavalry — including President Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden — are hitting Trump fast, hard and often.
    And they aren't making jokes about his hands. Instead, they are questioning his temperament, his business acumen and his fundamental values as an American in a nonstop bid to make him unpalatable to voters.
    The effort was on full display Tuesday when Clinton delivered stinging rebukes of Trump's business competence, which is at the heart of his public persona.
    "A few days ago, he said, 'I'm going to do for the country what I did for my business,'" Clinton said during her speech in the crucial battleground state of Ohio. "So let's take a look at what he has done. He's written a lot of books about business -- they all seem to end at Chapter 11."
    Trump sought to rebut Clinton and get back on offense Wednesday during a major speech in New York. It's an approach many Republicans have long sought and focused on issues including human rights, trade, and immigration.
    Clinton is "a world-class liar," Trump said. "Just look at her pathetic email and server statements ... or her phony landing in Bosnia, where she said she was under attack but the attack turned out to be young girls handing her flowers."

    New definition

    Still, the first skirmishes of the general election reveal the organizational, messaging and fundraising flair of the Clinton campaign, and are allowing a candidate who has sometimes struggled to frame a coherent message for her campaign to find new definition with her attacks on Trump.
    Trump has often exacerbated the challenge as he's stumbled from crisis to crisis in recent weeks, ensuring much of the media coverage has focused on self-inflicted drama rather than his campaign or Clinton's weaknesses.
    "It is like the Trump campaign went on vacation for the past 48 days," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican political strategist who is not affiliated with Trump's campaign.
    In one sign of the organizational gap between the two campaigns, the Clinton campaign says it has put in place 50 state directors who will stay through the election -- while Trump struggles to stand up a much more limited campaign infrastructure.
    One reason Trump may be finding the general election season tougher is that -- unlike Clinton -- he doesn't have a roster of supporters with the political stature to seize the media oxygen. In the Trump campaign, the candidate is the star.
    But on the Democratic side, Clinton has powerful allies. Obama grabbed at a chance to excoriate Trump over his response to the Orlando terror attack, portraying him as un-American and upbraiding him for "loose talk and sloppiness."
    Clinton's own subsequent critique of Trump's hawkish reaction to the gun rampage at an LGBT nightclub was clearly coordinated with the White House. Biden followed up in a speech saying Trump would lead America in the world with the "insecurity of a bully."

    Trump's chief tormentor

    Another top surrogate and potential vice presidential pick, Warren, has emerged as Trump's chief Democratic tormentor on Twitter, and sent out her first fundraising email on behalf of Clinton Tuesday.
    Trump doesn't have that kind of political heavy artillery. His delicate relationship with top Republicans and his own missteps mean few top GOP leaders will go on television to defend him.
    The early weeks of the general election have come as a relief for many Democratic insiders, who chafed at Clinton's failure to build enthusiasm during her primary race and her often ponderous campaign skills.
    The most significant morale boost came in the form of Clinton's rollicking takedown earlier this month of Trump as a potential commander-in-chief.
    Clinton speaks every day and it's rare for all her staffers in Brooklyn to watch her remarks. That wasn't the case when she spoke in San Diego. Aides and staffers in Brooklyn all watched the speech live, in a sign of how significant it was to her campaign.
    "I think Hillary's speech in San Diego set the tone for the general election. It was experience versus ineptitude and the fact that he has still been unable to respond to that speech speaks volumes," said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state lawmaker, Clinton supporter and CNN commentator.
    Clinton campaign hands are relieved the primary campaign against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is over, as it pitted them against friends and a candidate with whom they often agreed.
    Then there is the mood of the Democratic candidate herself.
    In her gleeful filleting of Trump's character, the former secretary of state seems to have found her voice as never before during this campaign.
    "Just as he shouldn't have his finger on the button, he shouldn't have his hands on our economy," Clinton said Tuesday, in an economic speech modeled on the San Diego appearance.

    Clarity

    Her attack boasted the clarity that her own sometimes murky campaign narrative has often lacked.
    Though the Clinton campaign is encouraged by how well the general election is going so far, no one is ready to celebrate.
    "You don't know if Donald Trump is really this inept or if he is crazy like a fox. He is very dangerous. You don't know what you are dealing with and I think the Clinton campaign is betting on dangerous," said Sellers.
    O'Connell, the Republican consultant, said Trump could still revive his campaign and cause serious problems for Clinton, provided he focused on just two goals: showing how "he is going to make the lives of average Americans better and why Hillary Clinton is unfit to be President."
    Democrats would be wise not to be too sanguine.
    A CNN/ORC national poll Tuesday showed their candidate only five points up nationally on Trump despite his travails. And Quinnipiac University polls had them tied in swing states Pennsylvania and Ohio, though the presumptive Democratic nominee had an eight-point lead in Florida.
    And if the firing Monday of Trump's controversial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski signals a more professional Trump operation, Clinton's fun could quickly fade.
    The former reality star's tirades against a judge sitting in a case targeting Trump University and his expansion of his plan for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration did more than anger Republican Party chieftains. The controversies overshadowed news coverage of Clinton's own liabilities and hampered Trump's efforts to make a case against her — especially after a highly critical State Department Inspector General's report found she had broken regulations by setting up a private email server as secretary of state.

    'Horrible few weeks'

    And he is shrugging off his rough patch, blaming it on "a horrible few weeks I've had with the press," on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday.
    But it will be harder to dismiss the the gulf between Clinton and Trump effort in a crucial area of the electoral battleground — organization and fundraising. Stunning filings with the Federal Election Commission Monday found that Clinton had $42 million on hand while Trump had barely more than $1 million at the end of May.
    Clinton employs 684 paid staffers, according to her FEC report. Trump has just 30 paid staffers, according to some reports. Clinton's campaign and the DNC have more paid staffers in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- two states Trump has to have in November -- than he has in his entire organization.
    The fundraising data in particular sent shockwaves through the political world and raised serious doubts about the credibility of Trump campaign.
    Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, said the numbers were "another signal it's not a serious campaign."
    Trump allies, however, insist their candidate will quickly stand up an effective operation and question whether his money deficit will matter.
    "It is lunacy to think this campaign is going to turn on money," said Barry Bennett, a senior Trump adviser on CNN on Tuesday. "We have got two of the most well-known people in the world running against each other from diabolically different policy platforms."