Hillary Clinton is a bigot? The art of the reverse attack

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An eye-popping response to Trump's attack
01:28 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Cody Cain is a writer and commentator in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @codycainland. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

Story highlights

Cody Cain: Trump has claimed that Hillary Clinton is a bigot, a bully and an unqualified candidate, with no evidence

When Trump is attacked, he tries to turn the table and use that charge against his opponent, says Cody Cain

CNN  — 

Hillary Clinton is a bigot!” thundered Donald Trump.


Hillary Clinton? A bigot? That makes no sense. It’s absurd. Hillary Clinton has spent much of her career working to improve race relations. She is the furthest thing imaginable from a bigot. So what in the world is Trump doing here?

Cody Cain

Trump is employing the technique of the reverse attack. When he is faced with a legitimate criticism of himself, he attempts to deflect away the criticism by attacking Clinton for the exact same shortcoming that plagues Trump, regardless of whether it actually applies to Clinton.

Trump faced serious and legitimate criticism for his own appalling racism, so he responded by making the false accusation that Clinton is racist.

Trump uses the reverse attack all the time. He did it on the issue of his lack of qualification to be president. This is a legitimate problem facing Trump because he has no experience whatsoever in government or politics. So how did he respond to this criticism? He attacked Clinton by alleging that she is not qualified to be president.

This, of course, is absurd. Clinton is perhaps the most qualified person to be president in history. She served as secretary of state, a United States senator, and she lived in the White House for eight years as first lady.

Trump also pulled the reverse attack on the issue of being mentally unfit to be president. Questions about temperament are a legitimate criticism of Trump due to all his outrageous behavior and statements.

So how did Trump address this criticism? He tried to turn the tables by alleging Clinton is mentally unfit. To be sure, Clinton has many shortcomings, but being mentally unstable is not one of them. Yet that does not matter to Trump.

Trump has accused Clinton of being a “bully” when obviously it is Trump who is the bully. The examples go on and on. So does it work? Is the reverse attack effective?

Well, it certainly is not the best way to overcome a criticism. An ideal response would be to clearly show that the criticism is inaccurate, say, by listing specific qualifications to be president. But when there are no good responses to a criticism, the reverse attack comes into play.

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    The objective is to create confusion. The bigger the mess, the better. This way, the focus of attention shifts away from the devastating criticism because everyone becomes caught up in the food-fight. This is Trump’s playbook. He is the circus ringmaster who creates all sorts of spectacles to divert attention away from his own disqualifying inadequacies.

    While the reverse attack is devious indeed, it ultimately falls short. Once the technique is understood, the reverse attack is easy to identify and the truth becomes clear. After all, the reverse attack is rooted in lies because the target of the attack simply does not possess the same flaws that plague the attacker. It is a flat-out lie to say that Clinton is a bigot.

    Trump’s attacks create a spectacle but after a while all the fighting becomes tedious and we recognize its futility. After we sober up, we see very clearly that Trump is not offering any solutions whatsoever. He has no policies. He has no good ideas. He has no strategy.

    Shockingly, Trump’s circus act has carried him to the top of the Republican ticket for president. The polls indicate that Trump is running behind Clinton but within striking distance, so from this perspective, Trump’s underhanded reverse attacks may work. The question is whether the voters will begin to see through Trump’s circus act before it is too late.