- The Washington Times
Thursday, September 8, 2016

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have kicked off September by stepping out of character.

Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, who hasn’t held a full-on formal press conference yet in 2016, is inching closer to that goal, having faced reporters several times this week in small press availabilities on her campaign plane or, as she did Thursday, on the runway outside of it.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has delved deeper into policy than ever before, putting meat on the bones of his immigration, defense and education plans.

“As the campaign unfolds, each candidate is learning how to overcome particular problems,” said Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Clinton has been criticized for not having press conferences, so she is doing informal gaggles. Trump has been criticized for a lack of policy substance, so he is attempting to deal with that by talking a bit more about policy matters.”

Each of the candidates has faced months of criticism for sticking to type.

Mrs. Clinton appeared to be avoiding reporters amid a cascade of troubling questions about her email practices as secretary of state, while Mr. Trump — never shy about the press — went from rally to rally aiming rhetorical jabs at Mrs. Clinton, but leaving unclear what he’d do if he actually wins the White House.

With the race tightening, and less than two months to go until Election Day, both campaigns appear to have concluded it was time for a change.

Mrs. Clinton has gone 277 days without a formal press conference, angering reporters and creating an opening for Republicans to mock her for ducking the media.

This week, however, Mrs. Clinton held two on-the-record chats with reporters aboard her campaign plane, and on Thursday she fielded six questions from an airport tarmac, where she discussed her recent drop in the polls, insisted she had always expected a close race, bashed Mr. Trump and defended her claim that the Islamic State terrorists are pulling for him to win the race.

She also accused Mr. Trump of playing loose with national security after he described the “body language” of officials who delivered a classified intelligence briefing to him.

Hours later, though, NBC dug up video of Mrs. Clinton talking about classified briefings in 2008 — giving the Trump campaign ammunition to accuse her of hypocrisy.

Education ‘cheerleader’

For his part, Mr. Trump on Thursday headed back to Cleveland, site of his July presidential convention, to proclaim himself the “biggest cheerleader” for the school choice movement.

The billionaire businessman said he plans to establish a $20 billion federal block grant that will give parents the ability and the funds to choose between competing public and private schools for their children.

“If we can put a man on the moon, dig out the Panama Canal and win two world wars, then I have no doubt that we can provide school choice to every disadvantaged child in America,” Mr. Trump said.

A day earlier, he provided a new wealth of detail on his plans for the military, describing massive boosts in troops and equipment, and vowing he’d do away with congressional budget caps he said have hollowed out the Pentagon and made it tougher to face international threats.

Democratic strategist Craig Varoga said he wasn’t surprised that the candidates were playing against type, which he viewed as the most logical course for both campaigns to set up for the fall race.

Hillary Clinton was always going to go and remain retail once Labor Day passed and the campaign entered its final nine weeks,” Mr. Varoga said. “Trump is doing, for a while at least, what his consultants are telling him to do, which is to contradict or publicly tone down his longstanding positions which have been extremely unpopular and polarizing with a majority of voters.”

The shifting strategies have coincided with national polls that show Mr. Trump has erased most of the deep deficit he dug for himself in early August.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, who spent more than three decades reporting on presidential races, said both of the candidates find themselves in awkward positions.

Trump wants to be flexible, but he’s come off looking like a lightweight,” Mr. Yepsen.

He also said Mrs. Clinton feels unfairly maligned by the press, but ultimately needs to establish a working relationship with them.

“Having interviewed her several times in the 2008 campaign, I found her very impressive and a very smart tactician. She comes off well in one-on-ones,” he said. “But like Al Gore, haul out the TV cameras and another person shows up.”

Still, he said, it remains to be seen whether the two candidates will fall back into their old ways.

“Having said that, Trump’s not becoming a policy wonk, and I doubt Hillary Clinton is ready to sing ‘Kumbaya’ with reporters,” he said. “They’re doing this because neither is in a good position. Trump’s behind and has to adjust tactics. Clinton’s lead isn’t so big she can sit on it.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.