The first stage of every general election, says Wilson, is for candidates to try to define their opponents in unflattering terms.
This year, Stage 1 is proving nastier and trickier than usual.
“The trouble is both Clinton and Trump are extraordinarily well-known,” Wilson says. “There aren’t many Americans who don’t have existing opinions on Trump or Clinton, so it’s harder for them to define each other.”
But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been trying.
“Clinton is clearly interested in taking on the notion of Trump as the champion of the common man,” Wilson says. “He’s clearly a rich guy, the question Clinton wants us to ask is, ‘Is he insensitive and out of touch?’
“(In turn,) Trump will try to deflate Clinton’s female icon status, the idea she’s emblematic of the success of women.” Wilson adds.
Wilson said this stage of attempting to define one another will likely last until the party conventions, when new narratives will have a chance to rise. In the meantime, Wilson doesn’t think either candidate’s current tactics will do much to move the needle.
“Trump’s not just talking about Hillary stuff from the 90s, he’s talking about stuff from the 90s that Hillary’s husband did, so that limits its effectiveness,” Wilson says. “I also don’t think Clinton gets a lot of mileage from off-the-wall comments Trump has made. If a voter was going to be offset by that, they would have gotten off the train long ago. These types of comments have been covered for months and a lot of people have shown they don’t care.”
Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science. He can discuss:
- religion and politics
- political psychology
- voting behavior of religious voters
- public opinion and politics