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Clinton questions Trump's 'steadiness.' Is that his kryptonite?

Political values

Questioning the GOP candidate's steadiness is an obvious line of political attack, given his loose talk and lack of foreign-policy experience. But it remains to be seen if the critique can resonate with the 2016 electorate.

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    Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump near where he and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were to hold a fundraising event in Lawrenceville, N.J. on May 19.
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Is steadiness in the context of foreign policy – or a perceived lack thereof – going to serve as Donald Trump’s kryptonite, a powerful argument against his election as president of the United States in the fall?

Probable Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton seems sure to use that as a main theme in the campaign, in any case. She aired it out today in one of her sharpest attacks yet on Mr. Trump, saying he is not fit to serve as POTUS.

Trump is “divisive and dangerous” and “unmoored,” said Mrs. Clinton in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

The former secretary of State pointed to his feud with British leaders, his questioning of the usefulness of NATO, and his offhand remarks that maybe more countries should have nuclear weapons, as evidence that Trump would be a danger to the nation.

In proposing to temporarily ban non-citizen Muslims from entering the US, Trump is slapping in the face US allies that are majority Muslim themselves, Clinton said.

“I know how hard this job is, and I know that we need steadiness as well as strength and smarts in it,” said Clinton.

You’re going to hear a lot of similar critiques in the months ahead. It’s a natural line of attack, given Trump’s penchant to pretty much say anything he wants at any time, and his evident lack of background on international relations. The “steadiness” angle brings up not just his foreign policy wavers but also his general character, so it’s a twofer. It’s a way, sotto voce, of calling Trump a clown.

But you know who else tried the steadiness angle? Jeb Bush, that’s who. Clinton’s words today could have been lifted verbatim from the late, teetering stages of Mr. Bush’s presidential bid. Back then it didn’t appear to peel off a single voter from the Trump parade.

In the GOP primaries it’s seemed that steadiness was, in fact, not a virtue. The very word seemed like the kind of thing a GOP elitist would say. Trump voters appeared to want the opposite of steady – action, excitement, and the explosion of the status quo.

They want things ripped up in Washington. Steadiness might not help that.

“He’s not just going to sit around and see what’s going to happen,” one Trump voter told the Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson earlier this month.

The question is whether the larger electorate in November will react differently, especially if anti-Trump forces pump cash into ads explicitly linking the steadiness question with war, peace, and nuclear weapons.

Trump with the button. That’s what the Clinton campaign wants you to think about when “steadiness” flashes on screen.

It’s a vision that’s already given former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pause. Mr. Gates – a Republican who served both Presidents Bush and Obama – was asked Thursday if he’d be comfortable with Trumpian access to nuclear launch codes.

“Right now? No,” said Gates in an interview with Yahoo News.

Gates went on to say that he might change his mind if Trump appeared to grow in his understanding of complex international problems, and if he picked good advisers. You can bet that when the Clinton campaign uses the footage of this interview for an attack ad, they’ll edit that last part out.

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