Hillary Clinton Has Been Fighting Trumpism For a Long Time Now

I must admit I’ve been a bit hard on Hillary Clinton lately. It’s mostly out of frustration: I expect that she’ll be the Democratic nominee when all is said and done, but I fear that her campaign will fail to sound an adequately populist tone. While many consider the prospect laughable, I don’t think it’s at all impossible that a hard-charging, punch-throwing Donald Trump could defeat her, if her campaign approach is to play at being the adult in the room while simply unloading oppo on him, expecting women, minorities, and “serious people” to vote for her out of sheer revulsion. If the public mood is what I think it is, that’s not likely to be a successful strategy–and even if it were, it wouldn’t do much good for other Democrats down the ballot.

There’s little question, however, that Hillary Clinton has been a force against the politics of Donald Trump in her tenure as Secretary of State. Especially the Trumpist politics of Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, one of Europle’s nastiest elected officials:

Hungary’s maverick Prime Minister Viktor Orban is emerging as the straight-talking voice of right-wing Europe, vowing to block a wave of desperate refugees from seeking sanctuary in the region. Continuing a string of blunt statements of a sort rarely heard from heads of state on this side of the Atlantic, he warned Friday that Europeans now stand to become “a minority in our own continent” if the floodgates are not immediately closed.

Trump dreams of building a wall to keep migrants out. But Orban, 52, has actually done it — erecting 109 miles of razor wire to stop them. Authorities in Hungary, a key transit nation for ­asylum-seekers aiming for generous European nations offering shelter, including Germany and Sweden, have been preventing them from moving on and shuttling them to camps, in part to dissuade more from coming. Under international pressure Friday, Hungary agreed to bus some of the blockaded asylum-seekers to Austria. But it remained unclear whether the Austrians would accept them and what would happen to the thousands of refugees stuck in Hungarian camps.

As former U.S. ambassador to Hungary Eleni Kounalakis wrote in a lengthy piece here at the Washington Monthly, Hillary Clinton was instrumental in reducing Orban’s influence in Europe and his efforts to thwart liberal democracy at home:

To round out a final diplomatic push, Secretary Clinton sent a letter to Prime Minister Orbán asking that he reevaluate some of the troubling laws before the constitution took effect. But January 1, 2012, was just a few weeks away, and I had little hope that the secretary’s letter would spur any last-minute changes.

I underestimated, however, what might happen if the secretary’s letter became public. Many people had been given copies—the Hungarian ambassador in Washington and the foreign minister in Budapest, among others. Somewhere along the line it was leaked to the press.

It caused a sensation. Headlines roared about the specific concerns that Hillary Clinton and the United States were expressing over Hungarian democracy. What’s more, it spurred European officials to take notice, at last, of what was happening in Hungary. One by one, European and EU leaders began to engage.

In most ways Clinton’s record as an elected official is a good one. She’s deft and capable, and her heart is almost always in the right place. She has stood up to the Donald Trumps of the world before, and she can do it again.

The question is largely one of optics. Can she communicate that progressive passion to the voting public as a candidate on the campaign trail, when issues of style and trust far outweigh those of policy papers and public record? That’s what the next few months will test.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.