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Why did the Clinton campaign say earlier this month that Trump’s statement that he plans to partially default on the national debt could work? (And, yes, that, as the NYT mentions today, is what the Clinton campaign said.)

Debates have broken out in Mrs. Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters over the best approach to take. Some advisers worry that by running against Mr. Trump as she would a traditional Republican candidate, Mrs. Clinton is actually making the reality­ television star appear more legitimate.

This month, when Mr. Trump suggested he would reduce the national debt by negotiating with creditors to accept something less than full payment, economists dismissed the idea as fanciful. Hours later, the Clinton campaign sent out a news release about Mr. Trump’s “risky” idea of defaulting on the national debt with a response from Gene Sperling, formerly a senior economic adviser to both President Obama and Mr. Clinton, condemning the idea. The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal.

The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal. “That is a danger,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “You have to take the threat of Trump becoming president seriously, but you shouldn’t treat him as a serious person.”

Hillary Clinton Struggles to Find Footing in Unusual Race, Amy Chozick, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, New York Times, today

Oh.  Brother.  The Clinton campaign characterized Trump’s statement that he wants to partially default on the national debt as “risky.” In other words, they said that, yeah, this would be a big risk, but there’s also the possibility that it could work!

Actually, when I read that sentence this morning in the Times I did remember reading an article about that response by the Clinton campaign shortly after it was made.  I remember thinking, “Risky?  Seriously?  Risky?  Not absurd?  Not a guarantee of global economic collapse and immediate major increase in the Treasury debt needed to pay off current debt that Trump was agreeing to pay off immediately in this refinance scheme?  No, merely risky?”

I also remember reading the Sperling response, which was concise, very good and easily understandable, I thought.  But, why the borderline-comical characterization of this proposal as risky?  Why not say it would be certain to cause global economic collapse and, by its own terms as a refinancing scheme, would require the borrowing of the money to pay the debt at far higher interest rates than the current full-faith-and-credit debt is borrowed at?

And, why wasn’t the candidate herself on television, immediately, saying these things?

What Trump actually said was that he was going to renegotiate with creditors.  It took me—me, a complete novice in anything resembling high finance—only a few hours after Trump’s comments hit he internet for me to post what I thought (okay, probably incorrectly, but it did make the point) was a hilarious parody of Trump sitting across the negotiating table from all the owners, worldwide, of Treasury securities, their lawyers and financial advisors in tow, negotiating reduced interest rates on these securities.

Okay, I posted this on an economics blog.  But the points on all of this could be made—and were made, by Sperling and many others—clearly, understandably, and easily.

The Times article quotes Clinton campaign official Jennifer Palmieri as telling one of the reporters on this article “Each tactic we use is designed for a particular purpose to either engage the press or reach a certain audience.”  The article summarized Palmieri’s explanation, paraphrasing her as saying that “[a]ny aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, however, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate.”

What Palmieri apparently didn’t explain (at least it’s not reported) is why a response to Trump’s outlandish proposal as merely risky was expected possibly to engage the press, presumably because it was not.  It was instead, I guess, intended to reach a certain audience: the audience that political consultants for both parties long have been telling their clients respond negatively to candidates who seem “risky” or to policy proposals that seem (and may well be) risky.  “Risky” is one of the buzzwords that focus groups show should be used as often as possible to characterize the opponent or a policy proposal of the opponent.

And since the Clinton campaign limits its responses and campaign rhetoric to focus-grouped buzzwords and clichés, and “risky” seemed the most apropos of the words and phrases on the be-sure-to-use list, “risky” it was.

Good grace. Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Explaining to the public how ludicrous Trump’s partial-default proposal is, and how stupefyingly ignorant he is of even basic public-finance and economics mechanisms, is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

Educating the public about Trump’s actual fiscal-policy proposals and matching them with Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s would be potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

If so, then Clinton should throw in the towel.  She and Sanders could ask their delegates to come together to nominate Warren, or something.  ‘Cuz this ain’t working, folks.

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