By Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – If you haven’t heard a lot about what Hillary Clinton thinks of a string of controversial comments by Donald Trump that have generated round-the-clock coverage on cable news broadcasts, there is a reason – it’s by design.
Since becoming the Democratic nominee last month, Clinton has been touring toy manufacturers, visiting tie makers and dropping in on public health clinics, where if she mentions Trump at all, it is usually to contrast their policies.
Her swift condemnation at a Wednesday campaign rally of Trump’s remark that gun rights activists could stop her from nominating liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices was a rare instance where she has directly engaged her Republican rival in the 2016 race for the White House.
Aides say Clinton’s strategy is simple: let Trump be Trump.
Trump has suffered a series of missteps over the past two weeks that go beyond his remarks on gun rights activists, which he later accused the media of deliberately misinterpreting.
He has tangled with party leaders, clashed with the parents of a fallen Muslim American Army captain and this week accused Clinton, a former secretary of state, and President Barack Obama of “founding” the Islamic State militant group. On Friday, he said he was just being sarcastic when he made that remark.
“There is an adage in politics: Don’t get in the way of a train wreck,” said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, a top campaign aide to presidential candidates Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
Clinton’s advisers say they see little benefit in her going toe-to-toe with Trump over every personal accusation, generating sound bites that would dominate cable news broadcasts. Rather, they are happy for him to be embroiled in controversy while Clinton focuses on policy.
Trump’s campaign declined to comment for this story, but the New York real estate developer has accused the national media of bias toward Clinton. He re-posted a supporter’s Tweet on Friday that said the “corrupt media” was deliberately exaggerating his remarks to favor his Democratic opponent.
Trump has slipped in opinion polls, and worried Republican Party leaders have urged him to stop making off-the-cuff inflammatory statements that generate blanket, often negative, media coverage and distract from efforts to highlight what they see as Clinton’s many shortcomings.
SUCKING OUT THE OXYGEN
“He’s sucking all the oxygen out of the room to his own detriment,” said Republican strategist and Trump supporter Ford O’Connell. It’s not enough to dominate media coverage, he needs to “win” it, O’Connell said.
Trump has boasted that the news coverage he generates means he does not have to spend as much on campaign ads, but political veterans say he is squandering the attention and missing opportunities to win over undecided voters.
For example, Trump gave an economic speech on Monday that was meant to help his campaign regain momentum, but it was quickly eclipsed by the fallout over his remarks on gun rights activists.
Clinton, meanwhile, has been busy courting local media in must-win states. Her national press pool, which seldom gets to question the candidate, often waits as she conducts interviews with local news outlets.
She has granted few recent interviews to national outlets and rarely holds press conferences, a strategy her critics say is calculated to avoid questions about her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state, and the relationship between her family’s global charity, the Clinton Foundation, and the State Department.
Clinton, who has said she is one of the most transparent presidential candidates in history, has acknowledged her use of the private email server was a mistake but said she properly handled all classified information. She has denied any improper links between the foundation and the State Department.
In interviews with local outlets, Clinton is more likely to face questions about job creation, public health and raising wages – all parts of her platform that she is keen to discuss.
In Florida, a crucial battleground state, Republican lobbyist Gus Corbella says the contrast between the local coverage of Clinton’s campaign stops there and Trump’s events has been stark.
“Clinton’s campaign seems to have the more disciplined approach,” Corbella said. “The rollout that day is on a specific event she’s attending, a message she’s trying to deliver. Whereas on the Trump side, it’s what crazy thing did he say today and the response to that.”
After Clinton’s visit last week to a tie maker in Colorado, the lead story on the front page of the Denver Post was “Clinton pledges millions of jobs.” Trump also featured on the front page, but in a smaller story about “damage control” in his troubled campaign.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Michelle Conlin in New York and James Oliphant in Washington, editing by Ross Colvin)