This Election’s Biggest Failure Reveals Itself… Again

This past week we saw this election’s biggest failure come full circle as a 2005 video of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump using vulgar and offensive language to describe his interactions with women was leaked.

As I wrote in a Medium post after the tenth Republican Primary debate this past February, fellow GOP candidates’ failure to aggressively research Trump’s background allowed him to achieve greater success than anyone expected, and eventually allowed him to secure the nomination.

This failure, I warned, meant, “The Democrats and mainstream media will gleefully do the vetting for us in the general election.” This week has shown that warning come to fruition. Not only did the GOP primary campaigns’ failure cost them the chance to win the nomination, but they also allowed the eventual nominee to enter the general election unvetted and unprepared for surprise revelations like this past week’s video — a video from 2005 that would have been just as easy to obtain 6 or even 12 months ago as it was to obtain this past week.

So why did Trump’s GOP competitors leave him unvetted? As I explained in my February post:

From the beginning last winter, the campaigns approached opposition research as a passive aggressive prisoner’s dilemma, hoping, praying and assuming that someone was whittling their spoon into a shank so that they would not have to do it. More than one campaign operative argued to me (and others), “It’s such a big field, there’s no point doing the research because Candidate X’s team is going to have to take out Candidate Y anyways.” Others argued a super PAC would come along to save the day.
Whether it was wishful thinking, a squirreling of campaign dollars, or a lack of appreciation for the strategic advantage opposition research can provide, the result was that none of the campaigns put in the time or effort to dig deep into the opponents — least of all Donald Trump, who was dismissed as a summer fling, then a fall affair, and then… oh my, he’s winning the nomination.

Meanwhile, last week the transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall St. bankers were leaked with almost no fanfare. Given all the talk about them, why did these transcripts fail to deliver the damning October surprise body blow that the Trump tape has? Disparities in the content of these two leaks aside, it is precisely because Hillary’s transcripts have been so thoroughly litigated in the court of public opinion that they were not a surprise. Bernie Sanders raised the issue in the Democrat primary, forcing Clinton to face the attack, and while she failed to release the transcripts or really address them, the mere fact that the attack was leveled over six months ago helped lessen the blow to Clinton from this recent leak. Most importantly, the entire Democratic establishment –including Bernie Sanders — knew long ago these transcripts could potentially disrupt her candidacy is leaked and were prepared to defend her when they did.

If this past week in the presidential election campaign has proved anything, it’s that a rigorous vetting process by way of opposition research during the primary leads to candidates and campaigns who are better prepared for the onslaught of attacks, leaks, and criticisms that inevitably come in the general election season.