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Donald Trump would send the American economy back into recession and cost millions of Americans their jobs, Hillary Clinton declared Tuesday during her first major economy-focused speech of the general election.
Speaking in a critical swing state that has struggled with the decline of American manufacturing, Clinton seemed to aim her message at the economically anxious — arguing that Trump is a false prophet who will leave America hurting, just like he has done for countless of people during his business career.
“We cannot let him bankrupt America like we are one of his failed casinos,” Clinton said. “Those promises you're hearing from him at his campaign rallies? Those are the same promises he made to his customers at Trump University. And now they're suing him for fraud. The same people he's trying to get to vote for him are people he's been exploiting for years.”
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She pointed to 3,500 lawsuits and hundreds of liens against Trump, including many from people who claim Trump never paid them for services. “He made a fortune filing bankruptcies and skipping creditors,” Clinton added.
She acknowledged that many people are not satisfied with the post-recession economic recovery under President Obama, and skeptical of the trade deals he supports, but she said Trump is not the answer.
The speech was designed as the counterpart to one Clinton gave earlier this month in San Diego, California, bashing Trump on national security.
“You might think that because he has spent his life as a businessman, he might be better prepared to handle the economy. It turns out, he's dangerous there, too,” Clinton said. “Just like he shouldn't have his finger on the button, he shouldn't have his hands on the economy.”
In a change of strategy — perhaps resulting from the ouster Monday of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — Trump’s campaign fired back at Clinton by sending multiple emails to reporters with detailed responses to her claims.
“How can Hillary run the economy when she can't even send emails without putting entire nation at risk?” Trump tweeted in response.
For Clinton's part, Tuesday’s speech demonstrated less swagger and contained fewer zingers than the previous one, but she still trashed the man she repeatedly called “Donald” as a reckless cynic who cares only about himself.
“Everything seems to be a game for him,” she said. “This is his one move: He makes over-the-top promises...and then everything falls apart and people get hurt.”
In some ways, Clinton’s message on Trump emulated the one Democrats used to tarnish Mitt Romney in 2012: That he got rich by crushing people's’ dreams and, that if given the reigns of power, would only seek to further enrich himself and his peers at the top of the economic ladder.
In a nod to the left flank of her own party, Clinton mentioned Elizabeth Warren’s name twice, saying that Trump would undo her work reining in wall Street.
Trump’s tax plan, Clinton claimed, would cut rates on hedge fund managers and give more to the 120,000 richest American families than to 120 million working families. "I did have to look twice, because I didn't believe it,” she said of the statistic.
“Of course, Donald himself would get a huge tax cut under his plan. But we don't know exactly how much because won't' release his tax returns,” she continued, underscoring her attempt to show that Trump’s talk of looking out for the little guy is empty pandering.
Noting that every major presidential nominee in modern history has released his tax returns, Clinton wondered, “What's hiding in Trump's tax returns?" Maybe he paid a low tax rate, maybe he didn’t give very much to charity, Clinton speculated, or "maybe he isn't as rich as he claims."
And perhaps trying to reach Trump-curious voters, she repackaged two divisive issues — immigration and women’s rights — as economic ones that affect everyone, rather than discussing them in moralistic terms.
But Clinton added two twists to the playbook used against Romney. First, she said Trump is not even particularly good at making money. “He’s written a lot of books about business. They all seem to end at chapter 11,” she said, pointing to the bankruptcies of his casinos and failures of companies like Trump-branded steaks.
Trump has said he is “going to do for the country what I did for my business,” Clinton reminded her audience, and took it as an invitation to detail the low-lights of Trump’s business career. "The United States of America doesn’t do business Trump’s way.”
And second, Clinton sought to completely disqualify Trump by painting him as an exceptional threat to economy — one that even Romney himself can recognize. This goes beyond “typical political disagreements,” Clinton said. “Liberals and conservatives say Trump's ideas would be disastrous. The Chamber of Commerce and labor unions [agree].”
She noted that The Economist’s Intelligence Unit lists a Trump presidency as the third most dangerous threat to the global economy. “This is like nothing we've ever seen,” Clinton said.
Trump has suggested he would renegotiate or even skip payments on government debt if president, which Clinton said would be an unprecedented break from more than 200 years of American policy. “Alexander Hamilton would be rolling in his grave,” she added.
But Clinton said this is typical of someone who has called himself the “King of Debt” while missing many debt payments.
Finally, Clinton wrapped her entire argument into an assertion that Trump fundamentally does not believe in America and its people.
“Donald Trump never misses a chance to say Americans — he's talking about us — to say that Americans are losers and the rest of the world is laughing at us,” she said, adding that Trump makes many of his own products in other countries. “Donald Trump believes in the worst of us.”
Clinton did not dwell much on her own policies — she’ll go into more depth on those Wednesday during a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina. Instead, she contrasted her general approach to that of Trump’s.
"I actually sweat the specifics because they matter,” she said, noting that presidents’ words can move markets. “I have this old fashioned idea that if you're running for president, you should say what you want to do.”
The Republican National Committee, in its first statement directly defending Trump in weeks, said Clinton “is the last person qualified” to talk about the economy. “After eight years of disastrous Obama policies which have produced stagnant wages, historically weak growth, and a declining middle class, Hillary Clinton is doubling down on the same failed agenda,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.