Listen to this article
It is said that you can tell who people really are by the company they keep. In this limited respect Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have more in common than might be supposed.
Both have a small tight circle of close friends and advisers, starting with their immediate families. Both prize loyalty above most other qualities, a common trait in politicians among whom, because he is the Republican nominee, Mr Trump must improbably be considered. Ronald Reagan brought his California coterie with him to Washington and Barack Obama his Chicago mates — or, as his critics would have it, his mob.
Mrs Clinton’s crowd is the more eclectic, if only because her husband Bill has always been like a political sponge, soaking up people and opinions from all over the place. But its hard core has been constant for years — Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan, all operating more behind the arras but indisputably influential.
It also includes longstanding courtiers, such as Sidney Blumenthal, the writer and former Clinton White House consigliere, and David Brock, once a rightwing attack dog but transformed into an acolyte. Neither is held in particularly high standing by the political cognoscenti, but, as her emails have revealed, Mr Blumenthal is in constant two-way contact.
The Trump court is dominated by his sons Don Jr and Eric, both apparent chips off the old block, and his daughter Ivanka, a successful businesswoman with a mind of her own. Her speech to the Republican convention in Cleveland on women’s rights in the workplace would not have been out of place at the Democratic conclave in Philadelphia a week later, apart from the endorsement of her father’s attributes.
All the rest around him is a floating crap show. Campaign advisers come and go by the hour, like Roger Stone, who earned his stripes for Richard Nixon. Most, as in The Tempest, leave not a rack behind and invariably end up as paid contributors to one of the cable news networks, such as the erstwhile campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on CNN. Mr Trump reportedly consults retired generals, rarely named, and assorted foreign policy experts, some of who leave their sessions with him open-mouthed at what he does not know, or silent, like Henry Kissinger no less.
The more famous, drawn like opportunistic moths to the Trump flame, include Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, Rudy Giuliani, once mayor of New York, and Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. All, thirsting for one last taste of glory, sought to be Mr Trump’s running mate, or at least to have a place in his cabinet. Mr Gingrich, especially, wanted to be seen as the “intellectual” voice of Trumpism, a position for which he thought, in his inordinate vanity, he was uniquely qualified.
All have been disappointed or discarded. Mr Gingrich has, typically, turned on the candidate, just as he turned against Bill Clinton (back then he shut down the government after he was, in his view, downgraded to economy class on the Air Force One flight to Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral). Mr Christie, who had behaved like Mr Trump’s poodle for weeks after losing the primaries to him, has gone deathly quiet, though a close staff member has come out for Mrs Clinton. Mr Guiliani still howls, as at the GOP convention, but mostly in the wilderness of television.
Mr Trump routinely savages media organisations — above all The New York Times — and reporters by name, but he has “friends” among them. Hardly a night goes by without him appearing with Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity on the Fox network, the brainchild of his former pal Roger Ailes, now removed over sexual harassment allegations, which he denies. Mr O’Reilly, who professes bonhomie, does occasionally question the wisdom of what the candidate has said, as with his attacks on the Khan family, parents of the slain Muslim-American soldier, but more in sorrow than in anger. The beetle-browed Mr Hannity mostly nods in admiration.
Mrs Clinton’s relations with the media are more complex. It is rightwing doctrine that all are in bed with her, but in reality she is wary of them. Some in her camp are even said to believe that The New York Times has a vendetta against her, which — even if true — has been rendered irrelevant by the verbal excesses of her opponent, a field day, if ever there was one, for reporters and pundits alike.
The overall picture is that Mrs Clinton campaigns by committee, rather like her speeches, targeting every known constituency; Mr Trump by his untamed gut instincts aimed at the heart of his adoring followers. It surely is only a matter of time before someone in her camp remembers how, in 1964, when she was a “Goldwater girl”, a Democratic wag named Dick Tuck turned the Republican campaign slogan “In your heart you know he’s right” into “In your guts you know he’s nuts”.
Get alerts on Columnists when a new story is published