Hillary Clinton Aide on Trump Playbook: 'We’re Not Going to Chase Him Into the Gutter'

The biggest fear is complacent Democrats, Clinton aide says.

ByABC News
May 5, 2016, 3:21 PM

— -- With Donald Trump now the presumptive Republican nominee, and Hillary Clinton also on pace to lock up the Democrat nomination, the Clinton campaign is readying its playbook to go head-to-head with Trump in a general election.

Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon takes us inside the campaign's plans to play an aggressive game against Trump in this week’s installment of ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” podcast.

“We’re not going to chase him into the gutter,” Fallon said today in an interview with ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein.

“You cannot be passive in the face of Donald Trump’s unconventional approach, you need to be aggressive. That does not mean, however, engaging with him in kind," he said.

Fallon says the Clinton campaign has digested the lessons learned by Republican contenders who tried to beat Trump at his own game in the Republican primary.

“So, you saw Marco Rubio in the last throes of his campaign attempt to trade barbs with him and one-up him with a battle of quips. Even if you could compete with Donald Trump in a battle of quips, our fundamental premise is that that is actually going to turn off most independent voters in a general election, so we are not going to chase him into the gutter,” he said.

Betting on Policy Differences

Clinton also has tools at her disposal -- in terms of policy contrasts -- that were not available in the same way to Trump’s primary election challengers, Fallon said.

“We have the ability to go after him after him, confront him, condemn him, on policy issues, which is something that was not available to the Republican field because for the most part they agreed with him on policy,” Fallon said. “So that is our ace in the hole.”

There is one point on which the Clinton campaign is prepared to concede to Trump from the start: the volume of news coverage. Fallon said he anticipates that Trump will continue to grab headlines and dominate the news cycle as he has in the primary election. But dominating the news cycle, he said, is a separate issue from winning it.

“More news cycles than not are going to be driven by news that Donald Trump makes,” he said. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to win the day... He can say provocative things as he has done throughout this campaign, and it will probably lead to news content. That does not mean he put himself in a better position to win the general election.”

The No. 1 Concern

Apart from being prepared for the day-to-day battle with Trump, Fallon said, is making sure that Democratic voters do not fall into the trap of complacency in assuming that victory in November is assured.

“The number one concern that we have as Democrats is complacency,” Fallon said. “If Democrats get complacent, we will play right into Donald Trump’s hands and we could end up with a catastrophe of Donald Trump occupying the Oval Office. So we go into this expecting a very tight contest, wire to wire.”

And while Clinton is still engaged in a primary election battle, with Sanders’ vowing to soldier on until the last of the Democratic primary voters have cast their votes, despite Clinton's commanding lead in the delegate count, Fallon said that's not a distraction from preparations underway for the general election.

“We’re capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time,” Fallon said, adding that the campaign has already begun hiring in key battleground states.