For me, watching the summer Olympics should have been a respite from covering politics. But every time one of those amazing, tightly muscled divers stepped confidently to the edge of a high board, I held my breath.
As they sprang into the air – sometimes backward – and spiraled into the pool, I couldn’t help but think of the presidential campaign we are witnessing.
For Hillary Clinton, who is trying to make history by becoming the nation’s first woman president, nailing the high dive requires accomplishing it with considerable baggage – her legacy, her husband’s legacy and a raft of hardened public opinion.
Donald Trump’s high dive was illustrated best this week when he hijacked the campaign narrative with a surprise trip to Mexico, an apparently conciliatory joint appearance with President Enrique Pena Nieto, and a fiery hardline immigration speech only hours later.
By the next morning, he was telling Laura Ingraham, a popular conservative radio host, that he will soften his hard line – later on.
For diving enthusiasts, the high wire difficulty of pulling all of this off is apparent.
For Clinton, every time she talks about transparency, simple Google searches take us back to Whitewater and cattle future investments. When she touts her record at the State Department, the FBI’s harsh scolding about her handling of her emails springs back to life. And any mention of her husband’s post-presidential life summons debate about her ties — good and bad — to the Clinton Foundation.
Trump’s high dives seem to repeat themselves in real time every day. Is he a CEO or a politician? Is he a negotiator or a tough talker? Is he speaking to voters or about them?
Then there are the low dives. There is not a lot of risk in going before the American Legion to declare that you love the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance, as Trump did. And it’s easy to stick the landing when you declare the “need to unify our country and go forward into the future with confidence and optimism,” as Clinton did before the same audience.
But it is the high dives that capture our attention and dominate the never-ending news cycle.
It’s Labor Day, the traditional beginning of the final drive toward Election Day. And if you doubt that there will be many high dives to come, consider this finding from the latest USA Today/Suffolk University national poll: Clinton leads in the horse race, but 80 percent of Trump’s supporters and 62 percent of Clinton’s also say if the other candidate were to win in November, they would feel “scared.”
Kind of like when you are hanging by your toes at the end of the high diving board.