Here’s what I think about John Thune and Hillary Clinton.
Just like Barack Obama in 2008, Thune thinks she’s likable enough.
He won’t say that. He can’t say that. But I’m pretty sure it’s true.
Thune dislikes Clinton’s political philosophy. And he’s probably put off, as I am, by her unwise use of a personal email server while she was Secretary of State and by her ongoing inability to just speak straight about her missteps there.
But on a personal level, I assume Thune likes Hillary Clinton. There’s nothing he has ever said, on the record of off, to lead me to believe otherwise.
Just recently, when asked about Clinton at a Black Hills Press Club luncheon, Thune remembered when they served together on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said she always came well read, well prepared, well informed on the issues before the committee.
That’s about as nice as he can afford to get.
As for Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton’s VP pick, Thune went even further, saying “everything they (the Democrats) said about him is true. He’s a genuinely good guy.”
Thune also repeated a story I’d heard years back, that being that he had spoken to Clinton following the 2008 primary, she told him how she enjoyed campaigning here and how her win in South Dakota was one of her favorites.
Thune joked at the Press Club that Clinton’s satisfaction at the win was probably because “Bill Walsh was supporting Barack Obama.”
That brought a general chuckle from the mostly Republican crowd.
A long-time Black Hills Democrat, former Catholic priest, Franklin Hotel Owner, travel mogul and current Democratic National Committeeman from South Dakota, Bill Walsh did support Obama in 2008. But he’s a big Hillary backer in this campaign.
Thune isn’t a Hillary backer, obviously. But having known him for 25 years or so, I have no doubt that he likes Hillary Clinton on a personal level better than he likes Donald Trump.
Other than certain points of politics, Thune and Trump are miles apart as people and politicians. Trump is rude. Thune is polite. Trump is insensitive toward people, ultra-thin-skinned and crude and mean-spirited in his rhetoric. Thune is the exact opposite.
Trump condemns the political system and continues to show ignorance in how the government system actually works. Thune is a knowledgeable part of both systems and wants to improve them, not destroy them.
All indications are that Thune is a good guy at heart. I’ve seen no such indications from Donald Trump.
The Republicans had a chance to nominate a number of genuinely good people and qualified candidates for president, and they picked Trump. That puts people like Thune, a leader in a party that Trump belongs to in name but often not in actions or rhetoric, in a difficult spot.
For example, as Donald Trump continued to slog through self-destructive exchanges over Muslim Gold Star parents a few days back, I caught up with Thune down in Pine Ridge. After discussing tribal law-enforcement problems and IHS health care, I asked Thune if he thought it was time to move on from the issues around the appearance at the Democratic National Convention by Khizr and Ghazala Khan.
“Absolutely,” he said. “A long time ago.”
Thune seemed to include the DNC planners when he said it was wrong to politicize the loss of lives suffered by Gold Star families. But it was more clearly a nudge for Trump to move away from that particular fire and toward potentially productive campaign issues.
“Honor these citizens. Respect these families, and those who have lost loved ones. Give them every heart-felt expression of gratitude that we possibly can,” Thune said. “But then address the issues that the campaign needs to be talking about. It’s time to get back on that agenda.”
During the Press Club appearance a few days before Pine Ridge, I asked Thune what he thought of Trump saying that Vladimir Putin has “better leadership skills than Barack Obama.”
Thune laughed, uneasily.
“I think in a lot of ways, it’s sort of Trump being Trump,” he said. “And I think the shock effect of some of the things he says is starting to wear off on people. I think they realize that’s part of his persona.”
But Thune said he hopes for a lot more than familiar persona from Trump.
“What I’m looking for in him is somebody who going into the fall campaign is going to focus on serious issues and serious solutions,” he said. “Because I do think he can win.”
Pressed on that point, Thune said:
“I believe that people are ready for change. I don’t think they want to continue the status quo, which is what Hillary represents. But he’s got to demonstrate that he can articulate a positive agenda for the future of this country that addresses the very serious challenges that we have. And if he can do that, I think there’s a pathway for him to win the election.
I asked Thune if he could ever see himself saying what Trump said about Putin and Obama.
“There are probably a lot of things that Donald Trump says that I couldn’t see myself saying,” Thune said. “But I don’t think that would come as a surprise to anybody.”
Which his way of saying, “no, I could never say that; I would never say that,” without actually saying it.
What I wonder is this: If Trump continues to campaign with rhetoric that has little to do with concrete issues and so often crashes through the lines of propriety as Thune sees them, how long will he be able to not say it?
We could get a chance to find out.