The crowd reacts as hecklers are escorted out during a speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally on Sept. 12, 2016 at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C. 
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty

The debate over ‘deplorables’ is going off the rails

It was a week ago tonight when Hillary Clinton appeared in New York and took aim at Donald Trump’s radicalized base. To be “grossly generalistic,” she said, “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’”
More specifically, Clinton lamented the fact that so much of Trump’s core support is “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [and] Islamaphobic” – an assessment that’s stood up pretty well to further scrutiny.
Nevertheless, the Republican has been a little obsessed with the line this week, even ignoring other potential issues that could help his campaign to focus on Clinton’s criticism of Trump’s most offensive backers. The GOP candidate complained about this again yesterday to the Washington Post, comparing it to Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comments, despite the fact that the comparison doesn’t really make any sense.
In a speech unveiling his latest economic plan in New York yesterday, Trump once again turned to the issue foremost on his mind.
“The hardworking people [Clinton] calls ‘deplorable’ are the most admirable people I know: they are cops and soldiers, teachers and firefighters, young and old, moms and dads, blacks, whites and Latinos – but above everything else, they are all American. They love their families, they love their country, and they want a better future.”
I wonder if Trump and the aides who write his remarks have really thought this through. The way the Republican nominee is framing this, Clinton has criticized racists, misogynists, and other bigots, while Trump describes these racists, misogynists, and bigots as “the most admirable people” he knows.
The New Republic’s Brian Beutler made a compelling case the other day that Trump’s response to the “deplorables” line is a far more proper gaffe than what Clinton said.
If there was a “gaffe” this week, it wasn’t Clinton claiming that half of Trump supporters are unsavory, but the Trump campaign suggesting that the correct number is zero. Trump and Pence’s unwillingness to cede an inch to Clinton leashed them to the filth of the nation, which in turn revealed the truth of her critique in skin-crawling fashion.
At least so far, Trump doesn’t seem to care – with each passing day, he seems even more eager to defend his most indefensible supporters. It’s a curious tactic for a candidate who’s suddenly within striking distance of a victory.