It wasn’t exactly new rhetoric when Hillary Clinton took aim at many of Donald Trump’s most radical supporters; she did, after all, recently deliver a speech condemning Trump’s alliance with bigots the “alt-right.”
And so, at a New York fundraiser on Friday, the Democratic presidential hopeful expanded on her concerns about her rival and his dependence on extremist supporters.
“I know there are only 60 days left to make our case – and don’t get complacent, don’t see the latest outrageous, offensive, inappropriate comment and think well he’s done this time. We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?“The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now [have] 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different.”
For Clinton’s critics, her use of the word “half” quickly became highly problematic. Some compared it to Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comments. Bloomberg Politics’ John Heilemann went so far as to argue yesterday that Clinton’s criticism of Trump’s reliance on bigots “met the dictionary definition of bigoted.”
Trump himself appeared on Fox News this morning to complain, in reference to Clinton’s comments, “I think this is the biggest mistake of the political season. I really do.”
For her part, Clinton has already walked back her off-the-cuff comment, saying in a written statement on Saturday, “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ – that was wrong.”
The Trump campaign, looking for any kind of opportunity to change the trajectory of the race, quickly put together this 30-second commercial, highlighting Clinton’s comments. The Republican ticket will reportedly invest $2 million in support of the ad, which is scheduled to air in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina.
And if Clinton’s camp had its way, Team Trump would probably invest even more – because this is a fight the Democratic campaign would love to have.
For Trump, there’s no real upside to this fight. Most Americans already see him as a racist and a misogynist, who’s gotten ahead thanks to the support of other racists and misogynists. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), frustrated over Trump’s rise in GOP politics, argued earlier this year that 35% of his party is made up of racists – an observation that much of the political world found so unremarkable, it was largely ignored.
There’s probably room for a debate over whether the most accurate total is somewhere between 35% and 50%, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Trump would benefit from such a discussion.
In fact, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, among others, highlighted ample polling data over the weekend that suggests Clinton’s criticisms are rooted in fact – a detail the Trump campaign has made no effort thus far to dispute.
The Republican line over the weekend was based on a simple premise: Clinton criticizing Trump is fine; Clinton criticizing Americans who follow Trump is not. But even this is a curious line of attack. Do GOP leaders and candidates want to debate which of the presidential candidates has offended the largest number of Americans with intemperate rhetoric? Does the Republican Party see an upside to re-litigating Trump’s previous comments that have alienated women, Latinos, African Americans, Muslims, veterans, people with disabilities, Native Americans, and Jews?
If “the biggest mistake” of 2016 is a Clinton comment that might hurt intolerant voters’ feelings, Trump has an exceedingly odd interpretation of recent campaign events.