The escalating vitriol between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got personal fast on Monday night when the Republican front-runner tossed out an obscene term to describe Clinton’s last presidential bid and crudely theorized about her bathroom activity below glittering wreaths at a Christmas-themed rally.
“She got schlonged, she lost. I mean, she lost,” Trump told Monday night’s Michigan crowd of her 2008 bid, inventing a verb out of a Yiddish term for a penis. He also mused at length about Clinton’s “disgusting” bathroom break during Saturday's Democratic debate.
It’s the latest in Trump’s stream of offensive comments, focusing so often on minority or marginalized groups from Mexicans to Muslims. Trump is always quick to note that his extreme remarks have only bolstered his polling numbers. But with his latest insult — a highly sexualized crack aimed at a former secretary of state and one of the country's most admired women — did he finally go too far?
“Nope!” Republican strategist Susan Del Percio told MSNBC, noting Trump's fervent base of supporters, the largest of any candidate in the crowded GOP primary field.
“At the same time he was talking about he won’t kill journalists, as if that’s a campaign pledge one needs to make? If you look at what he feeds his supporters, the don’t have a problem with it," Del Percio said.
Clinton, for her part, said nothing. just as his base enjoys his vitriol against her, hers line up behind her in defense. She did, however, obliquely take a hit at Trump when asked by a young girl about bullying. "You are looking at somebody who's had a lot of terrible things said about me," she said. "We shouldn't let anybody bully his way into the presidency because that is not who we are as Americans."
“He wasn’t testing out a message. That was a reckless remark and it wasn’t planned and you cannot be reckless in the general election.”'
While Trump has a daunting lead in the crowded GOP primary field, strategists say Republican voters—particularly in those early states—want candidates that can go the long haul. And remarks like this don’t bode well for a general election.
“There’s no question outrageous comments like that will turn off New Hampshire’s independent voters,” longtime New Hampshire strategist Ryan Williams said of the state’s politically important and large voting bloc. “It will absolutely cost him New Hampshire in the general election.”
And while New Hampshire holds just three electoral votes, Williams said voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will be looking at general election viability when they caucus and vote in those key early states.
“This one is gratuitous; it doesn’t serve a purpose; this was reckless; that’s what’s different; that’s what people don’t like to see in their leaders,” Del Percio said. “He wasn’t testing out a message. That was a reckless remark and it wasn’t planned and you cannot be reckless in the general election.”
Trump’s controversial remarks about Mexicans and Muslims can be judged differently, strategists say -- since they are rooted in policy ideas popular with conservatives, like cracking down on immigration or temporarily banning Muslims from coming to the U.S. Clinton's bathroom habits are in another category.
“The Muslim ban comment was outrageous, but it appeals to more Republican base voters than personal attacks,” Williams noted.
But with more than a dozen candidates still running for the Republican nomination, the race to be the main Trump alternative is going strong without any sign of a resolution -- allowing the controversial real estate magnate to remain comfortably atop the polls.
“There are so many candidates in the race,” Williams said, naming candidates like Gov. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Gov. Chris Christie who he said “are kinda splitting up the moderate Republican establishment pie that it doesn’t give those voters a chance to coalesce around a candidate.”
The candidates working to woo Trump’s voters – the outsider fleet -- spent Tuesday standing to the side of his vulgar remarks.
“I don't need to be another political pundit, I’m going to let Donald Trump speak for himself and I'll speak for myself,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said in Tennessee.
“I don't particularly care about what the other candidates are saying about each other, I don't even care what they’re saying about me because the issues are what is important,” Dr. Ben Carson said in South Carolina.
Perhaps the only conservatives publicly criticizing Trump are the few willing to organize against him.
“Trump knows a lot about schlonging,” said Liz Mair, the Republican strategist organizing an ad campaign against Trump, in an email to MSNBC. “He's for schlonging the average, working Joes he's been appealing to and in his business career has done plenty of schlonging of the little guy. Now, he's out to schlong America.”
Late Tuesday, Trump insisted his use of the word schlonged was not vulgar. "When I said Hillary got 'schlonged' that meant beaten badly," he tweeted.