Hillary Clinton has straight-out called Donald Trump a racist who is “offering a dog whistle” to the most extremist, hateful portions of American society. But now Republicans are acting very shocked that Clinton would say that around half of Trump’s supporters could be classified under the broad heading “basket of deplorables,” meaning racists, sexists, homophobes or xenophobes. In other words, people who would never vote for Clinton.
The Democratic presidential candidate’s use of the word half immediately made Republicans associate it with Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line from the 2012 campaign that was secretly recorded. Except, you know, this event was covered by the press and her statement—read in context—was actually a call to arms for her supporters not to automatically dismiss someone as irredeemable just because he or she happens to support someone like Trump.
Let’s take a look at the statement, which Cinton made at an LGBT fundraiser for context beyond the soundbite:
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. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.
As is evident from the remarks, what Clinton was saying is that not all Trump supporters are racists, xenophobes or homophobes, a common idea in particularly liberal circles. So “if you know anybody who’s even thinking about voting for Trump, stage an intervention,” Clinton said before adding that getting people to stop supporting the Republican candidate “may be one conversion therapy I endorse.”
No matter the intent of the remarks, Republicans immediately smelled gaffe and pounced on Clinton for the comments. Trump himself criticized Clinton on Saturday morning. “Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Many Republicans also expressed outrage. Republican pollster Frank Luntz quickly referred to the statement as Clinton’s “47 percent moment.” “Hillary Clinton just insulted millions of hard-working Americans simply because they don’t want to vote for her,” Luntz tweeted after Clinton’s comments began spreading on social media.
As a refresher, the “47 percent moment” refers to the time in the 2012 presidential race when Mitt Romney said that about “47 percent” of voters would automatically vote for Barack Obama because they depend on the government. “These are people who pay no income tax,” Romney said then. “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
In other words, Romney talked down to and dismissed the importance of poor people, while Clinton talked down to and dismissed racists, xenophobes, and homophobes. A slight difference. Plus, Romney was talking about people who may have actually chosen to support him, whereas Clinton was referring to people who in no way would vote for her. So the risk of alienation really isn’t that great to begin with, although of course it could make the most fervent Trump supporters more fervent.
Still, that didn’t stop many from making the connection, including Breitbart, which blared in a headline: “Hillary Clinton’s 47% Moment: Calls Trump Supporters ‘Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, Xenophobic, Islamophobic.’ ”
Whatever the semantics, the Clinton campaign also quickly came out to clarify statements and suggested that Clinton really was referring to those who actively support Trump and go to his rallies. The campaign also made the obvious point that none of what Clinton said is really new, she’s been pushing the same message for a while. “She gave an entire speech about how the alt right movement is using his campaign to advance its hate movement,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill wrote on Twitter.
Plus it seems she’s actually made pretty much the same comments about “two big baskets” of Trump supporters, including “the deplorables.” The only difference? She didn’t say “half.”
No matter. Trump’s camp is seizing the opportunity and taking umbrage. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway even said that Clinton should apologize.
And she’s hardly alone. Tim Miller, a former Jeb Bush spokesman who is no fan of Trump, also said that Democrats should “skip the excuses & move straight to mea culpa.”