With ‘Basket of Deplorables’ Comment, Has Hillary Clinton Just Had her Romney-47% Moment?

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to journalists after meeting national security experts at the New York Historical Society Library in New York Friday. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to journalists after meeting national security experts at the New York Historical Society Library in New York Friday. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Hillary Clinton’s claim at a fundraiser that half of Donald Trump’s supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables” prompted a swift and negative reaction Saturday from Republicans, including denunciations and calls for her to apologize.

The comments echoed an accusation that Clinton has levied previously — that Trump appeals to and amplifies racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic viewpoints. But Clinton triggered a fresh controversy by claiming that “half” of Trump’s supporters fit that description.

At a key moment in the campaign, when both candidates are trying to sharpen their focus for the final, post-Labor Day sprint, Clinton’s remarks took attention from Trump’s spate of gaffes this week and also from her own effort to turn the public’s attention to her qualifications for office and vision for the nation.

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables’. Right?” Clinton said to applause and laughter from supporters at an “LGBT for Hillary” fundraiser Friday night in New York that also featured a performance by Barbra Streisand. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.”

She continued: “He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now how 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.”

Condemnation for the first portion of her remarks came swiftly from Trump’s allies and from the candidate himself, who on Twitter called the remarks “so insulting” and predicted that Clinton would pay a price in the polls. Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called for Clinton to apologize, something that Trump himself has never done in the face of controversy.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, also weighed in: “Hillary Clinton’s low opinion of the people who support this campaign should be denounced in the strongest possible terms. The truth of the matter is that the men and women who support Donald Trump’s campaign are hard-working Americans. Let me say from the bottom of my heart: Hillary, they are not a basket of anything. They are Americans, and they deserve your respect.”

Pence directly compared Clinton’s remarks to President Obama’s controversial 2008 comments about people who “cling to guns or religion.” He said that such statements should preclude her from being elected president.

Others compared the controversy to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. Even if the comparison was imprecise — at the most, Clinton’s comments referred to about a quarter of the electorate — the Trump campaign will seek to use them to further define Clinton in the remaining months of the election.

In Romney’s case, he was recorded at a private fundraiser claiming that 47 percent of voters “will vote for the president no matter what” because they are “dependent upon government,” “believe that they are victims” and “pay no income tax.” The Republican was widely criticized for giving the impression that he was writing off half the country because of their economic status.

Romney and Obama both made their remarks at private events, while Clinton knew she was on the record. Clinton’s aides defended her efforts to define a significant chunk of Trump’s supporters as out of step with American values, and the candidate issued a statement Saturday afternoon saying she regretted using the word “half” to describe those supporters.

“That was wrong,” Clinton said. “But let’s be clear, what’s really ‘deplorable’ is that Donald Trump hired a major advocate for the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement to run his campaign and that David Duke and other white supremacists see him as a champion of their values.”

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SOURCE: Abby Phillip and Jose A. DelReal 
The Washington Post