To quote Charlie Brown, “Argghhh!!” That’s my reaction to Hillary Clinton’s unforced error at last Friday night’s fundraiser featuring Barbra Streisand. Acknowledging she was being “grossly generalistic,” she said “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.'” She went on to identify them as those who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.” Trump, she said, has given voice to their hatreds.
The other half of Trump supporters, she said, are those who feel that government has let them down and desperately want change. She called on attendees at the fundraiser to empathize with those, a call that seemed inartfully condescending. Where in her calculation of Trump supporters are loyal Republicans who just feel they must support their party nominee or others who just viscerally hate the Clintons?
Could this be a moment like Mitt Romney’s 2012 writing off of the “47 percent” of the electorate who would never vote Republican because they are dependent on government services? Or Barack Obama’s 2008 comment about those in rural towns whose jobs have gone away. He took flack for saying, “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Strategically it’s fair game to attack the opposing nominee for playing to certain sentiments, but it’s a guaranteed boomerang if a candidate attacks the voters themselves. Hillary’s Friday night gaffe came across both as insufferably elitist and contradictory to the slogan painted on her plane and splashed across every podium at which she speaks: Stronger Together.
One of her strongest points against Trump is that he is the divisive one. Certainly his campaign has exacerbated divisions of race, gender, religion, place of origin. This moment for Clinton was a major misstep. It doesn’t matter that she may even be correct on the statistics. Polls show that a majority of GOP voters are birthers. Forty-three percent of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim. A June poll by Reuters found that 40 percent of Trump supporters believe that blacks are more lazy than whites and that 50 percent believe that blacks are more violent than whites. Despite such polling data that back up Clinton, her remarks were totally unacceptable. She apologized the next day, as she should have.
The only thing that kept the discussion from snowballing at this time was her collapse at New York’s 9/11 memorial on Sunday and the ensuing revelation that she had been diagnosed on Friday with pneumonia. Trump will doubtless use that information to fuel rumors that Clinton “lacks the stamina to be commander in chief.” That’s arrant nonsense. The 68-year-old candidate has been an Energizer bunny for months, putting the rest of us grandparents to shame. Pneumonia can knock the stuffing out of you, but rest and antibiotics can have you back on your feet in no time. Still, one wonders why the transparency-challenged Clinton campaign didn’t reveal the pneumonia two days ago.
Voters need greater transparency from both candidates about their health, and Trump about his taxes. Here’s a suggestion. How about Congress passing a law, effective this campaign, requiring independent physical exams for party nominees, not unlike the ones done at the Cleveland Clinic for corporate CEO’s? No more testimonials like the superficial letter written by Donald Trump’s goofy physician Dr. Harold Bornstein, who proclaimed “unequivocally” that Trump, age 70, would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” At the same time, Congress could require parties’ nominees to disclose their tax returns. Or the Presidential Debate Commission, which sets criteria for participation based on polling, could add to the requirements the full disclosure of health records and tax returns.
The next 57 days will be trying. The tone will continue to be ugly. I continue to believe Donald Trump is truly unfit to be the leader of the Free World. Let’s hope the debates reinforce Clinton’s strengths, her experience, her values and policies, flawed a candidate though she may be. Let’s hope as well that those frustrated with Washington and seeking change will not vote on the belief that the devil they don’t know is better than the devil they do know.
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