From its start, Hillary Clinton’s attack line “basket of deplorables” sounded like a speechwriter’s conceit, and a center for a time-limited attack strategy. Hillary is far too prosaic a politician to have developed that on her own, and as it turned out, far too prosaic a politician to carry off that kind of wit on the stump. She blew the line of attack by making it far too broad, attacking not just a few fringe voters but many that Democrats need to win in order to succeed in down-ballot races.
This had the air of an attack-of-the-week line all along, so it’s not too surprising to see some Democrats advising Team Hillary to “move on“:
Democrats are divided on the best course of action following her remark last week that “half” of Trump’s supporters are “irredeemable” and fit into a “basket of deplorables” that includes racists, sexists, xenophobes, homophobes and Islamophobes. The former secretary of State subsequently said she shouldn’t have spoken in such sweeping generalizations but stopped short of apologizing and vowed to call out Trump’s “bigotry.”
But doing so could keep the deplorables comment in the news, and some Democrats feel like she should move on.
“I think there’s a sense of disappointment that she went down in the mud and stooped to Trump’s level,” one Clinton surrogate told The Hill. “So I wouldn’t expect her to go down that road again.”
The other Democrats are talking to Politico:
Some of the Democrat’s most vocal supporters say Trump’s decision to repeatedly attack her for this off-the-cuff (although not new) remark has given her supporters and surrogates opportunities to rebut with examples of his racially charged rhetoric and rallies, helping, they hope, to lock down the college-educated women who have been wavering on Clinton but remain uncomfortable with what Trump might represent.
And by Election Day, Clinton’s close allies are arguing that this “deplorables” line will be worn by the candidate herself as badge of honor despite the initial wave of Beltway wisdom that condemned it as a mistake.
“One result of this conversation is that the country is actually debating how many of Donald Trump’s supporters are anti-Semitic, racist, sexist,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and one of the top outside supporters connected to the former secretary of state. “In a world where we wish that number was zero, this debate shines a light on the voice that Donald Trump has given to some attitudes that deeply trouble Americans in this election cycle.”
That seems like a dangerous path to tread. If one believes the WaPo/ABC poll this morning, Hillary’s strength comes from people who don’t feel as though they have been on the losing end of transactional life. Almost two-thirds of Americans think people like themselves are treated fairly and almost three-quarters believe life has gotten better for them as a result, and that group “broadly favors Clinton over Trump.”
Emphasizing these kind of negatives might end up play into Trump’s hands in more ways than one. Hillary’s broad brush already has voters who oppose her offended at the implicit charge of bigotry it painted on them. Many millions more will consider this unfair attack a more-or-less official Democratic Party position, which could do other Democrats a lot of damage in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. The Center for American Progress casts nearly everything in either ethnic or class divides, but as the WaPo/ABC poll shows, most Americans don’t think in those terms — and end up resenting the implications of those kinds of attacks.
Trump’s campaign has already capitalized on those resentments about “political correctness” and the sense that middle America is under rhetorical attack from progressives. This would just throw gasoline on the fire … and to convince whom, exactly? Hillary will already own the African-American vote, probably score as well with Hispanics as Barack Obama, and win the college-campus vote, too. Why keep pushing a talking point that alienates other winnable voters and goes some distance in proving Trump’s point with working-class and Rust Belt voters?
The “basket of deplorables” had a built-in expiration date. Team Hillary would be wise to toss it out before it sickens the campaign … but they probably won’t.