Donald Trump, whose campaign has inflamed racial tensions and been embraced by hate groups and white supremacists, on Monday promised to be a president “for all Americans” as he lashed out at Hillary Clinton for labeling half of his supporters as racist, xenophobic “deplorables.”
Trump took his populist outrage to another level, charging that Clinton’s comments, made at a private fundraiser last Friday, revealed “her true feelings” and expressed a “hatred” and “contempt” for working people as he cast the Democratic nominee as an elitist.
“She divides people into baskets as though they were objects, not human beings,” Trump said, as he painted a picture of his supporters as police officers and blue-collar workers in contrast to Clinton speaking to “her wealthy donors” and, he said, “having a good laugh” at the expense of working people.
“You cannot run for president if you have such contempt in your heart for the American voter,” Trump continued, demanding that Clinton issue a full apology. “You cannot lead this nation is you have such a low opinion of its people.”
Trump ignored the second half of Clinton’s comment, which was captured on video, in which she portrayed the other half of Trump’s supporters as people understandably frustrated by economic anxieties that should be taken seriously and called for empathy. “Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well,” Clinton said.
Trump’s remarks came during a speech Monday to the National Guard Association of the United States’ annual conference at the Baltimore Convention Center downtown.
With polls having tightened over the last couple of weeks, Trump is eager to capitalize on two recent stumbles by Clinton — the behind-closed-doors generalization that some have likened to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe four years ago, and her literal stumble Sunday while getting into her motorcade as she left the 9/11 memorial service that has given new credence to Trump’s theory that she lacks the stamina to serve.
He eased off those claims during an interview earlier Monday morning, politely wishing his rival to get well as he continued to speculate about her health. “I hope she gets well soon. I don’t know what’s going on,” Trump said Monday during a phone interview with “Fox & Friends.” And he did not mention his rival’s health during his speech here, which was delivered from a teleprompter to a room full of a few thousand uniformed guardsmen and women.
Clinton’s explanation — a Friday pneumonia diagnosis that wasn’t revealed until video surfaced of Sunday’s incident — may buttress Trump’s argument about her dishonesty, as does the context of the “deplorables” comment, which was made at a private fundraiser.
In pressing either attack, however, Trump risks drawing attention to his own weak spots. In calling for more transparency from Clinton about her heath, Trump is being forced to defend his own opacity when it comes to his health (his campaign said Monday they’ll release the results of a recent physical soon) and personal finances (he has not yet released his tax returns). And in vociferously attacking Clinton’s remark about his supporters, he is inviting additional scrutiny of the open racism and misogyny of some people who attend his rallies, which has already been well documented.
But such a boomerang effect did not deter Trump, who labeled Clinton’s remark “the single biggest mistake of the political season” during his Monday morning interview on “Fox and Friends.”
Clinton apologized for being “grossly generalistic,” but not for the sentiments themselves. Trump, meanwhile, quickly cut a new TV ad featuring audio of Clinton’s comment over video images of his own rallies. It will rotate into his existing ad buys in the four states most critical to his candidacy: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
“Hillary Clinton spoke with hatred and derision for the people who make this country run,” Trump said during his speech. “She spoke with contempt for the people who pay their taxes and scratch out a living while Hillary Clinton lives a sequestered life behind gates and locks and guards.”