WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Hillary Clinton verbally banished half of Donald Trump’s backers to a “basket of deplorables,” and the Republican presidential nominee quickly pounced, saying Saturday she had smeared many Americans and would pay a heavy political price.
“Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard-working people. I think it will cost her at the polls!” Trump said in a tweet.
Clinton, who has said she is the candidate who can unify a divided country, made the comment at an LGBT fundraiser Friday night at a New York City restaurant, with about 1,000 people in attendance.
“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,” she said, before stressing that other Trump supporters are frustrated and need sympathy.
Trump’s running mate Mike Pence jumped on the remarks Saturday at the conservative Value Voters Summit in Washington, saying “Hillary Clinton’s low opinion of the people that support this campaign should be denounced in the strongest possible terms.”
“Hillary, they are not a basket of anything. They are Americans and they deserve your respect,” he added.
The rhetorical scuffle comes as the candidates head into the final two months of the campaign, with Trump trying to make up ground on Clinton before Election Day.
While Clinton is taking heat for her comment, Trump’s brand is controversy. At a rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, the Republican said Clinton is “so protected” that “she could walk into this arena right now and shoot somebody with 20,000 people watching, right smack in the middle of the heart. And she wouldn’t be prosecuted.”
The comment was reminiscent of Trump’s January description of the loyalty of his supporters. “They say I have the most loyal people … where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, ok? It’s like incredible,” he said.
Clinton has not let the media attend many fundraisers, but a group of journalists was given access to Friday night’s event to hear her.
There Clinton bemoaned the people she described as “deplorables,” saying “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 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,” said the Democratic nominee, who was the country’s top diplomat during President Barack Obama’s first term.
Clinton then pivoted and tried to characterized the other half of Trump’s supporters, putting them in “that other basket” and saying they need understanding and empathy.
She described them as “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.”
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.”
It could prove a stumble for a seasoned — and polarizing — politician who wants to lead a country that includes many who have embraced Trump’s exhortations to “lock her up.”
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said in a series of tweets after the remarks that Clinton has been talking about the “alternative right,” or “alt-right” movement, which often is associated with efforts on the far right to preserve “white identity,” oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.” Some followers sometimes refer to themselves as “Europeanists” or “white nationalists,” rejecting the labels of racist and white supremacist.
Merrill argued that “alt-right” leaders are supporting Trump and “their supporters appear to make up half his crowd when you observe the tone of his events.”
Comments about voters — especially at private fundraisers — have tripped up presidential hopefuls in the past.
Weeks before the 2012 election, Republican Mitt Romney landed in hot water for saying that 47 percent of the public would vote for President Barack Obama “no matter what” because they depended on government benefits and his job was “not to worry about those people.”
During the 2008 Democratic primary, then-Sen. Obama said that small-town voters “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.” Those remarks were seized on by Clinton, his primary opponent, as evidence that he was disconnected from many Americans.
Clinton made her remarks about Trump’s supporters at a lavish event that featured performances from Barbra Streisand and Rufus Wainwright. Supporters paid from $1,200 to more than $250,000 to attend.
During a spirted speech focused on the LGBT community, Clinton also made a joke that referenced conversion therapy, type of counseling designed to urge gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender children to change their sexual orientation. Clinton wants to end that practice.
“At the very least, if you know anyone who is thinking about voting for Trump, stage an intervention. That may be one conversion therapy I’d endorse,” Clinton joked. “Friends don’t let friends vote for Trump.”