Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble GOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight MORE faces a major dilemma in the wake of her controversial “basket of deplorables” comment: keep hammering Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Giving thanks for Thanksgiving itself Immigration provision in Democrats' reconciliation bill makes no sense MORE on race or pivot to other issues.
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.”
But sources close to the campaign say Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, stands behind the substance of her remarks and intends to focus on the issues of race and discrimination.
The Clinton campaign will continue pounding Trump, the Republican nominee, for running what they view as a divisive and hate-filled campaign that has galvanized the “alt-right” movement and attracted support from polarizing figures such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
“You won’t see some big change,” one source said.
The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has seized on Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remark, believing it to be a game-changing gaffe along the lines of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks in 2012.
Clinton’s focus on race could help her consolidate leads among minorities and college-educated whites, although there are also risks in moving ahead with the race-based strategy.
Trump, like Clinton, already suffers from historically low approval ratings, so there is little upside to tearing him down more, Democratic pollsters and insiders say. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Clinton will adopt a more positive message, but the campaign appears torn on what kind of balance it will strike.
“While they can’t let Trump get well with voters and therefore need to keep the pressure on, they aren’t likely to bring in new people with more attacks on Trump,” said Democratic pollster and Hill columnist Mark Mellman. “It is possible that they’ve found they can drive more people away from Trump by suggesting that folks wouldn’t want to associate themselves with his supporters, but I have some doubts about that … doubts, but not data.”
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said Clinton needs to work on her own dismal approval rating to give voters a reason to vote for her, rather than against Trump.
Lake called the “basket of deplorables” remark an “unfortunate comment” that the campaign should move away from.
Clinton should return her focus to the theme of being “stronger together,” Lake said, in which the Democratic nominee makes the case that she’ll represent every American, whether they vote for her or not.
“I would say go positive, and there are plenty of people who can deliver the negative,” Lake said. “Lay out a clear vision, be presidential and show people where you’re going to take the country.”
At rallies and in speeches, Trump has said Clinton’s comments — made in front of donors at a New York fundraiser last Friday — are evidence that she is an elitist with a dim view of ordinary Americans.
At one event, Trump brought up nearly a dozen supporters of different races and backgrounds to make the point that Clinton has demeaned a broad cross-section of Americans because she thinks she’s better than them.
“She divides people into baskets as though they were objects, not human beings,” Trump said to a group of national guardsmen in Baltimore this week.
“She and her wealthy donors all had a good laugh,” Trump said. “They were laughing at the very people who pave the roads she drives on, paint the buildings she speaks in, and keep the lights on in her auditorium. Hillary Clinton is an insider, supported by powerful insiders, attacking Americans who have no political power.”
Trump has so thoroughly embraced the gaffe that he has sought to flip the script on Clinton, accusing her of running a “hate-filled” campaign.
But some of Clinton’s allies are delighted the Trump campaign is keeping the issue in the news, viewing it as a trap the GOP nominee has walked into.
These Democrats believe that any political cost to Clinton for the comment will be outweighed by the harm Trump suffers by having to publicly confront the extremist elements that have glommed on to his campaign.
“Trump’s campaign is miscalculating on ‘deplorables,’ as it is fundamentally a debate about how racist and bigoted his coalition is,” said one former Clinton campaign aide. “Trump’s words sound a lot like tapes of George Wallace defending segregation and hate.”
The Trump campaign has already found itself in a sticky spot in the back and forth.
In an interview on CNN this week, anchor Wolf Blitzer asked GOP vice presidential nominee Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump endorses challenger to Hogan ally in Maryland governor's race Pence to headline New Hampshire event focused on Biden spending plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Arbery case, Biden spending bill each test views of justice MORE if he considers Duke and other white nationalists to be “deplorable.”
Pence responded that Trump has denounced Duke and said ,“We don’t want his support, and we don’t want the support of people who think like him.”
But Pence refused to describe Duke as “deplorable,” provoking an onslaught of headlines about how he had refused to condemn the former KKK leader.
The controversy bled into Pence’s visit with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, when Pence, with GOP leaders at his side, was again asked if he thinks Duke is “deplorable.”
Pence responded that Duke is a “bad man” but once again declined to “validate” Clinton’s use of the term “deplorable,” which set off another round of bad headlines for the campaign.
The office of Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe congressional debate over antitrust: It's about time McConnell looks for way out of debt ceiling box Senators make bipartisan push to block 0M weapons sale to Saudis MORE (R-Utah) said it expressed its concerns over the incidents in a private meeting with Pence, and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Pence should start calling Duke deplorable “so that he doesn’t get headlines.”
Trump has made outreach to minority groups a priority in recent weeks, although most polls indicate that he has failed to gain any meaningful traction.
Some view Trump’s minority outreach as a way to court the white, college-educated voters that might consider supporting him but are worried about backing a candidate with ties to extremist elements.