Deplorable She: Why Hillary Clinton insulting Donald Trump's supporters may be her worst blunder yet

Clinton's remarks echoed similarly dismissive and elitist statements by Romney and Obama

David Usborne
New York
Wednesday 14 September 2016 20:10
Trump supporter showing disdain for Clinton's 'deplorables' insult
Trump supporter showing disdain for Clinton's 'deplorables' insult

Hillary Clinton should consider staying home for longer rather than getting back on the road on Thursday like she is promising. She might cause herself less trouble that way.

Clinton has a rare talent for self-sabotage. Most often it’s thanks to her near-pathological need for secrecy. It’s why the email-server scandal has stayed alive for so long. We even see Colin Powell, one of her predecessors as Secretary of State, saying so in emails leaked on Wednesday. “Dumb. She should have done a ‘Full Monty’ at the beginning,” he said.

And it turned a potential sympathy-earning moment - her falling ill last weekend with pneumonia - into another debacle for her campaign. Only when amateur video caught her stumbling after a 9/11 ceremony in New York did she think it necessary to come clean about it. Dumb again.

But her most egregious misstep yet - one that is already proving to be a gift to Donald Trump, to his fund-raising efforts and his TV commercial writers - had nothing to do with secrecy, except in so far that it occurred at a closed-door fundraiser with wealthy donors in Manhattan last Friday.

That was when Ms Clinton thought it was smart to aver that “half of Trump’s supporters” belong in what she weirdly called a “basket of deplorables”. In case her guests didn’t quite latch on, she clarified. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it,” she said.

For any Clinton fan this was truly a disheartening moment. The only reasonable response is “Deplorable She”, with an additional observation that her minions are surely also at fault here for not giving her sufficient warning that such talk might just conceivably cause her harm.

There have been precedents of candidates somehow imagining that elitist condescension is the best way to win voters' hearts. Or just plain insulting them.

Recall the shivers that went through the Democratic fold in 2008 when then candidate Barack Obama was heard telling donors in San Francisco that some folks in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them”.

Four years ago, Republican nominee Mitt Romney was widely condemned for telling a private donors’ dinner that 47 per cent of voters in America were essentially beyond the reach of his party because they were moochers who “believe they are victims”. He even went on to say, “my job is not worry about those people”.

Consigning either half the country or half your opponent’s supporters to a dark corner reserved for dunderheads or xenophobes may also recall the failed tactics of the Remain campaign in Britain in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. Dismissing large swathes of the electorate as worthless, unthinking fools really doesn’t seem like the smartest tactic right now.

But really, it is the extraordinary ignorance of Ms Clinton herself that is the issue here.

We can’t expect her actually to mingle with Mr Trump’s supporters, of course. That would require a disguise beyond the usual wig and dark glasses. But those minions of hers might want to get out there - the likes of Houma Abedin and campaign manager Robbie Mook. Even John Pedesta. Hey guys, who among you thinks you actually know what makes a Trump supporter tick? Or who they really are even?

'We Are Not Deplorable' - Supporters Join Trump on Stage

She and her campaign are, however, captives of a wider syndrome that can so badly compromise the compasses not just of candidates like herself but also of the mass media. It’s coastal bubble blindness. You can’t go about characterising the other party’s supporters unless you have spent time among them. Whoever they are, wherever they live.

On a recent visit to California, I was left agog by a dinner host who, in his fierce desire to dismiss Mr Trump as a monster certain to self-destruct, actually articulated the view that people who “live in the fly-over states that airplanes empty their toilets onto” are too stupid to even matter in the current election. As someone who has spent time precisely in that part of the country trying to grasp the Trump phenomenon I had to bite my tongue as well as dinner.

Clinton offered an apology of sorts last weekend saying she’d been “grossly generalistic…that’s never a good idea.” She went on: “I regret saying ‘half.’ That was wrong.”

I’ve seen those clips of Trump supporters attempting physical violence on those who show up at his rallies only to protest against him. I have sat in the media pen too as the candidate has called myself and my colleagues "scum" and encouraged the crowd to turn around and fix us with a collective glare and boo.

But I have been at Trump rallies that have had the atmosphere of a family picnic. Sometimes couples would bring babies to Bernie Sanders rallies. They bring babies to Trump events too. Grannies, teachers, nurses, firemen, teachers go to Trump rallies. You know, America.

Maybe Clinton was tired. She made the remark hours after her pneumonia diagnosis. Perhaps this was just lazy-speak. Giving voice to the prejudices you know your audience will share is always a short cut to applause and appreciation.

But the moment was surely also revealing. Such a crude expression of disdain should never come into her head in the first place. And it should never have been uttered by someone who is trying to win people’s votes, not lose them.

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