Imagine you’re an Establishment Democrat trying to fend off a left-wing challenge for your party’s presidential nomination. On the weekend before a series of critical primary contests, would you praise Ronald Reagan’s handling of the AIDS crisis, suggest that protesters should forgive Donald Trump, and pose for a tender photograph with George W. Bush?
If you’re Hillary Clinton, the answer is yes.
The former secretary of State began her weekend by praising the Reagans for speaking out about AIDS when no one else would.
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton told MSNBC. “Because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation when, before, nobody would talk about it.”
Of course, saying Reagan started a conversation about AIDS is akin to crediting Richard Nixon with starting a conversation about the Pentagon Papers. Clinton’s bizarre misreading of gay history prompted condemnations from some of her most prominent LGBT supporters, with the Stranger’s Dan Savage writing, “I’m literally shaking as I try to write this. There are no words for the pain Clinton’s remarks have dredged up.” Many found Clinton’s initial apology, which suggested she had merely “misspoken,” to be lacking. Her subsequent Medium post, in which she acknowledged the activists who actually started the conversation about AIDS, was better received.
It’s never a good look for a politician to misremember the most traumatic chapter in the history of one of her core constituencies. If that were the only mistake Clinton made in the last three days, she would have had a bad weekend. But the Democratic front-runner’s campaign decided it had a few more alienating statements left in it.
On Friday night, protesters disrupted a Trump rally in Chicago. The Donald decided to cancel the event, and fistfights between Trump supporters and protesters ensued. On Saturday morning, the Clinton campaign released a statement on the fracas that never mentioned Trump by name, despite the mogul’s repeated encouragement of violence against protesters. Instead, Clinton offered an implicit critique of the protesters’ actions, by comparing their response to racism unfavorably with that of the grieving families of Charleston.
Plenty of progressives have voiced concerns about the tactic of “shutting down” Trump rallies, including a certain democratic socialist. But many weren’t crazy about Clinton’s model for combating racism, which apparently entails waiting for white supremacists to kill people and then winning hearts through gracious rituals of forgiveness.
Finally, on Sunday night, an image of Clinton cozying up to George W. Bush went viral. Cross-partisan friendships shouldn’t be stigmatized. But for a candidate who is trying to convince voters that she is “not part of the political Establishment,” getting friendly with the last Republican president at Nancy Reagan’s funeral probably isn’t the best way to prove your “outsider” bona fides.
Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination. But new polls show dramatic tightening in Tuesday’s primary contests in Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois.