Donald Trump has a problem with racism. Not a personal problem — all evidence suggests he’s got nothing against judging people on the basis of their skin color — but, rather, a political one. The GOP nominee simply cannot win the presidency while losing the “upscale Republicans who don’t want to be associated with an infamous bigot” vote. And, at present, he is losing that demographic. Badly.
Trump is on pace to become the first Republican candidate in a generation to lose college-educated whites. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday reveals one reason why: A majority of degree-bearing whites believe that Trump’s rhetoric “appeals to bigotry” — as do majorities of every other demographic in the survey, besides Republicans.
On Thursday, Trump mocked the idea that his campaign could be construed as racist, telling a crowd in New Hampshire that accusations of racism are “the oldest play in the Democratic playbook.” And yet, in the estimation of his own campaign, supporting Donald Trump has become a taboo behavior in polite society.
In recent days, the GOP standard-bearer has tried to change this fact. To help voters forget all that stuff he said about “deportation forces” and Mexicans being “rapists,” Trump is now suggesting that he’d allow some undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States as second-class non-citizens. And to wipe that whole “birther” thing from the nation’s collective memory, the mogul has expressed concern about the fact that all black people “have no jobs,” “live in poverty,” and have nothing in their lives worth preserving.
As that summary suggests, these pantomimes of “minority outreach” have been less than impressive. Especially since they come mere days after Trump named the Steve Bannon, the CEO of Breitbart — the publication of record among men’s rights activists and moderate white nationalists — his campaign chief.
Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is treating Trump’s outreach to suburban “cuckservatives” as a serious threat. And so, on Thursday, the Democratic nominee delivered a 40-minute speech assuring moderate Republicans that they are better than their party’s racist nominee.
Clinton may have been speaking before a crowd of rabid Democrats in Reno, Nevada, but from the very first lines of her speech, she made the intended audience of her remarks clear.
“My original plan for this visit was to focus on our agenda to help small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Clinton said. “This week we proposed new steps to cut red tape and taxes, and make it easier for small businesses to get the credit they need to grow and hire.”
Unfortunately, Clinton explained, that economic agenda brimming with country club conservatives’ favorite buzzwords would have to wait for another day. Donald Trump’s bigoted rhetoric was simply too dangerous to go un-rebutted a moment longer.
“This is what I want to make clear today,” Clinton said. “A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military.”
This is a difficult statement to take issue with, no matter one’s partisan affiliation. Few Republicans would be comfortable arguing that, actually, a longtime bigot in a tinfoil hat should be given control of America’s nuclear arsenal. The only way to refute Clinton’s argument is to deny her characterization of the GOP nominee. But, as Clinton went on to establish, Donald Trump is, in fact, a bigot who believes in conspiracy theories.
“When Trump was getting his start in business, he was sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black and Latino tenants,” Clinton factually observed. “State regulators fined one of Trump’s casinos for repeatedly removing black dealers from the floor … And let’s not forget Trump first gained political prominence leading the charge for the so-called Birthers.’”
Clinton went on to remind moderate Republicans that Trump once said something about a Mexican judge that Paul Ryan called “the textbook definition of a racist comment” — and that Trump still hasn’t apologized for the remark to this day. She noted Trump’s fondness for the tweets of white supremacists, his reluctance to disavow the support of David Duke, his repeated insistence that “thousands of Muslims” celebrated in New Jersey on 9/11, despite the absence of any evidence for that claim.
To establish Trump’s bona fides as a paranoid nut, Clinton noted his theorizing about Rafael Cruz’s role in the Kennedy assassination, and that time Trump told Alex Jones — the InfoWars host who has claimed that the “murdered children” at Sandy Hook Elementary were actually child actors — that he has “a great reputation.”
Clinton then reiterated the long list of insane policies Trump has floated over the past 14 months — the Muslim ban, the end to birthright citizenship, the deportation force — arguing that whatever the GOP nominee says now, we know what he truly believes. Which, in suggesting that Donald Trump holds any sincere policy convictions at all, was considerably less persuasive then what came before it.
But the most significant section of Clinton’s speech was that devoted to introducing the “alt-right” to a national audience.
Trump’s new campaign chief Steve Bannon has described his digital magazine as “the platform for the alt-right.” And so, to give Republican soccer moms the flavor of that platform, Clinton recited a series of Breitbart headlines:
“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”
“Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?”
“Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield”
“Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”
“Alt-right is short for ‘alternative right’,” Clinton continued. “The Wall Street Journal describes it as a loosely organized movement, mostly online, that rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity.”
The Democratic nominee’s decision to signal boost an online movement of white nationalists and nihilistic provocateurs has earned her some reasonable criticism. But the tactical benefit of elevating the alt-right was immediately clear: What better way to encourage traditional Republicans to disassociate from their nominee than to brand him as a member of a group that defines itself in opposition to traditional Republicans.
“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘alt-right.’ A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” Clinton said. “This isn’t just about one election. It’s about who we are as a nation.”
Here, Clinton provides Republicans a way to vote for her without betraying their identities: Donald Trump is not a member of your tribe. This is not a normal election.
To land this message, Clinton absolved the GOP of any responsibility in creating Trump. She offered Republicans a chance to sign onto the absurd (but comforting) fiction that Trump is a sui generis phenomenon, that he is the first Republican nominee to run on the politics of white grievance, rather than the most unashamed. The Democratic nominee highlighted Bannon’s past criticisms of Paul Ryan, while praising Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain for their occasional courage in confronting their party’s most reactionary elements.
“This is a moment of reckoning for every Republican dismayed that the party of Lincoln has become the party of Trump,” Clinton said in summation. “It’s a moment of reckoning for all of us who love our country and believe that America is better than this.”
Your party is better than Donald Trump. That’s why you need to vote for a different one.