By Lisa Keen
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had to back off some remarks she made before an LGBT fundraiser last Friday, but her poor choice of words there is now being overshadowed by reaction to concerns that she appeared to collapse while getting into her Secret Service van on Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, there has been little scrutiny of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s promises to religious conservatives Friday.
“[In] a Trump administration, our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you have never seen before…. And that includes religious liberty,” said Trump to the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit” in Washington, D.C.
“Religious liberty” has become a frequent code phrase for many politicos to promote the idea of allowing people the liberty to discriminate against LGBT people by claiming they are exercising their religious beliefs.
Trump said the Johnson Amendment has prevented clergy from speaking from the pulpit about politics. The tax law states that non-profit groups can receive a 501(3)c (non-profit group) tax break if they do not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” The purpose of the law was to ensure that taxpayer money is not used to subsidize partisan political activity.
“I will repeal the Johnson Amendment, if I am elected your president. I promise,” he told the audience. The line elicited loud applause even though a president cannot repeal an existing federal law.
Trump appeared to use a teleprompter during most of the speech, but he looked away from the teleprompter to add that he had learned about the Johnson Amendment from a group of pastors he had invited to one of his Manhattan buildings to solicit their support. He said the pastors clearly wanted to support him but told him the Johnson Amendment prevented them from doing so. He said he learned that President Lyndon Johnson had unilaterally created the law to punish a church in Houston with which he was having “problems.”
“Can you imagine that this man single-handedly -he was having problems with churches and there was a church in Houston that was giving him a hard time -maybe for good reason–and he put in an amendment that basically stopped our great pastors and ministers and others from talking….”
He repeated calls for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, promised to bring forth a “new civil rights agenda for our time,” and said he would fight for “family values.” That “civil rights agenda,” he said, is “the right to a safe community, a great education, and a secure job.”
He praised anti-Gay right-wing conservative Phyllis Schlafly, who endorsed him, as one of the great champions of family values. Schlafly, who died September 5 at the age of 92, was best known for leading the opposition to an Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution. In doing so, she claimed the ERA would lead to allowing gays to teach in schools, marry, and adopt children. Her Eagle Forum group was a frequent contributor of legal briefs opposing equal rights for LGBT people.
Neither FRC nor the Trump campaign posted his speech on their websites, but the full address can be watched via a “Right Side Broadcasting” youtube post.
But media attention since Friday has been riveted on only two things: Clinton’s characterization of many Trump supporters as “deplorable” and Clinton’s physical health.
On Friday night, before an LGBT fundraiser in Manhattan, Clinton said this:
“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. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites -that used to have only 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.”
“But that other basket of people are people who feel the government has let 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.” (An incomplete video of these remarks can be seen at CNN.)
Throughout the weekend and into Monday, media reports replayed Clinton’s characterization of some Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” (They did not include her comments about those who feel “let down” and “desperate for change.”) The Trump campaign also seized on the “deplorable” comment.
Trump vice presidential candidate Mike Pence claimed the word was aimed at “Americans, farmers, coal miners, teachers, veterans, and members of our law enforcement community.”
By Saturday, Clinton issued an apology, saying, “I regret saying ‘half’ – that was wrong.” But she said it is deplorable that Trump has hired, for his campaign chief, a man (Steve Bannon) who heads up a right-wing media site (Breitbart News) that shows support for anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiments. The statement said she “won’t stop calling out bigotry and racist rhetoric in this campaign.”
“I also meant what I said last night about empathy, and the very real challenges we face as a country where so many people have been left out and left behind,” said her statement.
Clinton’s remarks Friday and her apology Saturday have been characterized by some political commentators as potentially as damaging as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s private fundraiser remarks, characterizing most of President Obama’s supporters as “47 percent of Americans” who “pay no income tax.”
Then, Clinton was hit Sunday with what appeared to be a near fainting spell as she left a memorial service for 9/11 in New York. A bystander’s video of her getting into her Secret Service van shows her appearing to almost collapse as aides hold her up and help her into the van. Initially, her campaign said she had become overheated at the event; by nightfall, it said she was suffering from dehydration and pneumonia. And late Sunday night, it announced she would cancel campaign events for Monday in order to recover.
The incident has prompted a constant media review of Clinton’s health ailments -which have included a 2012 fainting spell as Secretary of State, attributed to a stomach virus, which led to a concussion and blood clot. Breitbart News stirred up concern about Clinton’s health last January when it quoted anonymous sources as claiming Clinton’s prolonged bathroom break during a debate was related to the previous concussion. Since then, Trump has been urging that Clinton “doesn’t have the strength and stamina” to serve as president. Trump told Fox News Monday that he thinks “something’s going on” with Clinton’s health and that it will “be an issue.”
The Clinton developments have overshadowed nearly every other important development in the presidential campaign during the past few days, including:
* the prospects for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson taking a major plunge Friday after he appeared to be completely uninformed about the refugee crisis in Aleppo, Syria. (When MSNBC Morning Joe panelist asked Johnson what he would do as president “about Aleppo,” Johnson responded, “What’s Aleppo?” Aleppo has received a flood of media attention lately because it is the focal point of the Syrian civil war and because Russia recently staged air strikes against the city in support of the Syrian government. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are said to be trapped inside the city and in dire need of food and water.
* Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine spoke to the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Washington, D.C. dinner Saturday night. Kaine said he first felt support for LGBT people while witnessing violence against LGBT demonstrators on his college campus in Missouri. “That was a moment of conscious-raising for me,” said Kaine. “I was changed by it. It made me angry. And it made me even more convinced I wanted to stand up for what is right.” He acknowledged that, as a devout Catholic, he was less supportive of marriage equality at first. But he said he opposed members of the Virginia legislature who sought to amend the state constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples. Kaine ended by saying “the LGBTQ vote in so many of our battleground states can be the difference between victory and defeat.”
Prior to Clinton’s double stumble last week, gay electoral data guru Nate Silver estimated that Clinton has a 71 percent chance of winning November 8, compared to Trump’s 29 percent. By Monday afternoon, he changed that to 69 percent to 31 percent. Other media polls suggest the race is tightening, with the lead overall in the polls vacillating between Clinton and Trump.