By CHRIS JOHNSON
Hillary Clinton’s controversial remark that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables” for espousing bigotry have contributed to a tulmultuous week for the Democratic presidential nominee, but her LGBT supporters insist her comments were accurate.
Clinton made the comments Sept. 9 at at high-dollar fundraiser in New York City, saying half of Trump’s supporters are “desperate for change,” but the other half were “irredeemable” people whom she put in another category.
“You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” Clinton said to laughter and applause. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that.”
Richard Socarides, a gay New York City Democratic activist and Clinton supporter, said he wasn’t present at the fundraiser, but understands why the candidate made the remarks.
“I totally understand where she was coming from,” Socarides said. “Trump’s entire campaign is based upon fear, anger and prejudice. It is deplorable. I think that’s what she meant.”
Criticized for their divisive nature, the controversial remarks — as well as Clinton’s abrupt departure from a New York City event observing the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks for being sick and her failure to disclose her illness earlier — have led many pundits to say her campaign is facing its most challenging days.
Elizabeth Birch, a former head of the Human Rights Campaign and Clinton supporter present for the remarks at the fundraiser, said they were appropriate.
“Donald Trump routinely appeals to the baser instincts of voters,” Birch said. “That is a matter of public record. Hillary Clinton is simply explaining that people who respond to that rhetoric respond to the racist, sexist and homophobic bait. None of this is a mystery.”
Following her remarks, Clinton issued a statement seeking to retract her them — at least partially — but indicated the general thrust of her words is correct.
“Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea,” Clinton said. “I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong. But let’s be clear, what’s really deplorable is that Donald Trump hired a major advocate for the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement to run his campaign and that David Duke and other white supremacists see him as a champion of their values.”
Lane Hudson, a gay Clinton supporter and D.C. Democratic activist, was similarly reluctant to articulate how many Trump supporters fall into the definition of “deplorables,” but said the candidate was to right to call them out.
“I can’t be sure what percentage of Trump supporters I would put in the ‘basket of deplorables,’ but I think it’s fair game to categorize birthers, white supremacists, sexists, misogynists, xenophobes and homophobes as deplorable,” Hudson said. “They do not represent the values of our nation and Hillary does us a service by naming it and shaming it.”
Indeed, many polls suggest Clinton wasn’t far off in her assessment of Trump supporters who subscribe to bigotry. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published in June found nearly half of Trump supporters describe black people as more “violent” than white people. In May, a Public Policy Polling poll found 59 percent of Trump supporters think President Obama wasn’t born in the United States and only 13 percent believe he’s a Christian. In February, another Public Policy Polling poll found one-third of Trump supporters in South Carolina would support banning gay people from entering the United States.
But the comments mark a departure for Clinton, who previously said she’d be a president for all Americans.
In her speech accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton sought to reach out to a broad coalition and pledged to unite the country, not divide it further.
“We have to heal the divides in our country,” Clinton said. “Not just on guns, but on race, immigration and more. That starts with listening to each other, hearing each other, trying, as best we can, to walk in each other’s shoes.”
The Trump campaign has seized on the “basket of deplorables” remark as a gaffe and called on Clinton to apologize. Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence referenced the comments during his speech in D.C. at the anti-LGBT Values Voter Summit, saying they “should be denounced in the strongest possible terms.” The Trump campaign has also unveiled a TV ad with a voiceover of Clinton saying the remarks as footage is shown of a diverse group of delegates at the Republican National Convention.
In a speech Monday at a Baltimore conference for the National Guard Association, Trump condemned Clinton for the remarks, saying she insulted “cops and soldiers, carpenters and welders, the young and the old, and millions of working class families who just want a better future.”
“These were the people Hillary Clinton so viciously demonized,” Trump said. “These were among the countless Americans that Hillary Clinton called deplorable, irredeemable and un-American. She called these patriotic men and women every vile name in the book – she called them racist, sexist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic.”
Notably, Trump left out the label of “homophobic” from his recollection of labels Clinton applied to the “basket of deplorables” supporting him.
Charles Moran, a gay Los Angeles-based Republican activist and Trump supporter pledged to him at the Republican National Convention, said he was “shocked but not surprised” over Clinton’s comments.
“If this is truly how she feels, she should own it,” Moran said. “Her disdain for how half of this country feels about her shows the typical liberal smugness. Obama suffers from it, and so does Clinton. It totally runs counter to her efforts to reach out to disaffected independents and Republicans. Trump’s recent surge and the tightening in the polls clearly is getting under her skin.”
But criticism of Clinton’s remarks has also boomeranged on the Trump campaign. During an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday, Pence declined to say Trump supporter David Duke — a former grand wizard for the Ku Klux Klan — is deplorable.
“I’m not really sure why the media keeps dropping David Duke’s name, but Donald Trump has denounced David Duke repeatedly,” Pence said. “We don’t want his support, and we don’t want the support of people who think that.”
Pressed by Blitzer on whether Pence would call Duke “deplorable,” the candidate replied, “No. I’m not in the name-calling business, Wolf. You know me better than that.”
Nadine Smith, a Clinton supporter and executive director of Equality Florida, said Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment was “factual” and attention should be on Trump.
“The bigger question is why isn’t Trump being called out for all the high-profile deplorable people he’s aligned with?” Smith said. “Trump had to be prodded for days before half-heartedly critiquing David Duke, a white nationalist and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Pence has refused to say Duke was deserving strong condemnation. An open mike at a Trump rally is a crash course in racial, sexist and homophobic slurs. And data show his voters are hostile toward black, Latino, Muslim and LGBT people. I find that deplorable as well.
Clinton’s controversial remarks come as polls show a race in which she once enjoyed a significant lead is now tightening. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sept. 12 found Clinton has support among 40 percent of likely voters compared to the 39 percent who support Trump.
Logan Casey, a transgender research scientist at the Harvard Opinion Research Program, said he nonetheless doesn’t think Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” will have a significant influence on the presidential election.
“As we get closer and closer to the election, more people are solidifying their existing opinions rather than potentially changing their mind,” Casey said. “It’s likely that most of the people who were most offended by this comment were already ardent Trump supporters, and were unlikely to vote for Clinton anyway. Trump will likely use her comment for fundraising purposes (and we’ve already seen an ad come out about it), but the comment alone is unlikely to have any significant impact. Perhaps more importantly, comments like this tend to get pushed aside once the next controversy comes along — which we’re already seeing with questions about Clinton’s health.”