NEW YORK (CNN) — Hillary Clinton’s campaign is standing by politically incendiary comments she made Friday night grouping half of Donald Trump’s supporters into “the basket of deplorables,” people who are racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic.
In an effort to explain the support behind Trump, Clinton, speaking at a fundraiser, also described the rest of his supporters as people who are looking for change in any form because of economic anxiety and urged her supporters to empathize with them.
“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” Clinton said. “Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”
She added, “And unfortunately, there are people like that and he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.”
Clinton then said some of these people were “irredeemable” and “not America.”
The Democratic nominee made similar comments in an interview the day before with an Israeli television station. But when they were widely reported Friday night, Trump and Republicans quickly pounced on the remarks, which drew comparisons to President Barack Obama’s comments about clinging to “guns and religion” at a 2008 campaign fundraiser and Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remark in 2012.
Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2016
“Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning.
Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, forcefully condemned Clinton “in the strongest possible terms” Saturday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington.
“The truth of the matter is that the men and women who support Donald Trump’s campaign are hard-working Americans, farmers, coal miners, teachers, veterans, members of our law enforcement community, members of every class of this country, who know that we can make America great again,” Pence said.
“Let me just say, from the bottom of my heart, Hillary, they are not a basket of anything,” Pence continued. “They are Americans and they deserve your respect.”
Clinton had earlier divided Trump’s supporters into “two big baskets,” what she called “the deplorables,” in an interview with Channel 2 News Israel that aired Thursday.
“If I were to be grossly generalistic, I would say you can take Trump supporters and put them in two big baskets,” Clinton said. “There are what I call the deplorables — the racists, you know, the haters, and the people who are drawn because they think somehow he’s going to restore an America that no longer exists. So just eliminate them from your thinking, because we’ve always had an annoying prejudicial element within our politics.”
Clinton acknowledges desire for change
Shifting to the other half of Trump supporters Friday, Clinton said many of those people feel like the government doesn’t care about them and who just want change in any form.
“That other basket of people are people who feel that government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures. They are just desperate for change. Doesn’t really even matter where it comes from.”
She continued, “They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people who we have to understand and empathize with as well.”
Clinton made the comments before introducing Barbra Streisand at an LGBT fundraiser in downtown New York.
According to average ticket prices and attendance figures provided by the campaign, Clinton raised around $6 million at the fundraiser, at which some attendees paid $50,000.
‘Prejudice and paranoia’
Clinton’s comments amount to startlingly blunt talk for a candidate who is usually measured in her assessment of the Republican nominee.
Although Clinton has accused Trump of racism before, she has never explicitly called him a racist. Last month, she delivered a major speech in which she accused Trump of aligning himself with far-right extremists and saying he “built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia.”
“He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party,” Clinton said in Reno, Nevada. “His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous.”
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, cited the speech in attempting to clarify the Democratic nominee’s comments Friday night.
“Obviously not everyone supporting Trump is part of the alt right, but alt right leaders are with Trump,” Merrill tweeted, adding, “And their supporters appear to make up half his crowd when you observe the tone of his events.”
Clinton’s campaign was continuing to dig in Saturday morning as outrage swirled over the comment, though surrogates were emphasizing that Clinton was talking about Trump’s supporters — people who attend his rallies — and not Trump voters, a larger group, in the eyes of the campaign, that includes more moderate Republicans.
Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine told The Washington Post that Clinton’s statement didn’t require an apology.
“She said, ‘Look, I’m generalizing here, but a lot of his support is coming from this odd place, that he’s given a platform to the alt-right and white nationalists,'” Kaine told the newspaper. “But then she went on to say, ‘Look, there’s also a number of his supporters that have economic anxieties, and we’ve got to speak to those.'”
Added Kaine: “There are supporters we’re not going to get.”
Tyrone Gale, a Clinton spokesman, rejected Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway’s call on Twitter for an apology by tweeting a New York Times video depicting vulgar and obscene comments made by some Trump supporters at his rallies.
And Bakari Sellers, a Clinton surrogate and CNN contributor, was defiant when asked about the remark.
“This election is about beating back bigotry and hate,” Sellers said in an interview. “Whether it’s 10% or 50%, Donald Trump and his supporters have elevated it. If you’re not a bigot, her comments shouldn’t offend you.”
The controversy recalled rhetorical stumbles in previous campaigns. In 2008, Obama told an audience at a closed fundraiser that decades of lost jobs and unfulfilled promises from Washington had left some Pennsylvanians “bitter” and clinging “to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
He later acknowledged that the comment was “boneheaded.”
And late in the 2012 campaign, Romney, the GOP nominee, was memorably caught in a secretly recorded video telling donors that “there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what,” saying they “believe they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.”
Romney later told reporters the comments were “not elegantly stated.”
What separates Obama and Romney’s comments from Clinton’s, however, is that they believed their remarks were private. Clinton’s event on Friday was only the sixth out of the more than 330 fundraisers she’s attended as a candidate that was open to the press.
Almost immediately, “#BasketofDeplorables” began trending on Twitter, and conservatives and Trump supporters were predictably outraged.
“The truly deplorable thing in this race is the shameful level of condescension & disrespect @HillaryClinton’s showing to her fellow citizens,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on Twitter.
The truly deplorable thing in this race is the shameful level of condescension & disrespect @HillaryClinton's showing to her fellow citizens
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) September 10, 2016
“Given that there’s been entire books dedicated to Hillary’s deplorable actions it’s a new low, even for her, to attack 100,000,000 Americans,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., tweeted.
Given that there's been entire books dedicated to Hillary's deplorable actions it's a new low, even for her, to attack 100,000,000 Americans
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 10, 2016
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt suggested Trump open each speech by asking his crowds, “So, which half of you are in the #basketofdeplorables?”
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) September 10, 2016
“Wow. Hillary Clinton just had her 47 percent moment,” tweeted Breitbart reporter Charlie Spiering.
Wow. Hillary Clinton just had her 47 percent moment https://t.co/T53xg2Hrhd
— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) September 10, 2016
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a notable Trump critic, tweeted, “Hillary Clinton’s creed: ‘All men are created equal’ — except for those I’ve consigned to the basket of deplorables, who are irredeemable.”
Hillary Clinton's creed: "All men are created equal" — except for those I've consigned to the basket of deplorables, who are irredeemable.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) September 10, 2016
Even some Democrats noted the political opportunity Clinton had given Republicans.
“‘Basket of deplorables’ reminds me of ‘binders full of women.’ Equally tone deaf statements divorced from reality,” tweeted Lis Smith, Obama’s director of rapid response during his 2012 campaign.
"Basket of deplorables" reminds me of "binders full of women." Equally tone deaf statements divorced from reality. https://t.co/Nc1nPPAcUK
— Lis Smith (@Lis_Smith) September 10, 2016
David Axelrod, a former chief strategist to Obama who is now a CNN commentator, referenced the controversy over Obama’s “guns and religion” line at a 2008 fundraiser, tweeting, “Fundraiser remarks are treacherous things.”
Fundraiser remarks are treacherous things. https://t.co/BF87ArNIwM
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) September 10, 2016
Speaking to CNN’s Michael Smerconish Saturday morning, Bob Beckel, who managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign, offered no defense of Clinton.
“It’s the wrong thing to say,” Beckel said.