NEW YORK — Hillary Clinton expressed “regret” Saturday for comments in which she said “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters are “deplorables,” meaning people who are racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic.
“Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong,” Clinton said in a statement in which she also vowed to call out “bigotry” in Trump’s campaign.
The Democratic presidential nominee sparked an uproar late Friday when she described Trump’s supporters at a fundraiser.
“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.”
She 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.
The Democratic nominee made similar comments in an interview Thursday 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.
“Isn’t it disgraceful that Hillary Clinton makes the worst mistake of the political season and instead of owning up to this grotesque attack on American voters, she tries to turn it around with a pathetic rehash of the words and insults used in her failing campaign?” Trump said in a statement. “For the first time in a long while, her true feelings came out, showing bigotry and hatred for millions of Americans.”
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 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.
In seizing upon the comments, Trump used the opportunity to do some fundraising as well.
“Now is the time to show Hillary the consequences of her words,” Trump’s campaign wrote in an appeal to supporters. “I’m asking you and the millions of hard-working, patriotic Americans whom she just insulted, to fight back with a contribution of $100, $65, $50, $35, $25, $15, or even $5 to elect Donald Trump to the White House.”
Clinton expresses regret
In her statement Saturday, Clinton was emphatic in condemning what she said was Trump’s racially insensitive campaign.
She listed a series of controversial moments from Trump’s campaign, including his fight with a Muslim Gold Star family, criticism of a federal US judge of Mexican heritage and his insinuation that Obama wasn’t born in the US.
“I won’t stop calling out bigotry and racist rhetoric in this campaign,” Clinton said.
She also noted her comments about empathizing with other Trump supporters.
“As I said, many of Trump’s supporters are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel like the economy or our political system are working for them,” Clinton said. “I’m determined to bring our country together and make our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top. Because we really are ‘stronger together.'”
Around the same time Clinton issued her statement, Trump also made a case for unity.
“While Hillary said horrible things about my supporters, and while many of her supporters will never vote for me, I still respect them all!” Trump said on Twitter.
A senior Democrat close to the campaign told CNN it wants to have a conversation about what it sees as the racism in Trump’s campaign, but could not have that part of the conversation until Clinton backed away from the “half” comment.
The Democrat added that Clinton’s concession drew a contrast with Trump.
“She can admit when she is wrong — Trump never does,” the Democrat said.
‘Prejudice and paranoia’
Clinton’s comments amounted 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.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt suggested Trump open each speech by asking his crowds, “So, which half of you are in the #basketofdeplorables?”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.