We’ve never had a woman who might actually win the presidency, so there are no rules for how she should go about this. The dour Germans elected that Merkel woman long ago, a dull as dirt extraordinarily competent technocrat with no charisma whatsoever. She gives no fiery speeches. She has no use for charm. She gets the job done. The Germans are still fine with that. The Brits went with Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady. Reagan loved her, but the joke was always that she was the one with the balls. When she campaigned, and then when she ran the country, she did not suffer fools – and everyone else was fool. No one crossed her. Get in her way and you’d end up as no more than a quivering puddle of shame. No, she was not ladylike. She was a ball-buster. The Brits were fine with that.
Neither example is useful to Hillary Clinton. This is America. We haven’t worked things out. Should she be charming? Should she be motherly and supportive, if not accommodating? Or should she be quietly competent, but modest? Should she brag about all that she’s done, or be quietly ladylike and let her man do that? Or should she be strong and almost manly and take no shit from anyone? That’s been a problem. She says she’s arguing strongly for her positions, speaking her mind, and Donald Trump keeps calling her “shrill” – he says that he can’t stand the sound of her voice. He is asking everyone to agree with him on that, intending to box Clinton in. Americans should agree that no woman should sound like that. It seems that many do agree. She’s been called a bitch often enough.
This sort of thing keeps political consultants gainfully employed for years, but Clinton herself seems to have worked this out long ago, as Slate’s Michelle Goldberg explains here:
Hillary Clinton used to have a reputation for being more ruthless than her husband. Bill Clinton was often described as fundamentally conflict-averse, more eager to persuade his opponents than attack them. Hillary, by contrast, was known for identifying villains and going after them. In his book, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Carl Bernstein quotes former Clinton adviser Dick Morris saying that Hillary had “a quality of aggressiveness and strength about her that he doesn’t have. A killer instinct. Her genre of advocacy is always straight ahead – fight, battle, take the fight to the other side.”
This Manichean quality was at work in some of the incidents from Hillary’s history that most disgust progressives.
Goldberg reviews some of her history from Arkansas – Hillary could be nasty – and admits no one remembers much of it because that sort of thing hasn’t been useful, until now:
We hadn’t seen this Hillary in a while. She stayed under wraps during the Democratic primary, never seriously going after Bernie Sanders. But the killer in Hillary came out on Thursday, delivering a devastating indictment of Donald Trump’s associations with the far-right fringe, one meant to permanently delegitimize him among decent people. “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,” she said, daring Republican officials to disagree.
With Trump already trailing badly in most polls, Clinton could have tried to yoke him to the Republican Party so he would drag it down with him. Instead, she sought to isolate and personally destroy him.
Yes, today in Reno, Hillary Clinton stepped out of the box that Trump and gender expectations had put her in:
Hillary Clinton delivered a blistering denunciation Thursday of Donald J. Trump’s personal and political history with race, arguing in her most forceful terms yet that a nationalist conservative fringe had engulfed the Republican Party.
In a 31-minute address, building to a controlled simmer, Mrs. Clinton did everything but call Mr. Trump a racist outright – saying he had promoted “racist lie” after “racist lie,” pushed conspiracy theories with “racist undertones” and heartened racists across the country by submitting to an “emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.”
“He is taking hate groups mainstream,” Mrs. Clinton told supporters at a community college here, “and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”
Mrs. Clinton said that while a racially charged and “paranoid fringe” had always existed in politics, “it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it and giving it a national megaphone, until now.”
She was a bit shrill, or perhaps righteous, but Donald will just have to deal with it, and he can forget about his pathetic pivot:
Mrs. Clinton’s remarks coincide with a conspicuous shift in strategy from Mr. Trump, who has spoken with more compassion about people in the country illegally and expressed a desire to win African-American support. He has even suggested he might revisit his call to deport 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally, a pivot seen as an attempt to draw in moderate voters turned off by his views.
She called bullshit on that, which is not a very ladylike thing to do, and did that with indisputable facts:
Mrs. Clinton detailed the Justice Department’s housing discrimination case against Mr. Trump during the 1970s, noting that the applications of black and Latino residents “would be marked with a ‘C’ – ‘C’ for colored.”
She said state regulators had fined a Trump casino for repeatedly removing black dealers from the floor and reminded the audience of Mr. Trump’s promotion of “birtherism,” questioning President Obama’s birthplace.
She recalled his opening salvo in the Republican primary, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals when he announced his candidacy, and his more recent suggestion that a judge with a Mexican heritage could not be impartial in hearing a case involving Trump University.
“This is someone who retweets white supremacists online,” Mrs. Clinton said, citing a posting by someone with the user name WhiteGenocideTM. “Trump took this fringe bigot with a few dozen followers and spread his message to 11 million people.”
And then she started quoting headlines from the Breitbart News website, the brainchild of Trump’s new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon:
“I’m not making this up,” she warned, before digging into the site’s archives: “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”; “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?”; “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”
“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the alt-right,” Mrs. Clinton said.
She let Trump have it with both barrels and, in turn, he was boxed in:
At a rally in Manchester, N.H., on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump offered a pre-emptive response to Mrs. Clinton’s speech, portraying her attacks as directed not only at him, but also at his many supporters.
“She lies, and she smears, and she paints decent Americans – you – as racists,” he said, motioning toward the crowd gathered at a hotel. “She bullies voters who only want a better future and tries to intimidate them out of voting for a change.”
He offered a pointed response to Mrs. Clinton and those “pushing her to spread smears and her lies about decent people.”
“I have three words,” he said. “I want you to remember these three words: Shame on you.”
He told these good folks that she was calling them racists, which she never did. It was him, but anytime you have to shout out that you’re not a racist, and neither are your followers, you already lost the argument. The shouting is the problem. You’re supposed to let your words and deeds speak for themselves. The problem is that they do.
Then there was this:
Clinton’s campaign also released an online video that compiles footage of prominent white supremacist leaders praising Trump, who has been criticized for failing to immediately denounce the support he’s garnered from white nationalists and supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
That was twisting the knife. That cannot be undone, but the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent argues that there was much more going on here:
Hillary Clinton’s speech today on Donald Trump and the “alt-right” was, in no small part, aimed at telling moderate Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents that their values aren’t truly represented by the nightmare ideology otherwise known as Trumpism. He may be the GOP nominee, but he has perverted and distorted Republicanism into something so twisted and horrifying, so unlike anything else we’ve seen in modern times, that they shouldn’t feel bound by party loyalty or political habit to stand by him.
And she was efficient about it:
The speech puts the full indictment of Trump’s flirtation with the alt-right and white nationalism all in one place, recapping “racist lies” such as Trump’s birtherism and his description of Mexican immigrants as rapists, his bigoted attack on the Mexican judge, his proposals for mass deportations and banning Muslims and ending birthright citizenship, his falsehood that thousands of American Muslims celebrated 9/11, and of course, his hiring of campaign chief Stephen Bannon, who has described himself as the creator of a “platform for the alt-right.”
Clinton also stated that this alt-right “views immigration and multiculturalism as a threat to white identity,” and that Trump’s campaign had given this view a “national megaphone.”
This is, I believe, the clearest description yet from any Democrat of Trump’s mythology as a narrative of racial grievance, redress, and reaction: Trump is energizing his supporters by telling them that white America is under siege and that only his fabled strength, toughness and refusal to be hamstrung by political correctness will reverse the dark tide.
Trump will have a hard time denying that, even if he will deny that, loudly, for days on end. He’s the one in the box now, but Sargent sees even more:
Clinton tied all of that to a broader argument that Trump is, in essence, too full of hate to represent all Americans and temperamentally too dangerous to be put in charge of the American military.
But I wanted to flag this part of the speech in particular: Her effort to in a sense absolve the broader Republican Party from Trump, or at least to give Republican voters a way to do this for the party. At one point, Clinton cited Paul Ryan’s description of Trump’s attack on the Mexican judge as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
And then she really twisted the knife with these words:
This is a moment of reckoning for every Republican dismayed that the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Trump. It’s a moment of reckoning for all of us who love our country and believe that America is better than this.
Twenty years ago, when Bob Dole accepted the Republican nomination, he pointed to the exits and told any racists in the Party to get out.
The week after 9/11, George W. Bush went to a mosque and declared for everyone to hear that Muslims “love America just as much as I do.”
In 2008, John McCain told his own supporters they were wrong about the man he was trying to defeat. Senator McCain made sure they knew – Barack Obama is an American citizen and “a decent person.”
We need that kind of leadership again.
Every day, more Americans are standing up and saying “enough is enough” – including a lot of Republicans. I’m honored to have their support.
That’s a real box:
In one sense, this was aimed at making it harder for GOP lawmakers and officials to keep supporting Trump.
But this is also aimed at moderate Republican and GOP-leaning independents. Trump is still struggling to unite those voters. There has been a spirited debate among Dems over two competing strategies. One would cast Trump as an outlier relative to the Republican Party, to try to give such voters a kind of permission to abandon him. The other would cast Trump as the full realization of a species of more subtle race-baiting politics that the GOP has practiced for decades, and would point out regularly that the GOP is Trump’s enabler, to further damage the party and its down-ballot candidates and incumbents.
In his speech to the Democratic convention, Obama opted for the former strategy, saying that the Trumpism on display at the GOP convention “wasn’t particularly Republican and it sure wasn’t conservative.” To a somewhat lesser extent, Clinton did the same today. She did not point out, as she could have, that many leading Republicans (such as Ryan) continue to endorse Trump despite everything he has said and done. Instead, the argument – pitched to millions of voters across the country that are troubled by Trump’s abusiveness, his exploitation of racial grievance, and his obvious temperamental unfitness for the presidency – was that the party has been taken over or hijacked, leaving a way out for those who do not want the Republican Party to be the Party of Trump.
She opened the door for them:
The Democratic game plan is basically to give Republican lawmakers and voters alike a way to “absolve themselves” of Trumpism. There’s no telling how any of them will avail themselves of that opportunity, given that GOP lawmakers are trapped between Trump’s awful numbers and their need to hold on to Trump voters, and given that negative partisanship – dislike of the other side – has become such a powerful motivator of voters.
But Clinton’s lead in the polls appears to indicate that Trump is still struggling to unite moderate Republican voters and that he’s particularly weak among GOP-leaning constituencies such as college educated whites, white women, and exurban voters.
She was telling Republican lawmakers that they can get out of that box – many have – even if Donald Trump cannot.
This was a deadly speech, and at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum sees another deadly tactic being deployed:
Why did she do this? The most popular explanation is that she was giving “permission” for moderate Republicans to stay home in November. Donald Trump, she said, isn’t a traditional Republican. He’s a hate-monger who’s hijacked the party as a vehicle for his loathsome brand of racism and xenophobia. Even if you’re a loyal Republican, you don’t have to support that.
But I’ll propose a different explanation: she was giving the press permission to talk about Donald Trump’s racism. So far, they’ve tiptoed around it. But once the candidate herself calls it out, it invites a thousand think pieces about Breitbart, the alt-right, the GOP’s history of tolerating bigotry, Trump’s troubling background, and dozens of other related topics. Surrogates can blather all they want about this, but it doesn’t truly become a mainstream subject until the actual candidate for president makes it one.
This is part of the agenda-setting power that presidential candidates have. Donald Trump has used it endlessly, and now Hillary Clinton is using it too. Trump has made his bed, and Hillary is making sure he has to lie in it.
Slate’s Jamelle Bouie adds this:
Neither Clinton nor her campaign brought much fanfare to this address. The speech was short, the audience was small, and the proceedings were a bit more sedate than the usual political rally. But that’s because this wasn’t a usual speech, a fact underscored by Clinton’s delivery, which was calm – almost conversational. In the years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it has not been normal for a major party nominee, such as Donald Trump, to have open ties to white nationalists and conspiracy theorists. It has not been normal for that nominee to push religious discrimination as a matter of public policy. It has not been normal for him to attack federal officials on the basis of their heritage.
That Clinton gave this speech at all is another stark reminder that this election is not normal and that the stakes – the potential elevation of outright white supremacists in government and society – are incredibly high. And if there’s a question to take away from Thursday, it’s this one: Why couldn’t Republican leaders say this when they had the chance?
Perhaps they were frightened, and Will Saletan argues that now they should be:
The speech was Clinton’s clearest signal yet as to how she plans to govern the country.
She’s not using Trump to try to take down the whole Republican Party. She’s not going to tie him around the necks of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the congressional GOP. She plans to work with these men. She’s sinking Trump but sending lifeboats for Republicans.
Speaking about Trump’s criticism of a Mexican American judge, Clinton brought up Ryan. “Even the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, described that, and I quote, as ‘the textbook definition of a racist comment,’” she noted. Clinton could have added that Ryan, after making that statement, continued to support Trump. She didn’t. She let the speaker off the hook.
Rather than tie Ryan to Trump, Clinton drove a wedge between them. She pointed out that the newly installed CEO of Trump’s campaign, Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, recently “railed against Speaker Paul Ryan for quote, ‘rubbing his social-justice Catholicism in my nose every second.’” In her next breath, she mocked Trump for being “the only presidential candidate ever to get into a public feud with the pope.” This wasn’t just a jab at Trump. It was an overture to Ryan. In negotiations on budgets and poverty, expect Clinton to play the Catholic social justice card.
The implicit message to Ryan was clear enough. We can work together. Why are you sticking by this guy who sneers at you and everything you believe in? I don’t.
And there was this:
Clinton also appealed to Republican instincts on foreign policy. She framed Trump as the American branch of a global network of xenophobic nationalists, all of them doing the bidding of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Clinton ridiculed Trump for staging a rally Wednesday with Nigel Farage, the leader of the British Brexit campaign who “regularly appears on Russian propaganda programs.” This was arguably the most ambitious section of her speech, linking the racism of Trump and Farage – an indictment that stirs anger on the left – with their service to Putin – which alarms the right. “American presidents from Truman to Reagan to Bush and [Bill] Clinton to Obama have rejected the kind of approach Trump is taking on Russia,” she said. “And we should, too.”
Saletan argues that Clinton was already thinking like a policymaker:
That’s why, in attacking Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims, she targeted its infeasibility: “How would they do that?” She’s not focusing on how many Republicans she can take down in the election. She’s focusing on how much help she can get from Ryan and McConnell after it’s over.
And then there’s this:
If Ryan, McConnell, or Priebus were braver, one of them would have given a speech like this one. He would have defined the GOP and the conservative movement in opposition to Trump. Instead, Clinton did the job for them…
This was the first gesture of her presidency. If you want a government that works, it bodes well.
She’s already left Trump behind.
But he wasn’t really left behind. Ben Mathis-Lilley notes this:
I’d like to pick out one example of one alarming Trump tactic that she highlighted, though, which may be the most insane of the thousands of insane things that Trump has done during the 2016 campaign: Welcoming the support of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who thinks that 9/11 was perpetrated by the U.S. government and that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax carried out by child actors.
[Trump’s delusional view of the world] is what happens when you listen to the radio host Alex Jones, who claims that 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings were inside jobs. He said the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre were child actors and no one was actually killed there.
I don’t know what happens in somebody’s mind or how dark their heart must be to say things like that. But Trump doesn’t challenge these lies. He actually went on Jones’ show and said, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” This from the man who wants to be president of the United States.
The thing about this that is amazing is that it is simply, non-hyperbolically true. Donald Trump really did effusively praise and appears to have no problem accepting the support of someone who is sick enough to insist in public that the Sandy Hook massacre, in which twenty 6- and 7-year old children were methodically murdered with an assault rifle by a stranger, was just some propaganda gag staged by actors.
“Dark” is the right word for it, all right. How the hell did we get here?
Hillary Clinton was asking that question, but at the same time suggesting we won’t be “here” much longer. She finally figured out how a woman could run for president in this odd country. She’s not in anyone’s box any longer.