Hillary Clinton’s speech today on Donald Trump and the “alt-right” was, in no small part 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.

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.

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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 she added:

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. 

In one sense, this was aimed at making it harder for GOP lawmakers and officials to keep supporting Trump. As former Ted Cruz operative Amanda Carpenter put it:

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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-bating 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.

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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 who 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.

As Brian Beutler has explained, 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. And Clinton’s speech seems designed to get the media to shine a very harsh light on the very traits about him that continue to alienate them.

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