Opinion writer
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said the conservative movement known as the "alt-right" was an "emerging racist ideology." (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

THE MORNING PLUM:

Today, Hillary Clinton will give a speech about Donald Trump and the “alt right.” In an interview on CNN last night, Clinton previewed the speech by saying this:

“Donald Trump has shown us who he is, and we ought to believe him. He is taking a hate movement mainstream. He’s brought it into his campaign. He’s bringing it to our communities and our country.

“And someone who’s questioned the citizenship of the first African American President, who has courted white supremacists, who’s been sued for housing discrimination against communities of color, who’s attacked a judge for his Mexican heritage and promised a mass deportation force, is someone who is very much peddling bigotry and prejudice and paranoia. I will have more to say about this tomorrow when I give a speech in Reno.”

This is sure to force a more open discussion over whether this is really what Trump is up to, and that will be a good thing. As I and many others have argued, the evidence is mounting that Trump is consciously trying to nurture a following created by his candidacy that is at least partly motivated by his appeal to their white nationalist or “alt-right” impulses. That following (one that is by no means only motivated by those impulses, to be clear) helped Trump win the nomination, and now that he appears to be aware that he might lose the general election, he may be eying ways to keep that constituency engaged beyond November, allowing him to perhaps build a media empire that caters to that audience or otherwise remain active in the political arena in some form or other.

What’s unclear is what kind of longer term impact it could have on our civic life if Trump continues to give voice and shape to such a movement. Jeet Heer argues that Clinton’s speech today carries some risks, but could have long term positive civic consequences:

She’ll try to define an American consensus politics that accepts conservative Republicans but rejects outright extremism. It could be that her words will spark a backlash and create more members of the alt-right, but that’s by no means certain. What can be confidently stated is that the alt-right is, in fact, noxious, and that it’s one of the jobs of political leaders to marginalize racist movements.

Clinton’s speech will hopefully compel Trump to engage directly on whether all of his rhetoric and proposals amount to an effort to appeal to those impulses. He will obviously deny this. But the resulting exchange with the media could at least force a re-litigation of the sum total of his proposals and utterances during the primaries, the story he told GOP primary voters for nearly a year straight, and the real reasons Trump’s supporters have gravitated towards him, reasons that continue to be euphemized away in mainstream analysis of the Trump phenomenon.

The alternative right has come under fire from Hillary Clinton and establishment Republicans, but it has been seeping into American politics for years as a far-right option for conservatives. Here's what you need to know about the alt-right movement. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Clinton campaign chair John Podesta explained the goal of the speech this way, in a quote circulated by the campaign:

“Trump’s newly installed brain trust of Steve Bannon, Roger Ailes and Roger Stone completes Donald Trump’s disturbing takeover of the Republican party. We intend to call out this ‘alt-right’ shift and the divisive and dystopian vision of America they put forth because it tells voters everything they need to know about Donald Trump himself.  Republicans up and down the ticket are going to have to choose whether they want to be complicit in this lurch toward extremism or stand with the voters who can’t stomach it.”

In reality, of course, what we’re now seeing from Trump’s “new brain trust” is somewhat different from this (whatever the long term goals of maintaining an “alt-right” oriented following after a November loss). Clinton’s speech today comes at precisely the moment that Trump is hinting that he might “soften” his position on mass deportations and is preparing to undertake window-dressing “outreach” efforts among nonwhites.

The battle in this election right now is being fought largely over college educated whites, particularly women and suburban swing voters. All signs are that Trump’s new campaign team — particularly adviser Kellyanne Conway, if not Bannon and Ailes — have told him that he cannot win if he continues to tank among these voters so horribly, and that he cannot improve among them unless he persuades them that he isn’t the hater that has been waving his arms around and screaming from their TV sets for the last year. Those voters are the real target of Trump’s supposed “softening” on deportations and his “outreach” to nonwhites. Even some Republicans have flatly declared this is the case.

And so, today’s speech — in raw political terms — seems designed to stop that makeover in its tracks, by forcing an open media discussion of the subtext (and sometimes the surface text) of Trump’s candidacy, at least as it played out during much of the last year.

***********************************************************

* IS TRUMP OPENLY WEIGHING IMMIGRATION FLIP FLOP? MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin flags a new quote quote that Trump gave to Sean Hannity during a town hall:

“They’ll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there’s no amnesty, as such, there’s no amnesty, but we work with them….I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject…they’ve said, Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person that has been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and the family out, it’s so tough.”

It’s possible Trump is weighing some form of legalization, which would be a real change. But he also says “no amnesty,” which suggests that isn’t what he means. We’ll see.

* TRUMP POLLS AUDIENCE ON MASS DEPORTATIONS: At the same town hall meeting with Hannity, Trump polled the audience to see if they wanted to see mass deportations. Then this happened, per Jenna Johnson’s report:

Hannity, who was moderating the event, jumped in to help execute this spur-of-the-moment poll, asking the crowd: “How many think they should go?” The crowd loudly cheered, and it was unclear if that was the reaction Trump wanted or not, as his exact position on mass deportations has become murky.

“The crowd loudly cheered.” Lovely.

* TRUMP’S ADVISERS TELL HIM HE’S IN TROUBLE: The New York Times reports that Trump is determined to stay on script now, because this happened:

Over the last week, his new political team shared grim polling data with Mr. Trump and told him directly that he was in grave danger of losing if he did not sharpen and steadily prosecute strong arguments against Mrs. Clinton. He came away persuaded and has been heartened by upticks in some recent polls. “I have been staying on message more now because, ultimately, I’m finding that I do better with voters, do better in the polls, when I’m on message,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

Wait, did Trump just admit that being himself was failing? But Trump never fails.

* TRUMP SUPPORTERS OKAY WITH IMMIGRATION FLIP-FLOP: The Post politics team talks to a lot of supporters of Trump and finds that they aren’t that bothered by his supposed “softening” on immigration. This is a useful quote:

Tom Van Camp mentioned the candidate’s appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News Channel program Monday night, when Trump said that he would do “the same thing” that President Obama has done when it comes to illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes. “These existing laws — which can be enforced — will do the same thing” as Trump has been calling for, Tom Van Camp said. “It’ll still kick people out.”

So some of his supporters are not hearing any softening — they hear him telling them that all undocumented immigrants will remain subject to removal.

* TRUMP VEERS OFF SCRIPT, AGAIN: The latest, from a rally last night:

“Hillary Clinton is a bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.”

Oh, wait, that was on script. It was in his prepared remarks.

* HILLARY FACES TOUGH BALANCING ACT: Alex Seitz-Wald reports that liberal groups are already launching a campaign to prevent Congress from holding a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame duck period, which Obama is expected to push for:

A lame-duck fight on the TPP would put potential president-elect Clinton in an awkward position. On one side would be her ally Obama and the other the left-wing of her party, which already distrusts her commitment to their issues.

The letter from liberal groups is right here. If Clinton wins, as president-elect she will be expected by the left to do all she can to block this vote.

* THE REAL TARGET OF TRUMP’S MINORITY OUTREACH: NPR’s Domenico Montanaro looks at the polling that shows Trump underperforming Mitt Romney with white voters, and concludes this about Trump’s new minority “outreach”:

It might be aimed, in large measure, at white people, in particular suburban whites with college degrees. You know, people who traditionally vote Republican. They might be persuadable, given their past voting history, but they don’t want to vote for someone who is viewed as a racist or a bigot. So his campaign is trying to change that.

As we reported yesterday, even some Republicans flatly declare that this is what’s really going on here.