Opinion writer

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

THE MORNING PLUM:

The battle between the two campaigns over Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment is now fully joined, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Clinton campaign has one major strategic goal: to get the national media to talk about Donald Trump’s bigotry and his racist campaign as much as possible.

Trump is now fully leaning into the attack on Clinton’s claim last week that “half” of his supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables,” because they are motivated by Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. At a rally late yesterday, Trump unloaded on the comments, claiming Clinton had slandered and demeaned millions of his supporters, many of them working people, as not just “deplorable,” but also “irredeemable” and “un-American.” (That’s pretty comical coming from the world’s most famous birther, but I digress). Trump has also said: “you can’t lead this nation if you have such a low opinion of its citizens.”

The Clinton campaign released a new ad this morning that shows Trump making that last claim, and then illustrates Trump’s own “low opinion” of Americans by recapping his attacks on a Mexican-American judge and on the Khan family; his ridicule of a disabled reporter; his sexist insults; and his dismissal of African American life as a smoldering hellscape of shameful failure. The story it tells is not only that Trump is bigoted towards these groups, but also that he’s cruel and abusive towards them:

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released an ad recapping Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's many controversial comments regarding race and gender on the campaign trail. (Hillary Clinton)

The ad, according to the Clinton campaign, is running on national cable. Which probably means that it is intended in part to reach national media and political elites.

It’s not clear to me what the political impact of Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment will be. On the one hand, it’s clear she erred in specifying that “half” of Trump’s supporters are bigots, since it sets up precisely the counter-attack we’re seeing from Trump right now, i.e., that Clinton has contempt for ordinary Americans. (That’s why she walked that part back, while letting the rest of her comments stand.) On the other hand, as political scientist Brendan Nyhan explains, the impact of comments like this is almost always overstated.

But one thing that does seem clear amid all the fallout from the remarks is that the national media is now spending more time talking about Trump’s bigotry and racist campaign.

This has already produced some high-profile moments. For instance, Trump veep candidate Mike Pence was repeatedly prodded on CNN to say whether David Duke is “deplorable.” Pence wouldn’t take the bait, but the net effect that produced was to create the impression that he was unwilling to criticize Duke; he subsequently went on Fox to clean up the mess.

Those Pence follies were the subject of a Morning Joe episode today, during which host Joe Scarborough said:

“You now have Mike Pence refusing to call the Imperial Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — a man who Donald Trump pretended he didn’t even know earlier in this campaign — refused to call him ‘deplorable.’ So I guess by their definition, nobody’s deplorable.”

Morning Joe also talked today about what we discussed here yesterday: The new Post poll showing that 60 percent of Americans think Trump is biased against women and minorities.

And that’s the key larger political context here. It is certainly possible that Trump could gain from his attacks on Clinton’s “deplorable” comments, by energizing the GOP base and perhaps by getting some independents to see Clinton as hyper-partisan and elitist. But it should be recalled that every four years, Republicans are always certain, absolutely certain, that they have stumbled on just the thing that will finally unmask the Democratic candidate’s seething contempt for Real Americans. (Remember the 2012 GOP convention, which was organized around the four words “you didn’t build that”?)

Clinton does have very high negatives, so it’s possible this type of attack could be more effective than usual this time. But the question is: Will Trump’s attacks on “deplorables” do anything for him among other voter groups he needs to expand among, such as college educated whites, particularly women? How large is the pool of voters that will be offended by Clinton’s comments? Isn’t it likely to be smaller than the array of voter groups that are more likely to be offended by Trump’s bigotry, racist campaign, cruelty, and pathological abusiveness?

Our poll shows that large percentages of college educated whites, particularly women, see Trump as prejudiced against women and minorities, and other polls have shown that majorities of college educated whites think Trump is speaking to people’s bigotry. So the flip-side here is that the Clinton campaign is using this whole battle to get the national media to talk about Trump’s bigotry and racist campaign, in an effort to block him from improving among those voters, which he needs to do.

As I’ve argued before, everyone covering this race knows full well that Trump is appealing to bigotry and trying to tell a story in which white identity and white America are under siege. The challenge for the Clinton campaign is to get the national media to engage with this topic as forthrightly as possible.

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* CLINTON PUSHES BACK ON PNEUMONIA CRITICISM: Clinton explains to CNN’s Anderson Cooper why her campaign didn’t divulge her pneumonia diagnosis until after she publicly fell ill:

“I just didn’t think it was going to be that big of deal….Obviously I should have gotten some rest sooner — I probably would have been better off if I just pulled down my schedule on Friday, but like a lot of people, I thought that I could just keep going forward and power through it. And obviously that didn’t work out so well.”

As I have argued, the campaign’s botched handling of it now calls for erring on the side of transparency. That said, this explanation will probably resonate with a lot of people.

* MORE ON WHY CLINTON KEPT PNEUMONIA SECRET: The New York Times ferrets out some details:

Shortly after receiving a diagnosis of pneumonia on Friday, Hillary Clinton decided to limit the information to her family members and close aides, certain that the illness was not a crucial issue for voters and that it might be twisted and exploited by her opponents….she was optimistic that she could recover over the weekend, when she had only two brief events on her schedule….Mrs. Clinton has long relied on a tight-knit, intensely loyal group of aides who share her instincts for political warfare and her skepticism and even hostility toward calls for fuller disclosure.

This could be another instance where Clinton’s instinct towards insularity is ultimately working against her.

* DEMOCRATS THINK SHE’LL REBOUND: Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan report that Republicans think Clinton’s pneumonia is a “turning point” that will allow Trump to keep Clinton on the defensive. But:

Few Democrats shared that outlook, arguing that the media scrutiny on Clinton was unfair and sexist and that she would quickly bounce back politically. “The debates are the perfect antidote,” Democratic operative Bill Burton said. “If she goes out and performs well in the debates, with the energy and vigor that everybody anticipates, it will put a lot of this to bed.”

That seems right. While some Dems are still angry over how this was handled, if the debates go well, it could end up showcasing Clinton’s resilience.

 * NATIONAL RACE TIGHTENS IN NEW POLL: The NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll finds Clinton leading Trump nationally by 48-44, down two points from last week, and by only two points in the four-way match-up. Note this:

A few weeks ago, when Clinton was enjoying a double-digit lead over Trump, she also held a double-digit lead among independents. This week, she leads the Republican candidate by just 2 points among these voters — 38 percent to 36 percent. It is clear that non-partisans will play a significant role in deciding the ultimate winner of the presidential race in November.

These findings are consistent with the sense among forecasters that the race has tightened to a Clinton lead of three or four points.

* OBAMA TO HIT CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Today President Obama will campaign in Philadelphia, while Clinton continues to rest and recover. The goal here is not merely to energize Democrats in Philly itself, but also to appeal to voters in the Philly suburbs, which could potentially put Pennsylvania out of reach for Trump — and with it, the White House.

 * MANY TRUMP SUPPORTERS ARE INDEED ‘DEPLORABLE’: Dana Milbank boils down the debate over “basket of deplorables”:

Few people embrace the “racist” label, so let’s help them. If you are “very enthusiastic” about a candidate who has based his campaign on scapegoating immigrants, Latinos and African Americans, talked of banning Muslims from the country, hesitated to disown the Ku Klux Klan and employed anti-Semitic imagery — well, you might be a racist. But if you are holding your nose and supporting Trump only because you think him better than Clinton, that doesn’t put you in the basket.

The basic point here is that everyone covering this race knows full well that Trump is appealing to bigotry. Clinton overreached, but her underlying point was 100 percent correct.

* WORLD LEADERS SCRAMBLE TO SAVE EARTH FROM TRUMP: Coral Davenport reports that today at the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon will begin a process of rushing to lock in the global climate accord, out of fear that President Trump could scuttle it:

Mr. Ban’s push to nail down the legal commitments of at least 55 countries to the global agreement comes as Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee who has called climate change a hoax, rises in the polls. Should Mr. Trump become president before the Paris pact enters into force, he could make good on his vow to withdraw the United States from the agreement…The absence of the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas polluter would cripple the first accord binding nearly every country to actions that would reduce planet-warming pollution.

Of course, we all know the real reason those weenie international elites are scrambling: they fear that President Trump will put an end to their global scam.