Opinion writer

“Stop talking about racism.” “Um, no?” (Reuters)

THE MORNING PLUM:

When Hillary Clinton declared during Monday night’s debate that “implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police,” some observers wondered whether she had strayed onto politically perilous grounds. But Trump did not try to capitalize on this moment, instead launching into his usual riff about how African Americans have been duped into mindlessly supporting Democratic politicians against their own interests.

Now, however, Trump has directly responded to Clinton’s “implicit bias” comments — by essentially suggesting that the subject should be off limits entirely. At a rally last night, Trump noted that Clinton had previously called half his supporters “deplorables,” and added that Clinton had now accused “the entire country,” including “our police,” of being “basically racist and prejudiced”:

During a rally in Waukesha, Wis., Sept. 28, Donald Trump criticized implicit bias accusations Hillary Clinton made during the first presidential debate. (The Washington Post)

 

“How can Hillary Clinton try to lead this country when she has such a low opinion of its citizens?” Trump said. “How can she lead this country when she thinks America is full of racists, deplorables and irredeemables?”

First, let’s recall that every four years, Republicans are certain, absolutely certain, that they’ve finally found just the thing that will unmask the Democratic nominee as deeply, secretly contemptuous of Real America. In 2008, it was Joe the Plumber and Reverend Wright’s “God damn America.” In 2012, it was, “you didn’t build that.” This time, though, Trump is the one who’s arguably on defense in this debate, because what’s really happened here is that Clinton has forced Trump into a national debate about his bigotry and racist campaign.

Second, let’s appreciate what Trump is really saying. In some ways, he had a fair point in objecting to Clinton’s depiction of “half” of his supporters as bigoted, racist, homophobic, and so forth. But the larger argument Clinton made then about Trump’s racial appeals was inarguable, and now Trump is explicitly objecting not to Clinton denigrating his supporters, but rather to Clinton’s mere claim that implicit bias is a problem worthy of national discussion. (As Jamelle Bouie has noted, studies confirm that it’s a real phenomenon.) This, from a candidate whose campaign is based on a variety of white nationalist appeals — and derived its original spark from a years-long campaign to delegitimize the first African American president, in the explicit (and apparently correct) calculation that it would resonate with the racist tendencies of many GOP primary voters.

Clinton may have erred in calling “half” of Trump’s supporters “deplorables,” but there’s little question she wants this broader national argument. Of course, in some ways, Trump might also want this debate. He obviously sees expressing outrage about Clinton’s “deplorables” and “implicit bias” comments as a way to juice up his base by playing to white grievance.

But Trump also needs to improve his appeal among college educated whites, who are already convinced that Trump is either personally biased against minorities or is running a campaign designed to appeal to bigotry, which could be one reason his unfavorable numbers remain so high among those voters. And in this context, it’s worth appreciating that there’s a basic political imbalance underlying this debate: It energizes the base for both candidates, but it arguably could limit the broader appeal of only one of them.

As Democratic strategists have pointed out, by fully confronting Trump’s bigotry, and by talking about systemic racism as a continuing societal problem, Clinton may be able to engage core Dem voter groups in ways that tip the composition of the electorate in her direction on election day. It is always possible that engaging this debate might alienate some swing voters. But it seems more likely at this point that a continuing national focus on Trump’s racism could further alienate from him those college educated whites that Clinton hopes to win among, which would make her the first Democrat in over half a century to pull that off.

Either way, Clinton appears fully committed to this debate at this point, and most signs are that Democrats broadly see this orientation of the party as a short-term and long-term positive. So she probably won’t stop taking about it anytime soon.

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* CLINTON’S STRUGGLES WITH MILLENNIALS CONTINUES: The New York Times looks at her problem with young voters, and concludes that several factors are driving it:

They tend not to be motivated by any single, unifying issue, making the job of messaging harder. They are declaring themselves unaffiliated with either party at a rate faster than any other generation. They say the political process and the two-party system are unresponsive to their concerns. And…young people often display little understanding of how a protest vote for a third-party candidate, or not voting at all, can alter the outcome of a close election.

As the piece notes, millennials continue to support third party candidates with surprising persistence, which is defying historical trends, but the Clinton camp is working hard to change it.

* REPUBLICANS WARN AGAINST ATTACKING BILL’S SEX LIFE: With the Trump campaign seemingly mulling whether he will go hard at Bill Clinton’s infidelities at the next debate, NBC News reports that GOP strategists think it’s an awful idea:

Tim Miller and Katie Packer, two Republican strategists who oppose Trump, conducted focus groups before the primaries where they tested attacks tied to the former president’s sex scandals with female swing voters. They concluded it was a political dead end. “These voters were completely turned off and disgusted by it,” Miller said in an e-mail. “We found time and again these attacks turned Hillary into a victim and that it engendered sympathy for her.”

I don’t think Trump will ultimately go here, and the likelihood that it would further alienate women is only one of many reasons.

* CLINTON CAMPAIGN VIDEO RIDICULES TRUMP: The Clinton campaign has released a new video that features footage of all of the times during the debate that Trump claimed not to have said something in the past — juxtaposed with footage of him saying those things.

What’s remarkable is the conviction and indignation with which Trump denies saying these things, even though there is clear, incontrovertible evidence on video that he did.

* CLINTON LEADS IN SWING STATES, POLLS FIND: A new batch of Public Policy Polling surveys taken entirely after the debate shows Clinton leading in multiple swing states: In Colorado (46-40); in Florida (45-43); in North Carolina (44-42); in Pennsylvania (45-39); and in Virginia (46-40). The polls show voters in all these states think by a wide margin that she won the debate.

Still, we are going to need a lot more post-debate polling to gauge its true impact, and as always, keep focused on the national and state polling averages.

* TRUMP POSES LONG-TERM DANGER TO GOP: E.J. Dionne writes today that Republicans who are supporting Trump are putting the party in a precarious long-term position:

 A Trump who exudes sexism, traffics in racism, exhibits a resolute indifference to facts and demonstrates an inability to do his homework will turn off better-educated suburban voters without whom Republicans cannot build their majorities….unless the Donald of the first debate gives way to a completely different version, he threatens to create another GOP suburban catastrophe pretty much everywhere outside the Deep South.

As this blog continues to emphasize, Trump’s alienation of college educated whites and suburban women is potentially a big story with untold significance.

* TRUMP IS AN UNPRECEDENTEDLY DISHONEST CANDIDATE: Glenn Kessler has an interesting look at a number of recent Trump falsehoods that concludes:

Trump is on track to earn more Four-Pinocchio ratings by himself than all other Republican politicians (or Democrats) combined in the past three years. But there is a distinctive pattern to Trump’s biggest fibs. When challenged with irrefutable evidence that his statement is wrong, Trump will grasp at the flimsiest pieces of evidence to insist that he is right, even if the new evidence contradicts or undermines what he had originally claimed. But he will not back down or suggest he might have made even a minor error, creating an illusion for his supporters that his false claim is based on verifiable facts.

And what sort of long term impact would it have if Trump actually wins?

* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, WHITE-SUPREMACISTS-LOVE-TRUMP EDITION: The Los Angeles Times reports that David Duke is feeling good about life these days:

As he sees it, this is the moment. After last running for election in 1999, he’s back with a long-shot bid for Louisiana’s open U.S. Senate seat. And his reason for optimism is clear: Donald Trump. “I love it,” said Duke, 66, tearing into a chicken garlic pizza at a nearby restaurant later. “The fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning.”

But is it okay to call this “deplorable”?