RICHMOND — In one breath, the Democratic lawmaker from Virginia was on national television, marveling at Donald Trump’s penchant for inflammatory statements and inability to stay on script. In the next, he gave the Republican Party the chance to make some hay.
“I think Donald Trump is appealing to people who are mentally deficient,” Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) said on a Fox News talk show over the weekend. “I really do.”
Faster than you can say “basket of deplorables,” the Republican Party of Virginia slammed Levine, a syndicated radio host and freshman legislator.
“The contempt the Democrat Party has for hard-working Virginians who just want a better life for themselves and their children surfaces time and time again,” John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a written statement. “First Hillary Clinton said Trump supporters were from the ‘basket of deplorables,’ now Delegate Levine says our Republican nominee is ‘appealing to people who are mentally deficient.’ Millions of Virginians support Donald Trump and Mike Pence. The arrogance and elitism here is simply breathtaking.”
There is, however, a key difference between Levine’s remark and the “deplorables” comment for which Clinton eventually apologized. She said “half” of Trump supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables,” whom she went on to describe as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.”
Levine did not suggest that any sizable portion of Trump’s fans were “mentally deficient’’ — only that the real estate mogul’s rhetoric speaks to people who fit that description and could incite them to violence. Levine made the remark amid a discussion about Trump’s recent suggestion that Clinton’s bodyguards should disarm because she supports gun control.
“Take their guns away,” Trump had said. “She doesn’t want guns. . . . Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay? It would be very dangerous.”
On Fox, Levine said that Trump’s comment was dangerous, noting that presidents and presidential candidates have been shot in the past.
“I think Donald Trump is appealing to people who are mentally deficient,” he said. “I really do. I think he’s reaching out to people who believe awful things and might take a pop at Hillary Clinton. Dangerous people follow this stuff.”
Levine did not consider his comment a gaffe, even if Republicans were playing it up on social media with headlines such as “Clinton Surrogate Calls Trump Supporters ‘Mentally Deficient.’ ” He posted the Fox video on his website, although under a substantially different headline: “Donald’s Loose Talk May Encourage Mentally Ill to Harm Hillary.”
“I never said all Trump supporters are mentally deficient people,” he told The Washington Post on Monday. “What I said was, he’s appealing to the kind of mentally deficient person who could take a potshot at Clinton. There are a lot of mentally dangerous people out there. It only takes one person, one mentally deficient person.”