Whatever you think of its accuracy, it was widely assumed that Clinton’s assertion late last week that half of Trump’s voters could be put in a “basket of deplorables” was a poor political move. The New York Times’s Charles Blow reflected the consensus on Monday: “Candidates do themselves a tremendous disservice when they attack voters rather than campaigns. Whatever advantage is procured through the rallying of one’s own base is outweighed by what will be read as divisiveness and disdain.”
And Trump, smelling blood, spent the weekend—before Clinton’s pneumonia stole the show—transparently suggesting that this was Clinton’s 47 percent moment.
Clinton, of course, did not write off nearly half the country, like Mitt Romney did. (And unlike Romney, an argument could be made that writing off those people was justified.) But Blow is right—denigrating the electorate is almost always bad politics.
Still, the “basket of deplorables” gaffe probably won’t hurt Clinton very much. Trump, as we’ve seen throughout this election, has a very loyal base. His voters, who routinely call for Clinton to be jailed, or worse, are not going to switch to Clinton, which means that attacking them has limited consequences. Similarly, these voters are the biggest reason why many suburban Republicans are wary of Trump—they don’t want to be lumped in with the rest of the racist hordes. So Clinton’s comments probably won’t hurt her standing with them (though it should be added that they probably don’t help either). Finally, Romney’s comments reinforced the Obama campaign’s narrative about him in 2012 (that he was an unfeeling aristocrat who fired your dad), while Clinton’s don’t really play into the Trump campaign’s narrative about her (that she’s an untrustworthy crook who should be jailed).
“Basket of deplorables” was a dumb thing to say on at least two levels (1. attack your opponent, not his supporters and 2. it just sounds stupid), but that’s about it.