October 31st, 2020


Did Hillary Clinton just make her own '47 percent' gaffe?

Aaron Blake

By Aaron Blake The Washington Post

Published Sept. 12, 2016

The Closing of the American Mouth

Hillary Clinton said Friday night in New York that half of Donald Trump's supporters are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and/or Islamophobic.

At an "LGBT for Hillary" fundraiser, where Barbra Streisand performed, Clinton expanded on previous comments about many Trump supporters falling into a "basket of deplorables" that includes the groups listed above.

The difference this time was that she put a number on it. And it wasn't a small number.

"You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the 'basket of deplorables'. Right?" Clinton said, per The Post's Abby Phillip. "The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic - you name it."

Republicans instantly cried foul. Donald Trump tweeted about it Saturday morning. And many are likening it to Mitt Romney's much-talked-about "47 percent" comment from the 2012 campaign - a comment to which some attributed Romney's loss.

But how similar at they?

One the one hand, both are very broad, extremely negative generalizations about large segments of the American public. Romney suggested that nearly half of Americans were so reliant on government that they would vote for President Barack Obama "no matter what."

Romney, in comments unearthed from a closed-door fundraiser, cited 47 percent of people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." He added: "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Fact-checkers said Romney was wrong about this statement - or, at the very least, that he vastly oversimplified it.

Clinton, in making her "basket of deplorables" comment, seemed to acknowledge that she was about to oversimplify things. But she still was generalizing a large segment of the American people.

Given about 40 percent of Americans support Trump in the polls, Clinton appeared to be slapping the "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic" label on about 20 percent of the country. That's no small thing - even if she acknowledged she was being "grossly generalistic."

Clinton's campaign, though, seemed to suggest that Clinton only meant people who attend Trump's rallies and actively support him - not all Trump voters.

One key difference between the two is that Romney's comment might have alienated potential supporters. As noted at the time, many people who don't pay federal income tax are retirees, who tend to tilt Republican. And many GOP voters either don't pay federal income tax because they don't make enough money and/or are also at least partially reliant on government programs.

Romney said he was talking about Obama supporters, but many real and potential Romney supporters might have heard his comments and seen themselves in them.

Clinton's comments, in contrast, are clearly about people who were already voting for her opponent. Her comments might serve to rile them up and make them more passionate about voting and helping Trump, but they weren't going to vote for Clinton anyway.

Another key difference is that Clinton's comments fit into a narrative she has already been pushing. She had called Trump supporters racists and sexists and homophobes before; she just hadn't put a number on it.

Remember, this isn't a new formulation. Same argument, all the way down to "grossly generalistic."

Romney's comments, meanwhile, were made at a closed-door fundraiser at which he thought he was just speaking to his supporters. His comments there didn't feed into a broader point he was pushing about Obama supporters being moochers addicted to government largesse.

Clinton has lit a fire here by attaching a specific figure to her claims -- just as Romney did. There will certainly be plenty of chatter about this in the hours and days ahead.

It's not clear that she intended to use that number and actually suggest that 20 percent of the country is prejudiced against minorities, gays and Muslims. That's a very controversial thing to say, to put it lightly. But it's at least along the lines of a narrative she's been pushing.

We'll see if she just pushed it too far.


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