Editor’s note: The following column originally appeared in The Hill newspaper and on TheHill.com.
She called out the haters, the bigots and the racists as a “basket of deplorables.”
And then some Democrats told Hillary Clinton to walk it back.
David Axelrod, President Obama’s former top political guru, called Clinton’s words a “mistake” that might allow Republican nominee Donald Trump to “seize the high ground.”
The New York Times’ liberal editorial page similarly concluded “real damage had been done” because Clinton had written off a group of voters by saying they were “irredeemable.”
Sally Kohn, the left-leaning CNN commentator, wrote in The Washington Post that “what is, in fact, deplorable is not only that Clinton said this but that she apparently believes it.”
The latest headlines on the 2016 elections from the biggest name in politics. See Latest Coverage →
Kohn explained that while Trump is clearly “running a xenophobic campaign that’s pandering to white nationalism,” most of his supporters are filled with “resentment that is partly about identity but also about economic suffering.” Clinton, Kohn argued, “should be reaching out to these voters, not offending them.”
This line of thinking from influential white Democrats reminded me of a line in President Reagan’s 1989 farewell address: “Don’t be afraid to see what you see.”
And here is what I see:
Mike Pence, Trump’s vice presidential running mate, was asked a few days after Clinton’s speech if he would call former Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke a “deplorable.”
“No, I’m not in the name-calling business,” Pence responded, refusing to condemn an indisputable racist and Trump supporter.
Instead, Pence complained: “What Hillary Clinton did Friday night was shocking. I mean, the millions of people who support Donald Trump around this country are not a basket of anything.”
And then I saw Trump’s son, Donald Jr., post an image of his dad, Pence and Alex Jones.
Jones is best known for advancing the conspiracy theory that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people. Jones has also suggested the government is putting chemical additives into juice boxes, intending to make children homosexual to control population growth. And Jones claims the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 was staged as part of a government plot to enact gun control and that no children were actually killed there.
Trump has praised Jones for “his amazing reputation” and appeared as a guest on his show during the GOP primaries.
Earlier this month, Trump Jr. tweeted an article from Jones’ website which stated that Hillary Clinton was wearing an earpiece during a forum with Matt Lauer on NBC News. Clinton was not wearing an earpiece, of course.
At a Trump rally last week in Asheville, N.C., a 69-year-old woman protesting against the GOP nominee at one of the candidate’s rallies was punched in the face by a Trump supporter. She later called a North Carolina television station to ask if people found a Trump supporter punching her in the face ‘deplorable’?
So, I see a lot of deplorable behavior. But some political thought-leaders — including some Clinton supporters — prefer to excuse it as the actions of a few misguided people and not representative of most Trump supporters.
Can we determine if close to half of Trump supporters hold deplorable beliefs? Let’s go to the polls.
An April poll taken by Reuters found that a large percentage of self-described Trump supporters describe black people as more “lazy” than whites (40 percent), “less intelligent” than whites (32 percent), more “rude” than whites (44 percent), more “violent” than whites (48 percent) and more “criminal” than whites (46 percent).
Another Reuters poll taken in July found that 58 percent of Trump supporters have either a “very unfavorable” or “somewhat unfavorable” view of the entire religion of Islam.
These are racist views. If they do not count as “deplorable,” then the word “deplorable” no longer has any meaning. By the way, a Washington Post/ABC News poll has 60 percent of Americans agreeing that Trump is personally “biased against women and minorities.”
Another shocking poll from NBC News/Survey Monkey taken in August found that just 27 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement “Barack Obama was born in the U.S.”
Trump burst on to the national political stage five years ago as the “birther-in-chief,” perpetuating this overtly racist conspiracy theory about the first black President of the United States. Only last week did he finally — and briefly — acknowledge that Obama was born in the United States.
As she prepares for her first debate with Trump next week, Clinton needs to unapologetically remind voters — especially traditional Republicans who are uncomfortable with seeing their party overrun by extremists — of the racist, paranoid fringes that Trump has invited into the nation’s politics under the banner of the Republican Party.
Clinton laid the groundwork in a speech in Nevada last month when she declared that “a fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party.”
She accused Trump of “disregard for the values that make our country.”
After being scolded for her ‘deplorables’ comment, Clinton backtracked. She explained that she was being “grossly generalistic…I regret saying ‘half’ – that was wrong.”
Clinton should not have apologized. Calling out the bullies and the bigots in a national presidential election is brave. Listen to her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
“She advanced the notion that if you’re chumming around with the head of the KKK … that’s deplorable,” Kaine said. “You’ve got to call that out. If you’re attacking immigrants, that’s deplorable. If you’re attacking LGBT Americans, that’s deplorable. If you’re attacking people because they’re Muslims, that’s deplorable.”
To quote President Reagan once again: “Don’t be afraid to see what you see.”
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC’s “The Five,” where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.