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Trejos: Clinton should avoid painting Trump supporters with broad, condescending strokes

Jose Trejos, Columnist

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josetrejosThe sentiment that all Donald Trump supporters are idiots and racists is plain in the mainstream media and throughout our campus. Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent, has made it clear that she agrees with this sentiment. In a recent fundraising event, she declared that half of Trump’s supporters fall in what she called a “basket of deplorables”: people who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.” Although she later apologized for the comment, she betrayed the same belief when she wondered in an event why she wasn’t “50 points ahead” before claiming it was mostly a lack of awareness of the candidate’s positions that gave him support. It goes without saying that any presidential candidate is rather foolish to directly insult a large part of the electorate, but these comments are particularly harmful for both an establishment candidate like Clinton and the national political discourse.

Although I personally consider Trump to be a demagogue and a cancer to conservatism, I understand why smart and non-bigoted people can contemplate voting for him. Despite all the complaints from the nation’s Bernie Bros, Clinton is a historically liberal candidate, and many Republicans find it impossible to support a candidate who stands for everything they’re against, even if they do see Donald Trump as racist. Democrats who find this contemptible should ponder whether they could so easily vote for someone like Ted Cruz to stop a racist liberal nominee. Trump supporters may simply be desperate for some form of change after the lackluster recovery from the Great Recession, as Clinton herself speculated.

Regardless of how many racists and idiots support Trump (very many certainly do), liberals are making a huge mistake by framing the election in such simple terms. Clinton’s main strategy has long been adapting to her incredible unpopularity by casting Trump as a maniac and unacceptable option, making only a casual effort to either criticize him more seriously or build herself up as a desirable option. No doubt, her recent comments about the “basket of deplorables” were a crude way to continue this plan.

Some pollsters have expressed concern that Trump’s support may actually be higher than reported, since Trump supporters are oftentimes ashamed to admit they support him. Trump’s supporters are generally people who feel that “the establishment” doesn’t care about and looks down at them; attacking them in this manner basically confirms their suspicions. Those who hide their political affiliation are people who have withdrawn from the political process, and that ultimately makes their minds almost impossible to change.

This kind of position is particularly harmful coming from a candidate like Clinton, who is plagued by a series of scandals as well as by a perception of being a part of the political elite. Many voters are very concerned about Clinton’s email scandal, which has led to a perception (with a lot of merit) of her as untrustworthy, and fed a series of less-substantiated scandals like the issues surrounding the Clinton Foundation. When a voter is deciding whether to vote for someone they perceive as a corrupt elite, hearing them act dismissive of millions of people is fatal. Because of her public perception, Clinton’s comments hurt her more than they would a normal candidate. They are perhaps most harmful with swing voters, who may be pushed to vote for Trump after hearing part of the electorate referred to as deplorables. Conversely, voters concerned about Clinton’s scandals will find it much easier to believe that the candidate sees herself as above the law if she carries an arrogant demeanor.

Clinton’s strategy of making Trump seem unacceptable will eventually backfire. As he showed during this Monday’s debate, Trump needs to only avoid seeming crazy in order to beat expectations. However, portraying a wave of progressives trying to bring enlightenment to the uneducated masses might be an effective appeal to those progressives, but will very quickly turn more moderate voters against you. It is a lesson Clinton may be forced to learn before the end of this election and one that NU students should remember if they wish to extend their ideas beyond the boundaries of the college campus.

Jose Trejos is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at josetrejos2019@u.northwestern. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.