Mike Pence refusing to label David Duke as “deplorable” is a good example of why “Deplorable” was always far more of a double-edged sword than the Trump crew seemed to realize.
As we noted over the weekend, the “half” part of Clinton’s remarks was what got her in trouble. Some argue that you should never attack a candidate’s supporters. That’s probably true if you place the percentage so high. But Trump’s white nationalism and embrace of dominance politics is both what gives his campaign fuel and keeps it locked at about 40% support nationwide. The racist demons Trump has brought openly into the public square are a major liability for him.
Just today Trump’s campaign started running ads in a series of swing states basically repeating Clinton’s quote and casting them in the light of contempt for ordinary Americans. That’s probably effective in stirring up Trump’s base. But that’s not where he has problems.They are 110% committed. The tipping point voters in this election have been college educated whites, especially college educated white women who don’t really like Clinton but are repelled by Trump’s racism and sexism. They are the ones most in play. White men without college degrees aren’t moving; non-whites aren’t moving.
Those are the folks he needs. And I’m sure the ‘contempt for hard working Americans’ gloss will have some traction with these voters. But far more than that it shifts attention back to Trump’s big liability: his open cultivation of white supremacists, racists and haters of all stripes. That’s more likely to hurt Trump than help him, because that’s what’s alienated most of these voters in the first place.
Pence seems more than anything just clumsy finding himself refusing call an avowed racist and former KKK leader “deplorable.” But it also shows the difficulty of the topic. The Trump campaign wants to keep the conversation to a broad mass of supporters. They don’t want to get into litigating who’s deplorable and who’s not. After all, even if they’re way fewer than half, Trump has a huge following of noxious “deplorable” followers. Is David Duke ‘deplorable’, how about alt-right golden boy Milo? Frankly, how about the publisher who’s pushed the ‘alt-right’ into the mainstream. Before Trump, that person was Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon, who is now of course Trump’s campaign manager.
This whole part of the campaign debate is now in a chaotic flux, made more so by Clinton’s illness. But this could easily turn against Trump. And I suspect it will.