Clinton tries to stop Trump, mid-pivot, by tying him to ‘alt-right’

Liz Goodwin
·Senior National Affairs Reporter

Hillary Clinton will make the case in a speech Thursday that Donald Trump’s campaign is led by people who propagate extreme and racist viewpoints that belie Trump’s recent attempts to pivot to the center ahead of the election.

“[Trump] is taking a hate movement mainstream,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN Wednesday. “He’s brought it into his campaign. He’s bringing it to our communities and our country.” Clinton said Trump has “courted white supremacists” and is “very much peddling bigotry and prejudice and paranoia.”

Ahead of the speech, the campaign released a video showing white supremacists and members of the KKK praising Trump. The Trump campaign released a statement from campaign surrogate Pastor Mark Burns, who is black, calling the ad “repulsive” for using “horrific racial images.”

Clinton campaign officials say the speech will “call out” Trump’s embrace of an “alt-right” political philosophy propagated by his new campaign chair, Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart News.

“Trump’s newly installed brain trust of Steve Bannon, Roger Ailes and Roger Stone completes Donald Trump’s disturbing takeover of the Republican Party,” said John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair, in a statement to Yahoo News. “We intend to call out this ‘alt-right’ shift, and the divisive and dystopian vision of America they put forth, because it tells voters everything they need to know about Donald Trump himself.”

Clinton’s speech, scheduled for Thursday afternoon at a rally in Reno, Nev., will paint Trump’s views and advisers as outside mainstream conservatism. “Republicans up and down the ticket are going to have to choose whether they want to be complicit in this lurch toward extremism or stand with the voters who can’t stomach it,” Podesta said.

Although most voters probably have no idea what “alt-right” means, the Clinton campaign has been attempting to associate Trump with the political movement since he announced his staff shakeup last week. “Alt-right” stands for the Alternative Right, and is defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.” Bannon recently told a Mother Jones reporter that Breitbart News is “the platform for the alt-right,” though he insisted that the movement is nationalist, not racist.

The Clinton campaign suggests that Bannon’s hiring confirms the Trump campaign’s embrace of Breitbart’s racially tinged worldview. Last week, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook accused Bannon’s Breitbart News of peddling “divisive, at-times racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” including “birther” attacks that claim that President Obama was not born in the United States.

“We absolutely expect with this change for Donald Trump to double down on more hateful and divisive rhetoric, more conspiracy theories,” Mook said.

Clinton’s speech will broadly focus on Trump’s “hateful rhetoric in general,” a campaign aide said.

Since Bannon joined the campaign together with Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager, Trump has made some gestures toward moderating his tone. He made a surprising admission of regret at a rally in Charlotte, N.C., apologizing for any of his past statements that “may have caused personal pain.” He also began making a direct appeal to black voters, saying that voting for Democrats had not improved their economic standing. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he asked, addressing African-Americans, although speaking before a mostly white crowd in Michigan last week. Trump even appeared to walk back his hardline stance on immigration, saying he might be open to “softening” his plan to deport every undocumented immigrant from the United States.

By focusing on his campaign leadership, Clinton is trying to ensure that voters don’t forget the original Trump, who is on display, cursing and sneering, in TV ads by Clinton-supporting PACs. The candidate has insisted that Trump cannot change his stripes. “There is no new Donald Trump. This is it,” she told supporters at an Ohio rally last week.

Stephen Bannon and Donald Trump (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Gerald Herbert/AP [2])
Stephen Bannon and Donald Trump (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Gerald Herbert/AP [2])

“They are trying to keep Trump from pivoting to the center by tying him not only to his past statements but to the nature of his current team,” David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Barack Obama, told Yahoo News.

Clinton’s speech may also mention Roger Ailes, who was ousted as Fox News’ chair amid sexual harassment lawsuits, and is reportedly now advising Trump.

Clinton surrogates are already tying Trump to the “alt-right” as a way to call into question Trump’s new tone. Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., said Tuesday on a call organized by the Clinton campaign that the black community would not be fooled by his outreach. “I think the nation is awakening to the dynamics of the Trump campaign that includes a healthy embrace of the alt-right through Breitbart and a whole host of signals that were sent by his campaign through the past year and a half,” she said. She added that the “alt-right” shows “disrespect” toward communities of color.

“No matter what the overture and what form it comes in, it is not emblematic of where he stands with respect to his philosophy regarding communities of color,” Clarke said of Trump’s outreach to black voters.

Clinton’s remarks may also appeal to Republicans and independents who are alienated by Trump by making the case that he and his team represent a fringe ideology. The Clinton campaign has announced several dozen conservative endorsements in the past month and is making a play for some traditionally Republican states, such as Georgia, in November.

Liz Mair, a conservative political strategist, said she thinks the speech could serve as outreach to “Republicans who feel loyal to the party but deeply uncomfortable with Trump.” Defining Trump as out of the mainstream GOP may make it easier for conservatives to feel that they can remain true to the Republican Party while voting for a Democrat at the top of the ticket.

Mair added that focusing Trump’s staff could provoke the real estate tycoon “into saying and doing really stupid, counterproductive, damaging stuff in response.”