By Isaac Chotiner
Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Reno, Nevada, on Thursday.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton issued an extremely effective attack on Donald Trump on Thursday aimed at refocusing the campaign towards Trump’s racism and away from the ongoing “pivot” that he is attempting to execute. With its mix of anecdotes about Trump’s bigotry, and surprising doses of humor, the speech succeeded largely because she appeared so sincere in the utter contempt she displayed for the man she is running against. But the speech also did one other, very important thing.
Clinton’s address was billed as a speech about Trump’s prejudice and his mainstreaming of the “alt-right” voices that support—and now manage—Trump’s campaign. And, indeed, she brought up many of Trump’s racist actions, and commented upon the Breitbart-reading trolls who now feel empowered because of Trump’s political success. But she also kept bringing up another aspect of Trumpism: namely, the things that are simply outrageous, bizarre, paranoid, and strange. She didn’t just mention Trump’s racist birtherism; no, she also mentioned other, random Trump attacks on Obama, such as the one that he founded ISIS. She noted the misogyny of the alt-right, but she also talked about Trump’s attacks on her health. She mentioned Trump’s kind words about Alex Jones, the conspiracist and weirdo whose conspiracy theories and weirdness are often unrelated to race.
More importantly, Clinton directly linked all these things to the temperament of the person who wants to be commander-in-chief. Clinton didn’t present Trump’s racism as merely despicable, although she did do that. She also portrayed it as being part of a larger personality that often appears borderline unstable, and is in no way equipped to be chosen for the most important job on earth. The crucial section of the speech thus came near the end, when she brought these points together:
I’ve stood by President Obama’s side as he made the toughest decisions a Commander-in-Chief ever has to make. In times of crisis, our country depends on steady leadership… clear thinking… and calm judgment… because one wrong move can mean the difference between life and death. The last thing we need in the Situation Room is a loose cannon who can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction, and who buys so easily into racially-tinged rumors. Someone detached from reality should never be in charge of making decisions that are as real as they come. It’s another reason why Donald Trump is simply temperamentally unfit to be President of the United States.
The Clinton campaign has long been faced with the question of whether to portray Trump as a bigot or a madman, a genuine authoritarian or an unstable and ever-changing entertainer. This speech suggested that there is a way to do all of the above.