“Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down,” Republican nominee Donald Trump told InfoWars radio host Alex Jones—who believes the Sandy Hook shooting was staged by the government—in a December appearance on his show.
Eight months later, Hillary Clinton reminded a crowd in Reno, Nevada, that Jones, a friend of former Trump adviser Roger Stone and a major booster of his campaign, is not only a conspiracy peddler whose site frequently purports that Clinton is near death and sells snake-oil pills and bulk survival food for the end times, but that he also believes the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary were planted by the government in a longtail effort to take away Americans’ guns.
Clinton’s speech was an effort to force Trump to disavow the innumerable fringe groups that have fully embraced his campaign—or face the consequences of aligning with leaders like Jones, who once told his InfoWars viewership that government programs are producing “people with gills” and “humanoids crossed with fish.”
Over the course of her Thursday afternoon speech, Clinton tied Trump to the “paranoid fringe”—including white supremacists he’s retweeted, like the user @WhiteGenocideTM, or stalled in disavowing, like David Duke.
“His latest paranoid fever dream is about my health. All I can say is: Donald, dream on,” Clinton said in a speech largely aimed at branding Trump as a vessel that has given voice to white nationalism as a form of rejection of the establishment powers that be.
“This is what happens when you treat the National Enquirer like gospel,” she added.
“It’s what happens when you listen to the radio host Alex Jones, who claims that 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings were inside jobs. He said the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre were child actors and no one was actually killed there.”
The entire speech, delivered during a week in which Clinton has been dogged by reports of an untoward relationship between the Clinton Foundation during her term as secretary of state, served as a kind of news-cycle engulfing scorched-earth diatribe that somehow managed to do what every Republican in the primary was unable to accomplish: Make Trump appear as a destructive anomaly, and not a symptom of the GOP.
Clinton has been unabashed in her quest to embrace Republicans who find Trump’s dalliances with white supremacists and conspiracy theories emblematic of a cancer within their ranks—essentially, for better or worse, drawing in a number of major figures in former President George W. Bush’s cabinet. And in this speech, Clinton even used Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s words against the candidate he is supposedly backing, a kind of Jedi mind trick meant to shame the very people who have given the former reality television star a pass over the last year.
“The man who today is the standard bearer of the Republican Party said a federal judge was incapable of doing his job solely because of his heritage,” Clinton said of Trump’s infamous fight with Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is at the head of an ongoing lawsuit against his scam operation Trump University.
“Even the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, described that as ‘the textbook definition of a racist comment.’ To this day, he’s never apologized to Judge Curiel,” she said. “But for Trump, that’s just par for the course.”
This is the summation of a message Clinton craftily drafted during the Democratic National Convention and has continued throughout the summer, as Trump flailed wildly from one controversy to the next. That message? It’s OK if you’re a Republican to point your finger at the party’s standard-bearer, to condemn white supremacists that Trump excites, and—even as a Republican—to vote for Hillary Clinton.
In a pre-emptive maneuver before Clinton’s afternoon speech, Trump told a crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday morning that Clinton would call them racists for backing his candidacy.
“The news reports are that Hillary Clinton is going to try to accuse this campaign, and the millions of decent Americans who support this campaign, of being racists,” Trump said. “It’s the oldest play in the Democratic playbook. When Democratic policies fail, they are left with only this one tired argument. It’s the last refuge of the discredited politician. They keep going back to this same well, but the well has run dry.”
But Clinton’s message did not monolithically cast all of Trump’s supporters as racists, but rather aimed to show off how his words and actions have given voice to white supremacists who have come out of the woodwork just for this one candidate—a man that the fringe sees as its last chance for a white civilization to thrive.
“I’ve said everything that Donald Trump is saying and more,” former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke told The Daily Beast last month before he announced his Senate run. “I think Trump is riding a wave of anti-establishment feeling that I’ve been nurturing for 25 years.”
Unabashed support for a presidential candidate by a KKK grand wizard is not normal—even despite a year of sheer abnormality in American politics, and Clinton wanted to assure the American public that this is not the status quo.
It’s not often a white nationalist ends up as a delegate for a Republican candidate, or makes robocalls on his behalf. It’s not usual that a major party candidate indulges fringe theories like they emerged from historical texts. It’s not a frequent occurrence for former and current KKK members to praise a voice in mainstream American politics.
This is what Trump has wrought—and is now attempting to put back in the bottle. And he only has 74 days left to do it.
“There’s no other Donald Trump,” Clinton concluded. “This is it.”
The truth is, she’s probably right.