Did Hillary have a bad weekend? Sure she did. She waltzed into two situations tailor-made for cable news theatrics and Twitter hysterics. The “basket of deplorables” was an unforced error (actually, only the “half” part; we’ll get to that) that feeds all the Lady Macbeth story lines. The collapse as she was getting into her van after the 9/11 ceremony is perfect for this age and this campaign: It invites infinite speculation, and best of all, there’s video!
I’m sure the combination has Clinton people reaching for the smelling salts. But I’m here to tell you: Cable news and Twitter don’t define life, or presidential campaigns. Underlying facts matter. Loads of things are two- or three-day kerfuffles. But in the long run, these narratives move the needle only if the underlying facts support them.
Meanwhile, we learned some awfully interesting, and I would say far more damning, underlying facts about Donald Trump this weekend. His charity is a grift. Shall I write that sentence again? His effing charity is a grift! But he has defined presidential deviancy so far down that no one seems to care, because it’s Trump—what do you expect?
Back to Clinton. Unlike Barack Obama in 2008, who said two very wrong words in his similarly infamous moment—“bitter” and “cling”—Clinton said only one wrong one: “half.” No, half of Trump’s supporters aren’t remorseless bigots. I’m not sure how far off she was, in truth, but it probably isn’t half.
In any case, within a few hours of the original quote getting out, she did something I don’t recall Trump ever doing with respect to any of the 16,000 grotesque things he’s said in the last 15 months. She issued a statement expressing regret for saying “half.” But she stood her ground on the main point, and rightfully so. Here’s her statement, which landed in my inbox around noon Saturday:
Last night I was “grossly generalistic,” and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying “half”—that was wrong. But let’s be clear, what’s really “deplorable” is that Donald Trump hired a major advocate for the so-called “alt-right” movement to run his campaign and that David Duke and other white supremacists see him as a champion of their values. It’s deplorable that Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia and given a national platform to hateful views and voices, including by retweeting fringe bigots with a few dozen followers and spreading their message to 11 million people. It’s deplorable that he’s attacked a federal judge for his “Mexican heritage,” bullied a Gold Star family because of their Muslim faith, and promoted the lie that our first black president is not a true American. So I won’t stop calling out bigotry and racist rhetoric in this campaign. I also meant what I said last night about empathy, and the very real challenges we face as a country where so many people have been left out and left behind. As I said, many of Trump’s supporters are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel like the economy or our political system are working for them. I’m determined to bring our country together and make our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top. Because we really are “stronger together.”
My point: Underlying facts matter. She is right about all of the above. She may have been wrong about half, and “basket of deplorables” is probably a phrase I would edit out of a writer’s copy as clunky and forced, but we are talking about a man—a candidate for president of the United States—who is plainly a bigot and welcomes bigots’ support. I suppose it might do her a little damage, but how many people are going to vote against her because she said that who would have voted for her before she said it? I doubt very many.
On the question of her health, again, the underlying facts will dictate whether this blossoms into a real concern or not. Her doctor, who unlike Trump’s doctor seems to be licensed on Planet Earth, explained the situation after the event. Pneumonia and dehydration, and she’s fine.
If that’s true, this will die down and that will be the end of it. If it’s not, then her health will be a legitimate issue. We have 56 days to go and three debates. We’ll know what kind of condition she’s in. But lots of people get tired and faint one time, and they’re not even running for president and wearing Kevlar vests under their clothes.
Meanwhile, the actual scandal of the weekend was the jaw-dropping report in The Washington Post from David Farenthold about Donald Trump’s… I hesitate to use the phrase… “charitable foundation.”
This is the foundation that made the now-infamous $25,000 donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. But that’s a mere fraction of it. If you missed this piece, you must read it. From 1987 to 2006, Trump did give $5.4 million of his own money, which isn’t much to begin with given what he says he was making. But he apparently hasn’t given a dime since 2008. What he does is he accepts money from other people—people he’s obviously doing other kinds of business with, like (I kid you not) a ticket scalper—and then their money is used to make donations in Trump’s name to organizations and people who think it’s Trump who’s being generous.
And the dollar amounts are staggeringly piddling, for a guy so rich. This foundation obviously exists because Roy Cohn or his dad or somebody told him in the late ’80s that rich guys have foundations, it’s what they do. And it seems he took it semi-seriously for a while. But eventually, he did what Trump does. He figured out a way to turn it into a con. The same thing he’ll do, if elected, with the United States of America.
But we’re going to spend the next few days talking about Clinton. The health thing is real, and she has to take some reassuring steps on this front. But at the same, we get another revelation about Trump that would kill any normal candidate, and people just think well, it’s Trump. A man who’s done the things he’s done couldn’t be elected president of the Morgantown Kiwanis Club in my hometown.
That is a fact, and I continue to believe that in the end, facts will matter.