Why 'Basket of Deplorables' May Help Clinton

'The basket is huge, folks. HUGE!' / AP
September 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton is a bad politician in the sense that she has trouble getting people to support her. See, for instance, when she lost what should have been a very easily won presidential primary to a half-term senator or when she had trouble closing out an ancient white socialist who had captured the hearts and minds of the youth wing of the youth party. People don't like her and they don't trust her and she hasn't really done anything to help herself in the "likability" or "trust" departments. She is what she is.

As a result, it's tempting to see Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" line as yet another misstep. In case you missed it—and, really, why aren't you on Twitter 24 hours a day soaking up the day's latest outrage?—Hillary told a room full of donors that half of Trump's supporters consist of Americans who were, in her words, "irredeemable." These people are "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic." She's not going to win them over. She claims sympathy for the other Trump voters, but not those dirtbags, who are, apparently, condemned to hellfire.*

Clinton's line and the setting in which she uttered it (a fundraiser, natch) instantly led to comparisons to Romney's "47 percent" comment from 2012, seen by some as a turning point in the 2012 race. Romney couldn't understand why people wouldn't support him and it couldn't be because he was out of step and unlikable so he denigrated them as takers (as opposed to makers); Hillary can't understand why people won't support her and it can't be because she's out of step and unlikable, so they must be filled with irrational prejudice. Like Romney before her, the theory goes, Hillary's comments rally her opponents, who dispute the charge and harness the resentment of those targeted to get voters to the polls.

Maybe that's how it plays out. It's certainly possible. Allow me to suggest another possibility.

Hillary faces a bit of an enthusiasm gap. Consider the following, from CNN:

A majority of Clinton's supporters say they're less excited about voting this year than usual (55%) while most of Trump's backers say they're more excited this time around (56%). That could be contributing to Trump's slim advantage among likely voters. Among the broader pool of registered voters, Clinton edges Trump by 3 points.

Hillary's problem is that literally no one is excited about voting for her. Not a single person is skipping to the polling station with a song in their heart in order to pull the lever for her. She's just so ... bleh. Half her party voted for her because she'd be the first woman and it was "her turn"; the other half voted for Bernie and appear to be very slow in returning to the fold.

So if she can't generate excitement for her candidacy—and every sign so far is that she can't—then she might be better off generating a tidal wave of spite and trying to ride that into the White House.

Spite is one of the most powerful emotions there is. The urge to deprive someone you hate of something they want is intoxicating. Unfathomable tears of sadness from your enemies are almost as nice as unfathomable tears of joy from your allies. If Hillary can't generate any joy for herself, then what she needs to do is remind her supporters that voting for her will give all those other people you hate—all the 'phobes, all the bigots—a giant sad. They'll cry their "white male tears" and they'll tweet so many frog memes and it it'll be joyous!

Hillary has spent much of the campaign mouthing platitudes about uniting the country. But that, frankly, strikes me as a poor way to win. If she really wants to win, she'll draw a line in the sand and say "you're either with me or you're voting for the haters. The bigots. The losers. The creeps on Twitter and Facebook. They guys going to Klan meetings. The people who want to send every woman in a veil back to Saudi Arabia." This narrative would be deeply unfair—while there's undoubtedly a loud minority of racist Trumpistas, most supporters of The Donald I've met in real life, as opposed to the Internet, aren't Pepe-obssessed losers—but it's a narrative that the media would be happy to repeat around the clock.

In short: Voters don't want to be considered deplorable and they want to make deplorable people sad. And they want those things far more than they want to vote for a deeply uninspiring presidential candidate.

Anyway, who knows. This whole election has been a class six shit storm from the get-go so maybe it winds up hurting both of them. Maybe it's just the boost Gary "The Hippie" Johnson needs to break the 15 percent barrier and make the debates, thus ensuring his victory by allowing everyone to see that his overpowering intellect has definitely not been degraded by years of smoking weed.

*As Mollie Hemingway noted on Twitter, the "irredeemable" bit is actually kind of grosser than "basket of deplorables," at least from a theological standpoint.