By Jeff Mason
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said half the supporters of Republican rival Donald Trump belonged in a “basket of deplorables” of people who were racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, or Islamophobic.
Speaking at a fundraiser on Friday night in New York, Clinton said Trump had given voice to hateful rhetoric through his behavior as a candidate for the White House in the Nov. 8 election.
“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables,'” Clinton said. “Unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
Some of those people were irredeemable, she said, but they did not represent America.
The other basket of Trump’s supporters constituted individuals desperate for change who felt let down by the government and the economy, Clinton added.
“They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different,” Clinton said. “Those are people we have to understand and empathize with, as well.”
Clinton’s comments drew a rebuke from Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who said on Twitter that Clinton had insulted millions of Americans.
The hashtag #BasketOfDeplorables was trending on Saturday morning as many Twitter users either condemned or supported Clinton’s remarks.
Twitter user Basketeer Vendetta, under the account Vendetta92429, tweeted out a photo of Trump supporters wearing campaign T-shirts and hats, adding: “Proud to be part of the #BasketOfDeplorables with my fellow Americans.”
And Trump himself tweeted out: “Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!”
But some Twitter users said they agreed with Clinton, making reference to remarks by Trump that have been called racist, such as when he called some Mexican immigrants drug dealers and rapists.
Clinton’s comment could help Trump, said Republican strategist Doug Heye.
“As long as Trump stays out of the way and doesn’t overshadow Hillary’s comment, her ‘basket of deplorables’ comment should dominate the media in the coming days and runs the risk of negatively defining her campaign,” Heye said.
“The question is whether Trump can show a discipline thus far unseen.”
Many of Clinton’s fundraisers have been closed to the media, but not the one on Friday night.
“What’s truly deplorable isn’t just that Hillary Clinton made an inexcusable mistake in front of wealthy donors and reporters happened to be around to catch it, it’s that Clinton revealed just how little she thinks of the hard-working men and women of America,” Trump senior communications adviser Jason Miller said in a statement.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill noted a previous speech in which she accused New York businessman Trump of embracing a brand of U.S. political conservatism associated with white nationalism and nativism known as the “alt right” movement.
“Obviously not everyone supporting Trump is part of the alt right, but alt right leaders are with Trump,” Merrill said on Twitter. “And their supporters appear to make up half his crowd, when you observe the tone of his events.”
Clinton’s comments were followed by a concert by singer Barbra Streisand, who performed a version of the Stephen Sondheim song “Send in the Clowns” that parodied Trump.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Luciana Lopez in New York and Steve Holland; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Grant McCool)