Hillary Clinton is badly mistaken if she thinks her Democratic presidential campaign has the same Teflon coating as her GOP counterpart's. Donald Trump makes remarks that are blatantly racist, sexist, xenophobic and intolerant, yet he continues to steadily close the gap in presidential preference polls. Whenever Clinton screws up, it costs her dearly.
Last week, she opted to hide from the public that she had pneumonia. Her near-collapse while leaving a 9/11 commemoration ceremony in New York Sunday only fueled Trump campaign assertions that she's not physically fit to be president. As she recovers at home, Clinton's absence from the campaign trail offers Trump free rein to pounce upon her other big mistake — an attack on his supporters as intolerant bigots.
Clinton has, once again, fallen into a trap of her own making. Just like the controversy surrounding her handling of sensitive government emails on her private server, she has lent legitimacy to those who question her judgment.
There is no question that Trump's rhetoric has given voice to a segment of the population that really needed no voice. That Trump chose not to moderate his own words, and gave a platform to hatred, is his problem. Clinton made it hers.
She has since expressed regret for characterizing half of Trump's supporters as intolerant "deplorables." But there really was no need for her to go there in the first place. Trump's supporters aren't the ones running for the presidency. So why attack them and risk offending the larger segment of Trump supporters who aren't intolerant but simply don't want Clinton as their next president?
Clinton's defenders insist that she wasn't factually wrong in her assertion. Pre-convention polls indicated that roughly half of Americans who stated a preference for Trump also acknowledged holding negative views about blacks and Muslims. The uncomfortable truth is that those polls also identify large percentages of Clinton supporters as holding the same deplorable views.
Clinton needlessly provoked controversy with minimal prospect of political gain for it. She was speaking to supporters who needed no convincing of what Trump represents. And her comments certainly weren't going to win Trump backers over to her side. So why go there? She delivered an invitation for escalated incivility.
Over the weekend, Kentucky's GOP Gov. Matt Bevin offered up a taste of what's to come when he told a group of religious conservatives that a Clinton victory could lead to bloodshed and revolt in America. "I want us to be able to fight ideologically, mentally, spiritually, economically, so that we don't have to do it physically," Bevin said Saturday. "But that may, in fact, be the case."
Clinton's only job now is to avoid taking the bait, be presidential and lead the nation out of the gutter — not toward it.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST LOUIS POST DISPATCH