"From the start," Hillary Clinton declared today in Reno, "Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He has taken hate groups mainstream, and [is] helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party." The speech that followed those words was an extended argument that her opponent is a racist, a conspiracy theorist, and a man temperamentally unfit to be president.
Clinton's campaign had promoted this in advance as an address about "Donald Trump and his advisors' embrace of the disturbing 'alt-right' political philosophy"—the alt-right being an umbrella term for an assortment of racist micro-movements and online subcultures. Yesterday I suggested that making the alt-right the stars of such a speech could only give a signal boost to what is, after all, a rather obscure political faction. But Clinton's comments about that faction took up only about a minute of her remarks. And while that minute was pretty juicy, the alt-right wasn't really the rally's star villain after all.
The star villain was Donald Trump. Everyone else that Clinton brought into the address—the alt-right, Breitbart, Alex Jones, David Duke, Nigel Farage, Vladimir Putin—was there in a supporting role.
Some of Clinton's arguments didn't make a lot of sense. She led her litany, oddly, by quoting Trump's recent remarks about how bad blacks have it in America. ("Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing. No homes. No ownership. Crime at levels nobody has seen.") Most people would call his comments a clumsy attempt to reassure voters that he cares about the black community's problems, but Clinton declared them "a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters." She also wildly overstated the alt-right's influence, declaring that "the de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign" means the alt-rightists have "effectively taken over the Republican Party." She was on sturdier ground at other moments, as when she mentioned Trump's habit of retweeting white nationalists or his false claim that he watched thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheer the 9/11 attacks.
Running through all her claims, both the weak ones and the strong ones, was one basic theme: Donald Trump is a bigot and a nut. And while that's an idea you've been hearing ever since the mogul turned reality TV star entered the race, this was as forceful and concentrated an expression of it as I've ever heard emerge from Hillary Clinton's mouth. It's bound to fire up her supporters, and I expect it will help her get out the vote. Whether it also leads a bunch of curious conservatives to Google "alt-right" depends, I suppose, on how much coverage that minute of the speech gets in the next few days.
But the guy who must be really delighted right now is Alex Jones. Hillary Clinton just attacked him by name! His listeners will be hearing clips from this speech til Ragnarok.