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To Some Democrats, Clinton's 'Deplorables' Comment Is Insensitive But 'Honest'

Ahmed Bedier, a Muslim community activist, stands outside the Fort Pierce mosque, damaged in arson attack this week. He says Clinton's comments were probably "unwise" but "honest."
Asma Khalid
Ahmed Bedier, a Muslim community activist, stands outside the Fort Pierce mosque, damaged in arson attack this week. He says Clinton's comments were probably "unwise" but "honest."

Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" remark has echoed through the political interwebs and produced many rounds of cable TV analysis.

Sure, conservatives pounced. And some liberals laughed in agreement. But does it matter in the real world?

Perhaps what's most interesting about this remark is that out in places like the diverse region of central Florida — and particularly among Clinton's natural base of young, black and brown voters — her "basket of deplorables" comment barely seemed to register. Some folks thought she could have been more sensible, others laughed; but more often than not, voters said they had never heard of Clinton's so-called political blunder.

These black, brown, and young voters increasingly make up the Democratic base in this key swing region of a swing state, so their turnout this November is crucial for Clinton. And it seems they're relatively unfazed by a comment that was making heads spin in DC.

First, a quick back story if you're unfamiliar with the incident.

On Friday at a New York fundraiser, Clinton said this: "You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it."

Phillip Arroyo, a local Puerto Rican activist and periodic Clinton volunteer, says in his opinion Trump is clearly "deplorable." But his supporters are more "ignorant" than "deplorable."

"There are a lot of voters who support Donald Trump who I personally believe are not bad people; they're just ignorant ... they don't know better," said Arroyo. "Many of them were raised with that mentality, with that philosophy of division and racism."

And while "deplorable" isn't necessarily the adjective Arroyo would have used, he thinks many minority voters in Central Florida agree with Clinton. He also points out that Clinton realized she may have crossed a political boundary and quickly apologized. (Note: Clinton admitted that she "generalized" and said she regrets using the word "half," but she never apologized for using the description "deplorable.")

"The facts speak for themselves. We've seen the rallies, we've seen the people that have been there. There are people who tend to be racist ... Is the number half, not half, how much of it, you know – who knows what that amount is."

"Donald Trump has still — to this very day — not apologized for calling Mexicans and Latinos rapists and criminals," said Arroyo, a staunch Democrat.

Arroyo does a lot of Hispanic media interviews and says Clinton's comment isn't gaining traction in the local Latino community, in part because the word "deplorable" isn't everyday English.

And among some in circles of well-informed minority activists, there's a sense that maybe Clinton was just being authentic.

"I think she was honest," said Ahmed Bedier, a 42-year-old Muslim community activist, as he weaved around yellow police tape and pointed out the damaged façade of the Fort Pierce mosque. The mosque where the Orlando nightclub shooter periodically worshipped had been set on fire the day before a big Muslim holiday and Bedier was in town to help.

Bedier points to incidents in which minorities have been physically accosted at Trump rallies as proof that a subset of Trump supporters are "racist."

"The facts speak for themselves," he said. "We've seen the rallies, we've seen the people that have been there. There are people who tend to be racist ... Is the number half, not half, how much of it, you know — who knows what that amount is."

Bedier was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the Democratic convention and says he's now going to vote for Clinton in November because he wants to stop Trump from getting near the White House.

He says Clinton's comment was probably "unwise" and a "lapse of judgement" because she opened herself to attack. But for him personally, it was no big deal.

For many minorities like Bedier, Clinton's comments were merely a recognition of a pre-existing condition. It's a condition Bedier, a diehard Democrat, insists isn't limited to the Republican party but is more indicative of America itself in 2016.

"I'm sure even within Hillary Clinton's base of supporters, there may be some people that share some of these same views," said Bedier. "They may also have some racism or xenophobia or Islamophobia, you know, I see it sometimes from Democrats as well."

Central Florida is home to a diverse mix of Democratic voters and among some black and brown folks, Clinton's comments don't seem to cause the same consternation they do among pundits.

"You have definitely seen an increase in the hate towards [minorities] because of, I feel, Trump's influence," said 22-year-old health sciences student Kristina Singh. "If I'm being completely honest, I feel like that's what he's kind of promoting."

The big question after Clinton's fundraising quip was whether it would actually alienate anyone who's already dead-set against her or convince someone in her camp to stay home on Election Day.

There were some theories that, perhaps, Clinton had purposefully chastised Trump supporters in the hopes that her tough talk would energize key constituencies in the Democratic base — particularly millennials, who might have been lukewarm on her candidacy. But in about a dozen interviews with college students at the University of Central Florida, hardly anyone even knew about the incident.

Valerie Barrantes, a 21-year-old media management student, said she had never heard of the "basket of deplorables comment."

"That just doesn't sound like her vocabulary or language," she said. "She's not really aggressive like that. That sounds more like Trump."

Mathew Coalson, a 37-year-old returning student studying mechanical engineering, said he had also "never heard" the remark. And he said it didn't change his opinion. If anything, it impressed him.

"It's kind of interesting to hear Hillary, the always on-point politician, saying something that doesn't sound like as much of a political statement to me. It almost sounds like her doing what Trump does, which is just shooting from the hip a little bit."

Coalson says he doesn't know the context of Clinton's quote but his gut reaction was "Eh, good for you, Hillary. Shoot from the hip."

And so maybe the real lesson in the "basket of deplorables" saga is a reminder that what makes the rounds on cable news might not really matter to busy voters in swing states.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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