'Out of Context:' Claire McCaskill's Weak and Revealing Response to Hillary's Smears of Trump Voters

Posted: Mar 26, 2018 1:05 PM

As we wrote at the time, Hillary Clinton's nasty little performance overseas a few weeks ago was grating, obnoxious, and a problem for 2018 Democrats -- especially those on the Senate side, ten of whom hail from Trump-won states.  We also highlighted an ad being run by Claire McCaskill's GOP opponent, who ruthlessly tied the Democratic incumbent to her party's 2016 standard-bearer.  We called the spot 'potent' and suggested that other Republican campaigns in the heartland should follow suit.  Sure enough, it seems as though the attack hit its mark, with McCaskill apparently feeling compelled to respond to Clinton's comments:

"For those of us that are in states that Trump won we would really appreciate if she would be more careful and show respect to every American voter and not just the ones who voted for her," McCaskill told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt in an interview Sunday. "I understand the point she was trying to make, but it felt like she was criticizing Missouri voters," she said. 

Yes, she was asked about it, but the question was inevitable.  Her answer was pretty obviously calibrated and prepared, as the vulnerable Senator called Hillary's remarks unhelpful, careless, and disrespectful to Missouri voters.  McCaskill wants Missourians to know that she doesn't think they're as deplorable as others evidently do; in fact, she 'completely understands' some of the reasons that they voted for Trump, a slight rhetorical shift over recent days.  Either way, Team Claire clearly understands that Mrs. Clinton manufactured a fresh, serious headache for their candidate, further complicating a race that was already going to be a challenge.  After all, Senators don't always get to hand-pick their general election opponent.  McCaskill's chiding retort was widely seen as a brushback pitch against Hillary and a sign that some Democrats will feel liberated to cut her loose in Pelosi-esque fashion.  But if you listen to the Senator's full answer carefully, she definitely left herself open to another round of criticism from Josh Hawley and the GOP.  This Republican operative makes an astute recommendation:

Hawley could keep this story alive and weave it deeper into the fundamental dynamic of the campaign by releasing a 'sequel' ad.  The media is drawing the most attention to McCaskill's words that represent an apparent break with Clinton.  What's getting less attention is McCaskill's hedging and deflections, which are meant to soften the blows she's delivering.  Question: If you understand it so well, what was Hillary "trying" to say, Claire?  Be specific, please.  And in what way were Hillary's words "taken out of context"?  They really weren't.  Clinton made active choices to describe her voters as better and more desirable than Trump's, to attribute racial resentment and identity-driven animus to those who voted against her, and to claim that women who supported Trump did so because they were instructed to by the domineering men in their lives.  It was a string of entirely in-context smears and blame-storming excuses, with the transcript and video speaking for themselves.  McCaskill is trying to argue that Clinton didn't really mean what she plainly meant, adding that even though she 'gets' what Hillary was saying, the twice-failed presidential candidate needs to be "more careful" about how she phrases her sneers against the benighted, backward-looking ingrates who voted for someone other than herself.  That all sounds a bit like, we know what you meant, but try to be more careful so it doesn't blow back on us.

That's quite a lot of apology-making deference, particularly given the context and the political realities on the ground (including Hillary winning a paltry 38 percent of the statewide vote in Missouri).  But that shouldn't really come as much of a surprise.  McCaskill was the first member of Congress to endorse Hillary's still-speculative presidential campaign, all the way back in 2013.  Sometimes it's difficult and painful to criticize an ideological soulmate and longtime ally -- even when you realize it's what's required to have a chance at saving your own skin.  I'll leave you with the NRSC effectively nationalizing Hawley's ad to target other vulnerable red state Democrats.  Here's the Florida version based on that template:

I maintain that Hawley's ad is still more effective.  The NRSC spot focuses too much on the "deplorables" comments from the campaign, as opposed to exploiting Hillary's newly-supplied material.  In her "deplorables" rant, Hillary at least qualified her description as "only" applying to half of Trump supporters.  She made no such distinction while overseas this month, trotting out the same ugly tropes as she bitterly tried to explain away her loss, explicitly saying that Trump backers were motivated by gender bullying, and anger over black people having rights and women having jobs.  The newer stuff is arguably worse than the older stuff, and the NRSC ad omitted the most offensive pieces of Hillary's latest harangue.  Hawley's campaign executed the counterpunch perfectly; national Republicans are on the right track but would be well-served to refine their message a bit more.