Adele Stan, responding at American Prospect to criticism by the excellent Rick Perlstein (go read all his books now!) that Hillary Clinton let the rest of the Republican Party off the hook last week by focusing on Donald Trump as an outlier:
Make no mistake, I take Perlstein’s larger point—that Trump’s candidacy, and the racism that comes with it, is the logical result of the GOP’s decades of racist dog-whistling, and the party’s takeover by the right wing. Perlstein has chronicled this shift in such epic works as Before the Storm and Nixonland, books that stand not only as extraordinary feats of scholarship and analysis, but collectively as a public service to the American people. And I agree that it’s frustrating to have that history papered over in a speech that drew so much attention. (I say this, too, as an essayist who has from the start linked Trump to the GOP’s turn toward the racist right.)
Clinton’s speech in Reno, however, was a tour de force and possibly an act of wedge-setting genius. Instead of harming down-ballot Democratic candidates—notably those running for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate—Clinton may actually have helped them with her speech. Ticket-splitting is becoming increasingly rare in U.S. elections; most people who turn out for presidential elections fill out the rest of the ballot for candidates of the same party as their chosen presidential candidate. While the extremely low percentage of ticket-splitters in the 2012 electorate (5.7 percent) may be an outlier, it’s unlikely that Clinton’s speech will bring a flux of new voters who wouldn’t have voted for Republican congressional candidates anyway. What she’s more likely to have done with that speech is to have made the case to Republican-leaning swing voters—the sort who always vote in presidential elections—that she’s a better bet than Trump. It will be up to candidates for Congress to emphasize their opponents’ ties to the Republican presidential nominee, especially any endorsements of him.
And then there’s this: In discussing the influence of the racist alt-right movement in the Trump campaign, Clinton delivered an address of historical significance. Never before has a presidential candidate been willing to talk about the racist right as a baked-in part of American politics, as something that demands the serious attention of serious people.
And I think what is important here (and what a lot of the commentary around Clinton's speech in Reno last week has missed) is that it is not necessary, or even necessarily productive, for her to specifically say everything in that speech. By keeping her focus specifically on Trump's racism and xenophobia, she elevated the issue and opened the door for all sorts of discussion around the broader trends in this direction amongst Republicans and their base.