Hillary and Trump’s racism

So, Hillary had a big speech today on Trump’s racism, etc.  One of the questions is “why?”  What is she hoping to accomplish with this speech.  Other than the obvious, of course, of making the case that Trump is horrible and should not be president.  Lots of ways to look at this, but I think Drum gets it just right:

Why did she do this? The most popular explanation is that she was giving “permission” for moderate Republicans to stay home in November. Donald Trump, she said, isn’t a traditional Republican. He’s a hate-monger who’s hijacked the party as a vehicle for his loathsome brand of racism and xenophobia. Even if you’re a loyal Republican, you don’t have to support that.

But I’ll propose a different explanation: she was giving the press permission to talk about Donald Trump’s racism. So far, they’ve tiptoed around it. But once the candidate herself calls it out, it invites a thousand think pieces about Breitbart, the alt-right, the GOP’s history of tolerating bigotry, Trump’s troubling background, and dozens of other related topics. Surrogates can blather all they want about this, but it doesn’t truly become a mainstream subject until the actual candidate for president makes it one. [emphasis mine]

This is part of the agenda-setting power that presidential candidates have. Donald Trump has used it endlessly, and now Hillary Clinton is using it too. Trump has made his bed, and Hillary is making sure he has to lie in it.

Yes, this is agenda setting, because the media is talking about it– at least for a day or two, but I think a better way to think about it is “indexing,” a topic I was just addressing in my Media and politics class.  This is the idea that newsmedia look to major newsmaking figures to essentially decide what is news and how to cover the news.   More important than just getting on the agenda, by Hillary Clinton making these statements it can powerfully shape news coverage in the ways Drum has described.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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