US Elections 2016: THE RACE HEATS UP

Trump accuses Clinton of race-based attacks

A Trump supporter sporting an anti-Clinton shirt before a rally for the Republican nominee in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday. The two presidential candidates have been accusing each other of racism.
A Trump supporter sporting an anti-Clinton shirt before a rally for the Republican nominee in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday. The two presidential candidates have been accusing each other of racism.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Republican nominee Donald Trump accused his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton of using race-based attacks to distract voters from her scandals, as the presidential race had one of its ugliest days to date.

He took the stage in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday afternoon expecting that his rival would soon deliver a salvo accusing him of giving a platform to white supremacists and a fringe right-wing faction. So the brash tycoon launched a pre-emptive strike.

"I have not seen Hillary Clinton's remarks. And, in a sense, I don't want to dignify them by dwelling on them too much, but a response is required for the sake of all decent voters she is trying to smear.

"The news reports are that Hillary Clinton is going to try to accuse this campaign, and the millions of decent Americans who support this campaign, of being racists," he said, arguing that her subsequent attacks were targeted not simply at some of his supporters, but all of them.

And then, arguing that the fate of minorities had suffered under Democrats, he said the move to paint his campaign as racist was the "oldest play in the Democratic playbook".

"When Democratic policies fail, they are left with only this one tired argument. It's the last refuge of the discredited politician. They keep going back to this same well, but the well has run dry," he said.

NOT DOING ANYTHING

...(she) sees people of colour only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.

REPUBLICAN NOMINEE DONALD TRUMP

He added: "To Hillary Clinton, and to her donors and advisers, pushing her to spread her smears and her lies about decent people, I have three words. I want you to hear these words, and remember these words - shame on you."

It was a controversial climax to a week when he sought to expand his appeal among minority voters. His polling numbers with the black and Hispanic communities have been dismal, and he is seemingly making a belated push to turn them around.

A big part of that strategy has been to stress that the status quo under a Democratic Party president has not been good for the minorities and also to soften his previously hardline stance on immigration.

Just a day earlier, he raised eyebrows by calling Mrs Clinton a bigot, saying she "sees people of colour only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future".

The businessman doubled down on that statement in an interview with CNN on Thursday. He said: "She is a bigot... she's not doing anything for those communities."

But most analysts agree that he has a steep hill to climb trying to change the minds of minorities about him at this stage of the race.

Trying to strike a balance by seeming to back down from his immigration positions - one of the core promises of his campaign so far - has also proved tricky. On Thursday, Republicans openly disagreed with him for flip-flopping on his promise to deport all illegal immigrants. He had said he would consider working with some immigrants to let them stay, if they pay their back taxes.

Mr Ed Rollins, who leads a pro-Trump super PAC or political action committee, said Mr Trump had stumbled on the issue of immigration. "He needs to have one declarative statement the rest of the way - this is my position on immigration, I'm going to stick with it," Mr Rollins said on Fox News.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush also hit out at his former primary opponent for embracing a plan that he had attacked him for proposing. "All the things Donald Trump railed against, he seems to be morphing into - it's kind of disturbing," Mr Bush said in a radio interview.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Trump accuses Clinton of race-based attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe