WATERLOO (Iowa) • Until Monday, when Mr Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Mrs Hillary Clinton could hardly keep herself from laughing at the mention of his name.
"I'm sorry, I can't help it," she told ABC News on Sunday, letting out a giggle that made advisers squirm.
She is no longer laughing.
At a town hall here on Wednesday, Mrs Clinton delivered her most damning, direct criticism of Mr Trump, saying that he trafficks "in prejudice and paranoia" and that his Muslim proposal was "not only shameful, it's dangerous".
But Mrs Clinton also strove to recognise something stirring in the electorate that Mr Trump had clearly tapped into.
AGREEING WITH BAN
I'm for him on that. We shouldn't be letting those people into the country. ''
MR BENNIE STICKLEY, 75, who supports Mrs Hillary Clinton but agrees with Mr Donald Trump's proposal to bar Muslims
"It's okay, it's okay to be afraid," she said. "When bad things happen, it does cause anxiety and fear," she added. "But then you pull yourself together and, especially, if you want to be a leader of our country, and you say, 'Okay, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to be prepared?'"
Since Mr Trump's response to the Dec 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, Mrs Clinton and her campaign, confounded by his continued strength in the polls, have had to rethink how they handle Mr Trump and what his candidacy, and the anger in the electorate that has fuelled it, means for her chances next year. Some of her own voters are giving her reason to.
Mr Bennie Stickley, 75, said he was supporting Mrs Clinton but agreed with Mr Trump's proposal to bar Muslims. "I'm for him on that," he said. "We shouldn't be letting those people into the country."
Mr Edward Rendell, a former governor of Pennsylvania who recently spoke to Mrs Clinton about Mr Trump, said "she's as amazed as everyone else is" by his staying power. Campaign aides also said privately that they were searching for how best to hit back at Mr Trump without dismissing the heightened feelings of insecurity that he was playing upon.
On Thursday night, when asked about Mr Trump in an appearance on NBC's Late Night With Seth Meyers, Mrs Clinton said: "You know, I have to say, Seth. I no longer think he's funny."
NEW YORK TIMES