Former president Bill Clinton did not shy away from addressing Donald Trump’s appeals to white supremacists on Wednesday, asserting at a campaign stop that “Make America Great Again” is a racist dog whistle.
“If you’re a white southerner, you know exactly what it means,” he said while campaigning for his wife in Orlando, Florida.
“It means I’ll give you the economy you had 50 years ago and I’ll move you back up the social totem pole and other people down,” he continued. “What Hillary wants to do is take the totem pole down and let us all go forward together.”
The former president’s comments come just weeks after Hillary Clinton addressed Trump’s connections to the “alt-right” movement and fringe ideologies that promote racism and hate. In that speech, she accused the Republican nominee of “taking hate groups mainstream” and giving groups with racial resentment a “national megaphone.”
Since launching his campaign for the White House, Trump has sent a number of veiled signals of support to white supremacists, like using their language and promoting their messages. Yet he has repeatedly denied that the fringe group supports his candidacy.
Last month, Trump named Steven K. Bannon, the executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart News, as his new campaign chairman. The move took his dog whistles to a new level, and appeared to be a full-on embrace of white nationalist ideology.
While Clinton and her surrogates continue to hit him for courting racists, Trump has tried to turn the attack on the Democratic nominee. He has called her a racist and a “bigot” who “sees people of color only as votes not as human beings worthy of a better future.”
In response to Bill Clinton’s comments Wednesday, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway also used the same attack against the former president. In an interview, she noted that Clinton said a similar line — “It’s time for another comeback, time to make America great again” — in a 2008 campaign ad for his wife.
“Bill Clinton is known as a very strong campaigner, a great voice in politics — but not this cycle,” she said.