Hillary Clinton has said the antidote to Donald Trump is “love and kindness.” But a growing base of supporters are demanding she directly take on the New York billionaire as she heads toward the general election.
After winning seven states on Super Tuesday and crushing rival Bernie Sanders in South Carolina just a few days before, Clinton is pulling ahead in the delegate count and has largely turned her attention away from the Vermont senator. At a post-Super Tuesday rally in New York City Wednesday night, the former secretary of state sought to make that clear. She spoke to one of her largest crowds yet about the need for America to come together if they were going to win in November.
“We set this event for the day after Super Tuesday, and boy am I glad it worked out so well,” Clinton said at the rally. “Yesterday was one for the history books. Our campaign went nationwide."
The crowd full of energetic union workers gave Clinton the perfect opportunity to take a victory lap after her Super Tuesday wins, which were powered by her significant support among African-Americans and Latinos across the South. A group of special guests, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other city leaders also focused their remarks on Clinton’s broad appeal and her power against Republicans. Still, the former secretary of state made it clear she does not want to stoop to Trump’s level of insults as other Republican candidates like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have tried to do in recent days.
“There’s a lot of finger pointing and insulting going on over in their primary,” Clinton said of the Republicans. “Now maybe some people think that’s entertaining, but I tell you, this is serious business. It really matters when you’re running for president what you say — and boy does it matter when you are the president what you say.”
These comments received a big round of applause and many cheers, but so did the many more direct references to Trump from Clinton and her New York supporters. After her speech, some supporters said they liked her message but think she’ll likely need to be more aggressive against Trump if she faces him in a general election.
“You’re going to have to come across all kinds of tough situations, and she shouldn’t be afraid to be called the b---- of the campaign,” said Lucia Gomez, the director of organizing and strategic partnership for the Laborers International Union of North America Local 78. “Men are going to be tough and she can be, too.”
Trump has become known for dismissing his rivals smarts and looks. So far, Clinton’s plan has been to appear presidential, which she often succeeds at in situations such as debates and during her 11-hour hearing last fall in front of the House Benghazi, which is investigating the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In general election matchup polls, she typically wins over Trump, suggesting she's already on her way to having broader appeal than the real estate mogul. However, the tactic of ignoring Trump’s antics clearly did not work for GOP rivals like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who tried for months to present himself as the serious candidate and eventually dropped out of the race last month after beginning it as his party’s presumptive nominee.
“It won't hold up at all,” said Allen Louden, a professor of communication at Wake Forest University in North Carolina who focuses on political advertising. “You've seen how well it’s played when [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich has gone up against Trump or the others when they've tried to be nice.”
Democratic strategists and Clinton’s campaign have hinted that they might let surrogates take the brunt of the responsibility for hitting Trump, which they have already done with Sanders. Clinton’s husband and groups of African-American and Latino surrogates have attacked the Vermont senator throughout the primary season for everything from having an unrealistic platform to misrepresenting his record on immigration reform and black issues.
“If she can get surrogates to keep the heat on, she can stay above the fray,” Louden said. “She can’t let it go though, you have to take him out.”
During her Wednesday rally, Clinton made it clear she understands the seriousness of the election. She reiterated the line she has used frequently over the past several days criticizing Trump’s campaign slogan, and saying, “America never stopped being great. We’ve got to make America whole.”
“The stakes in this election have never been higher, and the rhetoric from the other side has never been lower,” she added.
Eric Santos, a 26-year-old supporter of Clinton, said he likes that Clinton has stayed away from fighting dirty so far, but he recognizes the race will change if she faces Trump in November.
“It’s going to get negative, but there’s a way to do that responsibly,” Santos said. “She should call things out when it’s dangerous, like with the KKK, but not resort to what Trump’s doing.”
The real estate mogul has taken heat for refusing to disavow the support of David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, during an interview with CNN over the weekend. After the interview, Trump tweeted that he had previously disavowed the white supremacist, but his mixed reaction has left many feeling ill at ease.
Virginia Sapiro, a political science professor at Boston University, said Clinton's campaign should focus on her positive message rather than on tearing down Trump. “Rubio has decided to fight Trump for the people who are supporting Trump. Hillary will not win that group, she doesn’t need that group and she doesn’t want that group,” Sapiro said. “What she wants is all the Democrats who don’t want Trump, all of the independents who are frightened by somebody who says they don’t know who David Duke is, and moderate Republicans who won’t be told who to vote for at the polls.”
But whether it’s Clinton herself or those around her, rally attendees on Wednesday seemed ready for someone to go hard after Trump. Adly Cassews, a retired nurse from Haiti who was at the rally with a group of 1199 Service Employees International Union members, said she thought the Republican front-runner was “degrading” and “disgraceful.”
“He’s a bully. We don’t want our children to be bullied, but he’s doing it and running for president,” she said. “People in my country are calling me and saying what is going on in America?”