WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton sought to tie her Republican rival more tightly to some of the darkest strains of the American political right, saying in a major speech Thursday that Donald Trump "is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party."
In brutal terms, Clinton argued that Trump's embrace of "conspiracy theories with racist undertones," his connections with the so-called "alt-right" movement, and his own divisive comments and policy positions disqualify him from the White House.
"This is what I want to make clear today: A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far, dark reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military," Clinton said at an event in Reno, Nev. "If he doesn't respect all Americans, how can he serve all Americans?"
Earlier in the day, the Clinton campaign posted an online video that featured prominent white supremacists, including a white-robed Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, praising Trump for sharing their beliefs. Trump has drawn criticism for not denouncing quickly or strongly enough support he's gotten from white nationalists such as former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.
Trump, speaking shortly before Clinton, sought to blunt his rival's message. He said Clinton and her allies are trying to unfairly paint all of his supporters, "decent Americans" with legitimate concerns, as racists and trying to "intimidate" people from voting for him.
''People of this country who want their laws enforced and respected by all, and who want their border secured, are not racists,'' Trump said during a rally in Manchester, NH. ''People who speak out against radical Islam, and who warn about refugees, are not Islamophobes. People who support the police, and who want crime reduced and stopped, are not prejudiced.''
Trump also accused Clinton using the high-profile speech to change the subject away from the her own political troubles centered on her use of a private e-mail server while serving as Secretary of State. Later, his campaign manager issued a statement saying she had "lied" on a number of occasions.
For Clinton, the speech was the latest rendition of her central argument against Trump's candidacy: that he is unfit to be commander in chief.
Clinton deliberately used rhetoric to separate Trump from the mainstream Republican party and its stawarts, who have watched aghast at the rise of the former reality TV star. The Clinton campaign has been courting this crowd of moderate Republicans and independents turned off by Trump, and her speech laid out the stakes for those voters in stark terms.
"This is a moment of reckoning for every Republican dismayed that the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Trump," Clinton said. "It's a moment of reckoning for all of us who love our country and believe that America is better than this."
She invoked past Republican leaders as she made that argument, recalling how Bob Dole in accepting the party's nomination 20 years ago told any racists in the GOP to head for the exits, and how Arizona Senator John McCain in 2008 corrected a supporter who asserted Obama was an Arab. McCain called the then-Democratic nominee a "decent family man."
The Clinton speech came as a new batch of e-mails released this week reignited questions about how she handled donors to the sprawling Clinton Foundation while in the Obama administration. The e-mails showed top foundation figures appealing to Clinton's State Department staff for meetings or other assistance on behalf of big-dollar Clinton Foundation donors, and in some cases getting what they were seeking.
The messages, released as the result of a lawsuit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch, fed accusations from Republicans that foundation donors were able to buy favors and access from Clinton at the State Department.
Trump lately has shown new discipline in hammering that message, which hits Clinton's in her biggest weak spot: the perception held by many voters that she is neither honest nor trustworthy.
"This week the curtain was lifted. The corruption was revealed for all to see. The veil was pulled back on a vast criminal enterprise run out of the State Department by Hillary Clinton," Trump said during his rally Thursday, which was punctuated with choruses of "Lock her up!" from the audience. "It is hard to tell where the Clinton Foundation ended, and where the State Department began. Access and favors were sold for cash. It's called pay-for-play."
"We must vote on November 8th to keep the American government from being sold to the highest bidder," he continued.
Clinton did not address her e-mails or the foundation in her own speech, keeping the spotlight squarely on Trump.
She ticked through a laundry list of examples of what she deemed Trump's "steady stream of bigotry," including lawsuits filed by the Department of Justice against him early in his career accusing him of discriminating against black and Latino tenants, his comments early in the race calling undocumented Mexican immigrants rapists, and his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US.
She recalled that Trump launched his political career by stoking the discredited notion that President Obama wasn't born in the US. Clinton called this so-called "birther" movement "a racist lie" that was "part of a sustained effort to delegitimize America's first black President."
Her speech was in part an effort to blunt any progress a softer, more-disciplined Trump may be making with moderate Republicans and independents. The Republican standard-bearer has sharpened his attacks on Clinton in recent weeks while at the same time trying to recast himself as someone who cares about the problems of black and Hispanic voters. He has even hinted he may be tempering his signature plan to deport the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the US.
Clinton said Trump's recent appeals to black voters reinforce "harmful stereotypes" of black lives full of poverty and crime.
And she directly connected Trump's comments and policies regarding minorities and Muslims to the so-called "alt right" political philosophy, shorthand for alternative right, that is closely associated with white nationalist sentiments. She pointed to Trump's new campaign CEO Stephen Bannon, the head of the conservative news site Brietbart.com, who has proudly embraced the "alt right" label, though argues it is not a racist movement.
"The de facto merger between Brietbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the 'alt-right.' A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party," Clinton said.
The Trump campaign has repeatedly said it rejects the term "alt right" and "continues to disavow any groups or individuals associated with a message of hate."
Andrew Weinstein, a former spokesman for Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich who is supporting Clinton, said he believed the former First Lady "is doing the right thing ... exposing the level of support for Trump in the hate community.''
Weinstein helped organize a letter signed by more than 100 Republicans calling on the Republican National Committee to cut off money and other resources from Trump in favor of House and Senate candidates.
He said he did not believe the Trump campaign had done enough to distance itself from the alt right groups that have been praising the Republican nominee. "There's no doubt that he has been sending strong signals to these groups, and they have heard him loud and clear," he said.