KEENE, N.H.— Former president Bill Clinton urged supporters of his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, on Monday to reach out to backers of her opponent, Donald Trump, in what he described as a preemptive effort to reconcile the country’s deep divisions after next month’s election.
“If you have encounters with the supporters of the other candidate in the next 22 days, do not treat them the way they have treated Hillary and the way they have talked about her,” Bill Clinton told the crowd Monday at Keene State College.
“No matter how mean they are, extend your hand,’’ he said. “Why? Because the root of this are people who have given up on America and believe America has given up on them.”
Recalling stories from the campaign trail, Bill Clinton used his rallies in Hanover and Keene as an attempt to bridge the widening gap between supporters of the Trump and Clinton campaigns.
National polls show Hillary Clinton leading Trump — an advantage some political experts say may be insurmountable for the GOP nominee as early voting begins across the country.
Over the last few days, Trump has said repeatedly he believes the election is “rigged” against him, although he does not cite any specific evidence.
Bill Clinton struck a more conciliatory tone in New Hampshire, asking supporters not to make assumptions about Trump voters. He sought to explain the source of their anger and nationalistic sentiments, as well as how “toxicity” has seemingly overwhelmed aspects of this campaign.
“We may have one of the crudest examples, but by no means the only example, of people from all over the world saying, ‘Hey, everything is bad, it’s us versus them, build a wall and close the door,’ ” Bill Clinton said. “This is going on everywhere in the world. Hillary believes in an international security strategy, but you got to build it on bridges, not walls.”
Also in his remarks, Bill Clinton said Trump’s campaign would take the country backward economically and socially, and his slogan — “Make America Great Again” — idealizes a time when African-Americans, Latinos, other immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and women did not have the same benefits as the rest of the country.
It’s time to move forward, he said, praising the country’s diverse young workforce, new technologies for clean energy, and months of continued job growth under President Obama.
“Stronger together means, among other things, that empowerment is better than resentment, that answers work better than anger, that cooperation always produces better results than constant conflict,” Bill Clinton said.
Nancy Johnson, 92, from Georges Mills, N.H., attended the rally at Dartmouth with her son Marcus Johnson, 63, of Andover. She said she is a Republican but wanted to hear what Bill Clinton had to say.
After the speech, both said they are leaning toward supporting Hillary Clinton.
“During such a negative campaign, he wasn’t negative,” Marcus Johnson said. “He focused on the issues.”
Naomi Agnew, 18, a freshman at Dartmouth, said the former president was speaking specifically to her generation.
“He talked about us being able to leave college, start businesses, and interact with companies without fear of [overwhelming] debt,” Agnew said. “He made me very excited for this election.”
At Keene State College, not far from the stage where Bill Clinton spoke, a handful of Trump supporters held large campaign and homemade signs that read, “How ’bout them
e-mails?” and “Clinton Lies Matter.”
“I’m not all that inclined to believe anything Bill Clinton says,” said Jim McConnell, a state representative and Republican from New Hampshire. “We have some real problems here, and they have to be addressed and [Hillary Clinton’s] not the person to do it.”
Tom Licciardello, 67, of North Andover, Mass., and his wife, Lyn, said Bill Clinton gave great arguments for voting for Hillary Clinton in clear understandable language. They’re hopeful that the country will come together in the end.
“There’s a lot of anger,” said Tom Licciardello. “That anger has to be soothed. Eventually it will be because that’s the only way we can move forward.”