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At a virtual fundraiser Wednesday night, Joe Biden laughed off the possibility of appealing to President Trump’s base — and then directly attacked some Trump voters, drawing comparisons from journalists and the Trump campaign to Hillary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” moment during the 2016 campaign.
The event, hosted by Joe Kiani — the founder and CEO of the Masimo Corporation — and Sarah Kiani — a board member of the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition — drew about 55 attendees online, according to the Biden campaign. During a question-and-answer session, Biden responded “probably not” when someone asked if he could win over Trump supporters, and then he launched into a scathing critique.
“There are people who support the president because they like the fact that he is engaged in the politics of division,” Biden said. “They really support the notion that, you know, all Mexicans are rapists and all Muslims are bad and… dividing this nation based on ethnicity, race. This is the one [sic] of the few presidents who succeeded by deliberately trying to divide the country, not unite the country.”
Trump’s campaign fired back on Thursday.
“Biden reveals his disdain for certain Americans burns just as hot as Hillary’s,” the Trump campaign said in a statement as Biden’s comments circulated. The campaign accused Biden of calling “working-class voters racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic.”
The Biden campaign declined to provide an on-the-record statement to Fox News when asked about the remarks.
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“They really support the notion that, you know, all Mexicans are rapists and all Muslims are bad.”
— Joe Biden, on some Trump voters
However, at the fundraiser, Biden went on to say that based on data his team has collected, Trump’s base is “among the people I grew up with, white working-class, high-school educated people.”
He said these people were “going through a really difficult transition” in 2016 and that Trump said to them: “‘Look, the reason that you’re being hurt is because the Democrats did this to you. They don’t care about you. You’re the forgotten man’… Well, as soon as he got elected, you forgot the forgotten man,” Biden said.
“It’s about dignity. … He doesn’t seem to give a damn about it, he doesn’t talk about it at all, he has no sense of empathy,” Biden said, referring to Trump. “That’s why I think the Democratic party will be able to win those folks back.”
FILE – In this March 12, 2020, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del. Biden has won the Alaska Democrats’ party-run presidential primary, defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday, April 11, days after Sanders suspended his campaign. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
“The people who voted Republican last time… who don’t want to vote for Trump, whether they want to vote for me or not is a different story, but they don’t want to vote for Trump, they’re looking for an alternative and I think, I hope to God, I can provide that alternative…I really mean it. I think there’s a chance,” Biden went on.
Although Fox News was present in the pool for the event, no audio or video was immediately available.
The former vice president’s head-turning remarks drew scrutiny from more than just the Trump campaign. The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere said the moment was reminiscent of Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” quote — “with the distance of four years, not that different except for the ‘basket’ phrasing,” he wrote.
At the same time, Dovere added that “basket of deplorables” made for an “easily quoted, memorable line. But part of what got Clinton in trouble was she said ‘half’ of Trump’s voters went in it,” unlike Biden.
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At a September 2016 fundraiser in New York City, Clinton remarked: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
Clinton added that other Trump supporters “feel that the government has let them down” and are “desperate for change.”
“Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well,” she had said.
Biden’s generalization was seemingly not nearly as sweeping as Clinton’s, but the Trump campaign argued the substance of the claim was the same.
“Hillary Clinton in 2016 openly smeared white, working-class Trump voters as ‘deplorables,'” the Trump campaign said in a statement. “Four years later, Joe Biden is picking up where Hillary left off. In a private, virtual fundraiser with wealthy liberal donors last night, Biden ‘laughed’ that he had no plans to reach out to Trump voters in November, condescendingly describing them all as deplorable racist xenophobes, just as Hillary did in 2016.”
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His virtual events, which usually draw a viewership of approximately 1,000 to 2,000, have been marred by some technical glitches and apparent snafus. In one virtual town hall, Biden appeared to read from a teleprompter, and even said “quote” at one point — suggesting that his script contained a phrase in quotation marks.
Biden’s comments were sometimes muddled at other virtual events, including when he accepted Bernie Sanders’ endorsement.
Briahna Joy Gray, who served as Sanders’ national press secretary, and prominent Sanders surrogate Shaun King immediately took aim at Biden after that endorsement — and they made it clear just how much the former vice president’s platform differed from Sanders’ longstanding policy goals.
“With the utmost respect for Bernie Sanders, who is an incredible human being & a genuine inspiration, I don’t endorse Joe Biden,” Gray wrote. “I supported Bernie Sanders because he backed ideas like #MedicareForAll, cancelling ALL student debt, & a wealth tax. Biden supports none of those.”
Gray also hammered Biden on Sunday after The New York Times belatedly covered a sexual assault allegation against him that same day: “I’m not sure how that line from the NYT’s long-delayed coverage of Tara Reade’s accusation can sit alongside reporting that 7 other women have accused Biden of sexual misconduct,” Gray tweeted. Biden’s campaign has denied the accusation.
Fox News’ Allie Raffa contributed to this report.