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Hillary Clinton Surrogate Sorta Answers for Obama ‘Muslim Garb’ Photo

As Donald Trump and Ben Carson battle it out for the Muslim-hating (or “majority of Republicans“) vote, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been pounding away at her Republican rivals for suggesting that President Obama is a Muslim, or that a Muslim should never be president. Several Trump and Carson supporters have attempted to deflect the backlash by pointing out (as I have been pointing out for months) that it was Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign that leaked the now-infamous “Muslim Garb” photo to Matt Drudge.

Unfortunately, that subject didn’t come up during Hillary’s interview with Face the Nation‘s John Dickerson this weekend (although the Trump/Carson controversy did), so for now, we’ll have to settle for a prominent surrogate’s response, instead. On CNN’s New Day Monday morning, co-anchor Chris Cuomo asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) how Hillary could be whacking Carson and Trump over the Muslim/Birther issue, when Clinton was “on that bus” in 2008:

Cuomo: “You knew the 2008 race well. One of the points of push back from the Carson and Trump camps this morning is, why are you going after, especially Donald Trump, not Carson, why are you going after Trump about birther stuff? What about Hillary Clinton? She was on that bus in 2008. Is that fair?”

Klobuchar: “Hillary Clinton’s record on race and immigration…”

Cuomo: “With respect to Obama and his potential citizenship. You remember that period in the campaign.”

Klobuchar: “I think it’s been clear that Secretary Clinton has an excellent relationship with President Obama. I think the bigger issue here is you have Ben Carson basically saying a Muslim should never be president. I’d like him to say that to my staff member who’s Muslim, who set it up so I could be here today, or a guy in my Minnesota office who’s Somali. He’s fantastic, wouldn’t stop working during the shutdown. He just got elected to the school board in our town. These are people that believe in the American dream, and they’re all over our country. While we don’t have a realistic possibility of having a Muslim president, we haven’t had a Jewish president, we haven’t had a woman president. That’s why the constitution says that faith is not a test.”

Essentially, Klobuchar’s response is “Hillary and Barack are cool now, and she’s doing good for minorities,” which is a message that Hillary has wisely adopted throughout her campaign. Not only has Clinton proposed ambitious policies with regard to race and immigration issues, she has made them an early and vocal focus of her campaign. She also addressed the friction and residual bitterness from the 2008 campaign several months ago:

“Some of you might remember we had a pretty vigorous campaign in 2008. and both President Obama and I worked really hard, and he won, and I lost, and then I went to work to make sure he would win. And I was so relieved, I was just so relieved when, finally, November 2008 came around, and he did.”

Her close relationship with President Obama has been a regular feature of Hillary Clinton’s campaign appearances, and to a large extent, it has apparently worked. Hillary is still beating Bernie Sanders’ brains in with non-white voters, even as her poll numbers have turned around for the first time in months.

However, there is still a decent amount of residual bitterness and mistrust over the 2008 campaign, which featured other racially-charged volleys from Hillary and her surrogates. If she’s pressed on this issue in future interviews, she needs to have a better answer ready. Her best bet would be to keep the focus on the Muslim Garb photo, and to call it what it was: a dirty trick by a campaign that was a hot mess.

I don’t think any fair-minded person thinks that the aides who leaked that photo to Drudge really thinks that Hillary had anything to do with it, but she should also cop to a lousy reaction to the incident, which included a “You’re the real racists”-style statement from her campaign, and this famous answer to the Muslim question:

People who are still mad about that aren’t likely to vote for Bernie Sanders, or a Republican, but they could go to Biden if he gets in, or stay home if he doesn’t.

Regardless of how Hillary Clinton deals with this, or whether the media even decides to press her on it, there are important lessons to be learned from the contrasts between the 2008 campaign and this one. Clinton’s aides leaked that photo on the heels of a string of defeats in primary contests, and on the very day that then-Senator Obama took his first national lead over Clinton in an average of polls. Donald Trump has made racism and xenophobia the central pillar of his campaign since day one, and Carson’s entire political career is predicated on attacking Obama at a prayer breakfast. For Clinton, it was a desperate detour. For Republicans, it’s bedrock strategy.

The other lesson to be learned from this is that in Hillary Clinton’s case, it didn’t work. The naked appeals to white voters led to a string of defeats in early contests, and in the polls following the Drudge leak, Obama opened up a double-digit lead on Hillary. The rest, as they say, is history. Trump’s racism and xenophobia rocketed him straight to the top of the GOP field, and may end up saving him and Ben Carson from the Carly Fiorina surge.

That’s not to say that racial resentment doesn’t sell at all to Democrats (Hillary did almost win), but it’s a niche product, at best. As recent events demonstrate, it’s most of the Republican brand.

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