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Hillary Clinton's takedown of Donald Trump tried to give Republicans an exit ramp

"Throughout his career and this campaign, Donald Trump has shown us exactly who he is. We should believe him," Hillary Clinton said at a campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, Thursday before going through a laundry list of Trump’s most divisive and controversial moments from this election cycle.

Here were a few key lines from her speech:

  • "The man who today is the standard-bearer of the Republican Party said a federal judge was incapable of doing his job solely because of his heritage. Even the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, described that as "the textbook definition of a racist comment."
  • "And when Trump was asked about anti-Semitic slurs and death threats coming from his supporters, he refused to condemn them."
  • "Trump said thousands of American Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks. They didn’t."
  • "[Trump] suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Perhaps in Trump’s mind, because he was a Cuban immigrant, he must have had something to do with it. Of course there’s absolutely no evidence of that."

Clinton also attacked Trump’s newest campaign manager, Stephen Bannon, the CEO of ultra-conservative news site Breitbart, who, Clinton said, promotes the "emerging racist ideology known as the 'alt-right.'"

It was a brutal speech, as Slate’s political reporter Jamelle Bouie noted:

Clinton is giving Republicans an out

But Clinton was also trying to separate Trump from "mainstream conservatism," arguing that Trump was part of the alt-right movement – an extreme right-wing fringe movement.

In other words, Clinton "otherized" Trump, a phrase used by the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis back in June. To Lewis, this strategy would convince Republican voters to stay at home in November:

Lewis noted that this speech did exactly that:

Clinton wasn’t just reminding her supporters why they should vote for her; she was also "creating a permission structure" for Republicans weary of Trump’s vitriol to "ditch Trump," political reporter Sahil Kapur tweeted during the speech:

Traditional conservatives have had difficulty accepting Trump’s bombast. He’s forced lifelong Republicans to either support a party leader known for openly making racist, discriminatory claims and who has seemingly no allegiance to conservative values, or break ranks with the Republican Party altogether. To date, we have seen upward of 41 prominent Republicans say they will not support Trump in November, including Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz.

Others, like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have forced themselves into a political pretzel, distancing themselves from Trump by denouncing his claims but supporting his candidacy for the sake of party unity.

Clinton highlighted this dilemma in her speech, even citing Ryan’s disavowal of Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel and calling out Bannon for railing "against Paul Ryan for, quote, ‘rubbing his social justice Catholicism in my nose every second.’"

Those were key moments Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti pointed out. Clinton "invoked" Ryan, and respected Republican leaders, to widen the gap between Trump and the Republican Party.

Clinton had a simple message: Trump isn’t a Republican, and Republicans should feel okay separating from him.

Correction: This article incorrectly stated John McCain does not support Donald Trump. While McCain has admonished Trump's claims, he has not formally withdrawn his support. We regret the error.

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