MANCHESTER, NH (CBS/AP) — Donald Trump confronted head-on allegations that he is racist on Thursday, defending his hard-line approach to immigration while trying to make the case to minority voters that Democrats have abandoned them.
His general election opponent, Hillary Clinton, meanwhile hammered the point that Trump unleashed the “radical fringe” within the Republican Party, including anti-Semites and white supremacists, dubbing the billionaire businessman’s campaign as one that will “make America hate again.”
In a tweet shortly after Clinton wrapped up her speech in the swing state of Nevada, Trump said she “is pandering to the worst instincts in our society. She should be ashamed of herself!”
The ping-pong accusations come as the two candidates vie for minorities and any undecided voters with less than three months until Election Day. Weeks before the first early voting, Trump faces the urgent task of revamping his image to win over those skeptical of his candidacy.
In what’s considered a battleground state, the lawn in front of the latest Trump rally was a mini-battleground of sorts.
“It is a scary thing sometimes to be at a Trump rally,” said anti-Trump protester Kate Corriveau. “His supporters can be pretty vocal. But what’s scarier is the prospect of a Trump presidency, and what that would do to our future.”
His supporters were out in force, too.
“I cannot go through another four years like the last eight,” said Bob Kunst, a Trump supporter.
Inside, it was comfortable ground for Trump among the people who helped him win the country’s first Republican primary.
“If I didn’t win here, who knows where I’d be,” Trump told the crowd. “Maybe I’d be building buildings or something.”
Trump focused much of his speech on his opponent.
“Hillary Clinton ran the State Department like a personal hedge fund,” he said.
Clinton is eager to capitalize on Trump’s slipping poll numbers, particularly among moderate Republican women turned off by his controversial campaign. “Don’t be fooled” by Trumps efforts to rebrand, she told voters at a speech in Reno, saying the country faced a “moment of reckoning.”
“He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties,” she said.
Trump tried to get ahead of the Democratic nominee, addressing a crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire just minutes before Clinton.
“Hillary Clinton is going to try to accuse this campaign, and the millions of decent Americans who support this campaign, of being racists,” Trump predicted.
“To Hillary Clinton, and to her donors and advisers, pushing her to spread her smears and her lies about decent people, I have three words,” he said. “I want you to hear these words, and remember these words: Shame on you.”
Trump tried to turn the tables on Clinton, suggesting she was trying to distract from questions swirling around donations to The Clinton Foundation and her use of her private email servers.
“She lies, she smears, she paints decent Americans as racists,” said Trump, who then defended some of the core — and to some people, divisive — ideas of his candidacy.
Clinton did not address any of the accusations about her family foundation in her remarks. Instead, she offered a strident denouncement of Trump’s campaign, charging him with fostering hate and pushing discriminatory policies, like his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Her speech focused on the so-called alt-right movement, which is often associated with efforts on the far right to preserve “white identity,” oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.” Discussions about the alt-right movement became the subject of a Twitter war Thursday, with people on both sides of the debate tweeting under the hashtag #altrightmeans.
“#altrightmeans we don’t want to kill you we just want you to go away,” tweeted one person.
“#altrightmeans white supremacy. That’s all Alt Right is. Another code word for white supremacy. Nothing more nothing less,” another tweet said.
Clinton’s campaign also released an online video that compiles footage of prominent white supremacist leaders praising Trump, who has been criticized for failing to immediately denounce the support he’s garnered from white nationalists and supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
Senator Elizabeth Warren also weighed in on the back and forth and said Trump started his campaign with hateful rhetoric.
“Donald Trump launched his campaign by calling Mexican-Americans rapists and criminals,” Warren said, “He has made hate a part of this campaign and I think there’s a time when you just have to call him out on it.”
Trump, who also met Thursday in New York with members of a new Republican Party initiative meant to train young — and largely minority — volunteers, has been working to win over blacks and Latinos in light of his past inflammatory comments and has been claiming that the Democrats have taken minority voters’ support for granted. At rallies over the past week, the Republican presidential nominee cast Democratic policies as harmful to communities of color, and in Mississippi on Wednesday he went so far as to label Clinton “a bigot.”
“They’ve been very disrespectful, as far as I’m concerned, to the African-American population in this country,” Trump said.
One day after Trump called Clinton a bigot, she came back at him with a political ad tying Trump to the hateful fringe of the right wing.
At the rally Thursday, Trump responded.
“When Democratic policies fail, they are left with only this one, tired argument. ‘You’re racist, you’re racist, you’re racist.'”
Many black leaders and voters have dismissed Trump’s message — delivered to predominantly white rally audiences — as condescending and intended more to reassure undecided white voters that he’s not racist, than to actually help minority communities.
Cornell William Brooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” Thursday that Trump has not reached out to the organization for any reason. He added that Trump refused the group’s invitation to speak at its convention.
“We’re going to make it clear: You don’t get to the White House unless you travel through the doors of the NAACP,” Brooks said. “More importantly, you don’t get to the White House without addressing the nation’s civil rights agenda.”
Before the meeting in New York, several protesters unfurled a banner over a railing in the lobby of Trump Tower that read, “Trump = Always Racist.” They were quickly escorted out by security as they railed against Trump for “trying to pander to black and Latino leaders.”
“Nothing will change,” they yelled.
And for those concerned Trump has softened his hard line on immigration, he had a familiar refrain at Thursday’s rally.
“We will build the wall 100 percent, and Mexico will be paying for the wall,” Trump said.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Bernice Corpuz reports