Gaffe Track: Hillary's Employment Plan for Coal Miners

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Hillary Clinton

The gaffe: During a Democratic town hall in Columbus, Ohio, Clinton tried to tout her plan for clean energy and worker retraining, but she used an odd approach. “I’m the only candidate which [sic] has a policy about how about how to bring economic opportunity, using clean, renewable energy as a key, into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business … and we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations.” Needless to say, it’s the line about coal miners and companies that’s getting the most attention.

The defense: The coal jobs are largely gone already, a victim not of Democratic politicians so much as of economics. Presidential policy is unlikely to bring them back, so retraining makes sense.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): What possessed Clinton to say something like this, in the midst of an answer trying to reassure working-class voters? Perhaps it was just a lapse of judgment. Or perhaps there’s a different logic to it: The Democratic Party has increasingly lost Appalachian voters who were part of the New Deal coalition, with environmentalists taking more power in the party. Those people are likely to be excited about the prospect of putting coal companies out of business, but the clumsy comment probably won’t do much for hopes that Clinton would win working-class whites back after Barack Obama.

The lesson: If a candidate is naughty, she is liable to take her lumps from coal.