Bill Clinton just tripped up Hillary in the worst way possible

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Bill Clinton Calls for Unity After Dust Up with Protesters

During this campaign cycle, Hillary Clinton has done an effective, and at times masterful, job presenting herself as having evolved on a number of issues on which the landscape has changed dramatically since the 1990s.

But her husband's off-the-cuff remarks about black-on-black crime set that agenda back a few steps.

On Thursday, Bill Clinton was delivering remarks to a crowd in Philadelphia on behalf of his wife's presidential campaign when he was repeatedly disrupted by chants from protesters seemingly supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. They shouted at the former president about his and his wife's past support for the tough 1994 crime law and the 1996 welfare reform law, contending they amounted to an assault on the black community.

Read more: Hillary Clinton Responded to the Black Lives Matter Activist Who Demanded an Apology

Such disruptions during campaign events have been commonplace for the past year, but Bill Clinton chose to respond to them quite differently than his wife generally has. Hillary Clinton typically calmly listens to protesters until they're escorted out, or emphasizes that her positions have changed in accordance with a reduction in the crime rate and a recognition of the tolls of mass incarceration. But a noticeably flustered Bill Clinton assumed a defensive posture.

"I like protesters, but the ones that won't let you answer are afraid of the truth," he said as he asked the protesters to stop chanting.

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His response: He then embarked on a defense of his legacy that at times blatantly contradicted the spirit of his wife's 2016 campaign platform on crime and poverty reduction, and advanced a number of strikingly retrograde arguments about the issues.

"You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter," Bill Clinton said. "Tell the truth. You are defending the people who caused young people to go out and take guns."

Check out how Bill Clinton has been campaigning for his wife:

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Bill Clinton campaigns for Hillary Clinton
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Bill Clinton just tripped up Hillary in the worst way possible
Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 2016 3/31/16 Former United States President Bill Clinton campaigns in support of his wife - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton - at the headquarters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 37 (AFSCME DC 37). (NYC)
NEWTON, MA - MARCH 1: President Bill Clinton greets people at the Newton Free Library in Newton, Mass., during Massachusetts primary voting on March 1, 2016. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEWTON, MA - MARCH 1: President Bill Clinton greets people at the Newton Free Library in Newton, Mass., during Massachusetts primary voting on March 1, 2016. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEWTON, MA - MARCH 1: President Bill Clinton greets people at the Newton Free Library in Newton, Mass., during Massachusetts primary voting on March 1, 2016. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEWTON, MA - MARCH 1: President Bill Clinton greets people at the Newton Free Library in Newton, Mass., during Massachusetts primary voting on March 1, 2016. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEWTON, MA - MARCH 1: President Bill Clinton greets people at the Newton Free Library in Newton, Mass., during Massachusetts primary voting on March 1, 2016. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
RIVIERA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 15: President Bill Clinton campaigns for Hillary Clinton at Port of Palm Beach on February 15, 2016 in Riviera Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mychal Watts/WireImage)
MANCHESTER, NH - FEBRUARY 08: Former U.S. president Bill Clinton speaks during a 'Get Out The Vote Clinton Family Event' for democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Manchester Community College on February 8, 2016 in Manchester, New Hampshire. With one day to go before the New Hampshire primaries, Hillary Clinton continues to campaign throughout the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, left to right, speaks as her husband Bill Clinton, former U.S. president, and their daughter Chelsea Clinton look on during a primary night event in Hooksett, New Hampshire, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Clinton congratulated Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, on his victory in her concession speech in Hooksett and vowed to battle on, saying she knows how to get results voters are demanding. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former President Bill Clinton campaigns for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton embrace during a campaign stop Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Hudson, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 16 - Former President Bill Clinton reaches for a hand after a campaign event as he helps promote his wife, democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Former President Bill Clinton greets supporters at a campaign office for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Ankeny, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Bill Clinton, former U.S. President and husband of Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, center, takes a 'selfie' photographs after speaking at a campaign rally at Exeter Town Hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. After spending the first eight months of his wifes candidacy behind the scenes, advising and fundraising out of sight of voters and the media, the never-shy former president is upping his level of public engagement starting today. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 16 - Chelsea Clinton listens as her father, former President Bill Clinton speaks at a campaign event as they help promote his wife, democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 16 - Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a campaign event along with his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, as they help promote his wife, democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
MARSHALLTOWN, IA - JANUARY 15: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton greets guests after speaking at a campaign event for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at Marshalltown Community College on January 15, 2016 in Marshalltown, Iowa. Both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates and their surrogates have been making appearances at events across Iowa to build support in advance of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Charles Ledford/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, right, stands on stage with husband Bill Clinton, former U.S. president, at the conclusion of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. With Vice President Joe Biden officially out of the presidential race, the nation's first nominating contest between front-runner Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders is gaining steam, according to a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former president of the United States Bill Clinton delivers his speech during a commemorative rally in memory of late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Rabin Square in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on October 31, 2015. The rally is part of commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of Rabin's killing by a right-wing Jewish extremist. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
Bill Clinton, former U.S. President and husband of Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, arrives to speak during a rally ahead of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Clinton's odds of winning the Democratic presidential nomination are now at or near an all-time high, according to prediction markets PredictWise, Pivit, and PredictIt. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former President Bill Clinton greets a visitor to Newbo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, before speaking at a campaign stop for his wife Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton at the National Czech & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton wears a shirt reading "Bill for First Lady" before a speech by Clinton during a campaign event at Broward College, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Former US President Bill Clinton hug after she officially launched her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination during a speech at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island June 13, 2015 in New York. Hillary Clinton announced Saturday she was running for president for all Americans, unveiling a progressive platform promising to promote equal opportunity and fight for a beleaguered middle class. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 13: People cheer after Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stands on stage with her husband former president Bill Clinton after her official kickoff rally at the Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan on June 13, 2015 in New York City. The long awaited speech at a historical location associated with the values Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined in his 1941 State of the Union address, is the Democratic the candidateÃs attempt to define the issues of her campaign to become the first female president of the United States. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 13: People cheer as Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stands on stage with her husband former president Bill Clinton after her official kickoff rally at the Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan on June 13, 2015 in New York City. The long awaited speech at a historical location associated with the values Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined in his 1941 State of the Union address, is the Democratic the candidateÃs attempt to define the issues of her campaign to become the first female president of the United States. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 2016 3/31/16 Former United States President Bill Clinton campaigns in support of his wife - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton - at the headquarters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 37 (AFSCME DC 37). (NYC)
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton makes remarks at the Hillary Victory Fund "I'm With Her" benefit concert for his wife, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at Radio City Music Hall in the Manhattan borough of New York City, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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He said he and his wife supported the sweeping 1994 crime bill — which the Atlantic notes imposed tougher sentences and broadened use of capital punishment — because gangs were effectively turning children into militia members.

"I don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent 'em out onto the street to murder other African-American children," Bill Clinton said. "Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn't."

The issue with Bill Clinton's argument on behalf of the crime bill is that it has nothing to do with the protesters' grievances.

The issue with Bill Clinton's argument on behalf of the crime bill is that it has nothing to do with the protesters' grievances. Black Lives Matter isn't ideologically homogenous, but it has never been associated with defending criminal acts or arguing that high crime rates are insignificant. Its focus is on how the reaction to crime by the state since the last quarter of the 20th century has been overzealous and wreaked havoc on communities of color.

It is possible for these two ideas to coexist: High crime rates are bad, and responding to high crime rates with an overly punitive criminal justice system is bad. Black Lives Matter — whose most influential proposals center around reforming the criminal justice system, not abolishing it — generally holds both those positions.

Bill Clinton's argument was remarkable because it resurfaces a black-on-black crime trope that has fallen out of fashion among establishment Democrats in recent years. But as the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has pointed out in the past, it's a rhetorical dodge. "When police killings receive more scrutiny from the people, it is not a 'double standard.' It's a 'standard standard,'" he tweeted in 2014.

RELATED: Check out all the books the 2016 candidates have written:

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Bill Clinton also defended his move to gut welfare during his presidency, saying his tenure saw an enormous drop in African-American poverty. While it's true the booming economy during the 1990s lifted huge numbers of people above the poverty line, there's also evidence his welfare reforms, which included introducing lifetime limits and work requirements for assistance, contributed to a long-term spike in extreme poverty. Since the mid-1990s, when welfare was gutted under the Clinton administration, the number of families surviving on less than $2 a day has more than doubled.

Whether it was due to campaign fatigue or ego, Bill Clinton's departure from the script was remarkable. He seemed uninterested in conceding that some of his positions in the '90s were ultimately conservative, as people in today's political climate are increasingly inclined to believe. If he wants to argue that it was the only way a Democrat could manage to retain power during that era, that's one thing. But arguing for those policies as a progressive today suggests he's out of touch.


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