Politics In The News
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And so after that campaign shake-up last week, is there a new Donald Trump or not? You decide. This is the candidate on Friday speaking about African-Americans in front of a largely white audience in Dimondale, Mich.
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DONALD TRUMP: Look how much African-American communities have suffered under democratic control. To those, I say the following. What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose?
UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTERS: (Chanting) Trump, Trump, Trump...
GREENE: Now, for her part, Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton has been defending her commitment to transparency. Many are continuing to raise questions about whether countries used the Clinton Foundation to try and curry favor with the State Department. Here's Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook on CNN yesterday. He pointed to Bill Clinton's announcement that the foundation would end foreign and corporate donations if his wife becomes president.
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ROBBY MOOK: My point is that there's all this scrutiny because Hillary Clinton has been transparent. So as I said, the foundation is taking unprecedented steps here. We're very proud that they're doing that. But right now, we're focused on making sure Hillary Clinton becomes president and letting the foundation do the retooling that they need to do.
GREENE: OK. Let's talk about all of this with NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts and also Robert Costa from The Washington Post who's in the studio with me.
Good morning to you both.
ROBERT COSTA: Good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So Robert, let me start with you. We just heard Donald Trump making a case for why African-American voters should get behind him before a largely white audience. What is going on here?
COSTA: There's more than just an overt appeal to a new demographic group. What you see from Donald Trump is a presentation of himself as someone who's non-ideological, not a traditional Republican and hoping some new audiences could take a fresh look at him in these final 80 days of the election. But there's also a pitch to those suburban voters, those white voters in the suburbs in places like North Carolina and Pennsylvania. By appealing to African-Americans in this way, he hopes to reassure those who have been skittish about his candidacy.
GREENE: So Cokie, it's not just about appealing to African-Americans. It is using that pitch to try and reach other voters. Is that what you see going on?
ROBERTS: Yes. I think it has hardly anything at all to do with African-Americans. He's getting somewhere between zero and 2 percent of the vote of African-Americans in the polls. And as you pointed out, he's talking to mainly white audiences. And, in fact, some African-Americans are quite insulted by this language about you're all in poverty. You know, there's - African-American poverty's about 25 percent. It's about the same as Hispanic poverty. And, you know, pointing - and people point out that there's an African-American in the White House. But it's really, I think, Kellyanne Conway's influence, where she has been very smart.
GREENE: This is Trump's new campaign manager, yeah.
ROBERTS: Right. She has been very smart in talking to her Republican clients about using language that is - seems so that they - not so harsh and off-putting, particularly to women. I mean, this is where Trump's biggest problem is, is among women and suburbanites. And to soften his rhetoric both with African-Americans - he also met with Hispanics over the weekend, that this is something to try to get those voters. Also even, going to Louisiana, my home state...
ROBERTS: ...And the flood zone, that also showed a softer, gentler Donald Trump. And by the way, it also (laughter) embarrassed the president into going there tomorrow because he's...
GREENE: Coming off vacation, yeah. I mean...
ROBERTS: ...Coming off vacation. And that's terribly important, by the way, to Hillary Clinton. Because if Barack Obama's approval ratings go down - and we've seen presidents' approval ratings go down when they don't go to hurricanes or flood zones - that's a problem for her. So it's all intertwined here.
GREENE: Robert, let me ask you about the idea of this softening in Donald Trump's rhetoric and perhaps positions. I mean, your paper's reporting that Trump might soften his position on illegal immigrants. Originally, you know, he said illegal immigrants have to go. What can you tell us about that? What exactly is he going to change, if anything?
COSTA: Trump's trying to walk a fine line in this final stretch of the election by not changing his policies. His campaign has been insistent that he's not going to reverse his position on a border wall or deporting people who are here illegally or undocumented. But he's going to try to change the way he talks about it. That's why, as Cokie said, he met with this Hispanic leadership council. And it comes down to other things, like he's expressed regret in recent days, talking about apologizing - well, not really apologizing, but regret for any so-called personal pain.
I think what we're going to see from Trump in this final stretch is a Trump who has a new team at his side but remains Donald Trump. He's going to Mississippi this week, trying to rouse that working-class base that cheered him a year ago in the summer of Trump, as he likes to call it, on issues like illegal immigration. But he knows the only path to win is to build a broader coalition, and that's why he brought in these new people.
GREENE: But this - I mean, the position on illegal immigrants - I mean, he said, you know, they quote, "have to go." But was there ever really a policy from him, specifically, that we know about?
COSTA: Well, he talked about...
GREENE: Or does it really come down to how he talks about things?
COSTA: He talked about...
ROBERTS: He talked about deportation.
COSTA: That's right.
ROBERTS: He talked - he said - he talked about he'd do it in a very nice way. He supported, without naming it, a program under President Eisenhower of Operation Wetback that sent people back. So it is - he has talked about what he would do. But this is definitely a new tone. But what I'm curious about - and Robert's done some reporting on this - is, is there likely to be tension in this campaign between the outreach team personified by Conway and the double-down team personified by Bannon?
ROBERTS: Steve Bannon, of course, the new campaign chief, presumably the boss. I mean, he is known for being a conservative firebrand. Is there tension there, Robert?
COSTA: There hasn't been tension so far. But my reporting - I've known Bannon for years and covered Bannon for years. This is someone who fueled a lot of the anger over illegal immigration when you saw migration from Southern America. And he's someone who has been really seizing upon the issue in Congress. Breitbart has been the force in stopping talks about comprehensive immigration reform on Capitol Hill.
GREENE: His media, yeah.
COSTA: His media company, Breitbart News, has just been this force, a hurricane, within the Republican Party on these fronts. And so you have Conway on his side helping him out with his rhetoric and his communications. But Bannon's at his side, too.
GREENE: Cokie, let me - we have about 30 seconds left. All these questions about the Clinton Foundation, how damaging could this be for Hillary Clinton as we head into the, you know, the final couple months here?
ROBERTS: Oh, I think it contributes to all of the concern about her honesty and trustworthiness. You know, my personal view is they should shut down that foundation. But the ability to do that with ongoing programs is very difficult. And President Clinton, of course - former President Clinton is very involved and has to make a decision about whether this is a future that he wants to pursue.
GREENE: OK. We've been talking to commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts and Robert Costa from The Washington Post.
Great to have you both, and. Have a good week.
COSTA: Thank you.
ROBERTS: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.