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Kaine: Some Trump Voters Are 'Motivated By Dark Emotions'

Democratic vice presidential nominee and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine held a town hall at the Exeter Town Hall in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday afternoon.
John Tully for NPR
Democratic vice presidential nominee and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine held a town hall at the Exeter Town Hall in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday afternoon.

A week after his running mate, Hillary Clinton, came under attack for describing half of Donald Trump's supporters as in the "basket of deplorables," Tim Kaine said he, too, believes there are ideals "not in accord with American values" motivating some of the GOP nominee's backers.

"There are some who are motivated by dark emotions, that are not in accord with American values," the Democratic vice presidential nominee told NPR's Steve Inskeep during an interview Thursday in New Hampshire.

"When you have David Duke doing robo-calls telling people to vote for Donald Trump, which he did just a couple of weeks ago, that is highly troubling," Kaine continued, referring to the former Ku Klux Klan leader now running for Senate in Louisiana. "And she was basically saying some of Donald Trump's voters are motivated by these dark emotions that really are out of step with American values."

The Virginia senator acknowledged that many of Trump's supporters are also motivated by "deep economic anxieties."

"She was not belittling those anxieties," Kaine said about Clinton's remarks at a Democratic fundraiser. "She was actually telling a group of supporters of hers, there are Trump voters who have concerns that we need to speak to during the campaign, and that we especially need to speak to if we have the opportunity to govern."

But Kaine argued that Clinton did have an obligation to call out the racist, sexist and alt-right messages some Trump supporters promote, including some comments that Trump has re-tweeted from people connected to white supremacist groups.

"I think silence in the face of divisive, bigoted comments allows it to grow. And so you can't be silent about it," Kaine said. "I think you have to call out comments or behavior that are contrary to our values, and if you don't, you actually allow it to grow. And that's what she was doing."

Kaine recalled an earlier time in Virginia when racial and social tensions were high. His father-in-law, former Virginia Republican Gov. Linwood Holton, helped desegregate the commonwealth's schools in the 1970s. Eventual change helped the state's economy grow and prosper, Kaine argued.

"So there was a lot of anxiety about it, but it was what I call a transitional anxiety. When the demographics start to change and what you have assumed to kind of be constant turns out not to be constant, there's anxieties. But you go through a transitional period and you realize, hey, wait a minute, these demographic changes aren't bad. It's not bad to have people sitting around a table together. It turns out that they're good. They helped our state. They help our country. And so I have actually a high degree of confidence that over time those anxieties tend to go away. Human beings have always been afraid of change, of all kinds. Change can be, can produce anxiety."

Kaine said those anxieties extend to religious identity as well, and criticized Trump for his call to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. He said America's religious freedom, guaranteed by the First Amendment, argued against such a practice.

"And we're an example for the rest of the world, because so many people live in countries where that is not the case," said Kaine, a devout Catholic and former missionary in Honduras. "And so is there, have there been anxieties about other religions? Sure, but we're a stronger nation because we've tolerated this great breadth of religious diversity."

Kaine said that for him, supporting Clinton came down to a decision about character.

"I tell people character and public life is probably best measured this way: If you look at somebody who's an official and you see, you look to see, do they have a passion in their life that showed up before they were in politics? And have they been consistent in following that passion, whether they're winning or losing, in good years or bad, in or out of office? Hillary Clinton has that," Kaine argued.

Clinton has struggled to gain voters' trust, though, and that handicap has been exacerbated by controversy surrounding her private email server while she was secretary of state. The perception that she wasn't being fully transparent was fueled last week when she did not disclose a pneumonia diagnosis she received on Friday until she fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial service on Sunday.

Kaine said he was sympathetic with her choice, recalling that he, too, caught pneumonia during his first political race in 1994, when he was seeking a seat on the Richmond City Council. He said he also tried to "power through" the illness and didn't disclose his diagnosis.

"Hillary had that attitude. This is, nobody who knows her doubts her work ethic. She works very, very hard. And after she had that diagnosis, she said I think I can power through this, and then she found out after about 48 hours, maybe it won't be quite so easy as I thought. And then she did let folks know what was going on."

After a three-day absence, the Democratic nominee returned to the campaign trail on Thursday with a rally in Greensboro, N.C. She dodged questions, though, about whether Kaine was told about her diagnosis last Friday.

Kaine disagreed with the suggestion that Clinton did not disclose her illness because her GOP opponent, Donald Trump, has argued she isn't healthy enough for the Oval Office. Kaine said Clinton, like many working women, chose to keep going no matter what.

"This is a person who has a lot that she wants to get done. And she just decided, look, I think I can power through this. And, you know, what you find is you can't do it at a hundred percent. You have to scale back a little bit."

Kaine also argued that Trump has been far less forthcoming on almost every issue, refusing to release his tax returns and provide information about his business dealings in foreign countries and the extent of his charitable donations.

"The Newsweekstory yesterday is very, very powerful in laying out a number of areas where it could at a minimum be a significant conflict of attention as he's watching these money-making endeavors that produce income for him and his family," Kaine asserted. "But it also raises very significant questions about his connection to foreign governments and would he really put the U.S. interest first? I mean, we are talking about an individual who got up at a microphone and publicly encouraged Russia to engage in cyber-espionageand find material and give it to him so he could help win the election that way. Now later he said, oh, I was just trying to be funny, but that's just not funny."

If he does become vice president, Kaine said, he wouldn't be afraid to disagree with Clinton — something she said she valued when choosing Kaine for the ticket — and as a former lieutenant governor and party chairman, he was also comfortable in a supporting role.

"I've had some experience not only being the top person, but I've had experience being in this role where you're trying to offer the absolute best advice you can to the person that you know is the one that's making the decisions," Kaine said. "And I relish that role. And Hillary and I have talked extensively about the way that she wants me to play, and I feel very comfortable with the partnership."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 16, 2016 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story said that Kaine grew up in Virginia. He was born in Minnesota and grew up in Missouri and didn't move to Virginia until after law school.
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.