Campaign 2016 Analysis: Minority Outreach Marks Shift In Trump Strategy

Aug 24, 2016
Originally published on August 24, 2016 6:23 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And to talk more about where the campaign is headed, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: What do you make of Trump's strategy in recent days to focus on outreach to minority voters?

LIASSON: Well, he has been talking a lot about minorities, as you just heard. But in the past, when Republican candidates looked like they were reaching out to minorities or made a visit to an inner-city community, it was usually because they weren't actually targeting minority voters, but they were trying to make themselves more appealing to moderate suburban voters, particularly women who can be turned off by divisiveness and xenophobia. And if that's the case with this new move by Trump, then he is doing something very unusual for him in that he's acting like a typical Republican presidential candidate.

And his new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, is an expert at helping conservative candidates reach out to women in ways that aren't off-putting. So it is possible that Trump has come to the conclusion he can't win with his base only - white, non-college voters - that he has to expand his coalition or at least try.

Now, the Clinton campaign is very interested in making sure this doesn't work. And in a speech tomorrow, Hillary Clinton is going to be focusing on the link between Trump's appeals and the alt-right or white supremacist movement.

SIEGEL: Clinton's support among minorities of course, especially among black voters, is very strong. Apart from his appeal to whites (laughter), does his appeal to minorities actually look at all possible?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question, but there are only 70 odd days left in the campaign. And one long-standing theory about presidential races is that by this time, the dynamics of a campaign are pretty well set. It's hard to change, barring some blowup in a debate or a big October surprise.

Usually at this point the candidates' messages are set. People have formed impressions. And usually the campaigns at this point are focusing on the ground game, getting up the vote, really granular efforts to target and reach individual voters. So this flies in the face of all of that.

SIEGEL: Now, one thing that could conceivably change the dynamics of the race are the continuing problems plaguing Hillary Clinton involving emails. And this week we've heard about the Clinton Foundation and how much access donors had to Clinton when she was secretary of state. How much of a problem do you think this is for Hillary Clinton?

LIASSON: Well, I think this is a problem - a big problem. And of course up until now, many of her problems have been overshadowed by Trump's problems, but this week is a week when the spotlight really has been on her. And the issue - it seems very familiar when it comes to the Clintons - lots of smoke but no fire.

In other words, there was a lot of overlap between the foundation and people Hillary Clinton interacted with at the State Department. Certainly, the foundation created a lot of potential conflicts of interest even if there wasn't a quid pro quo, which hasn't been proven yet - no actual favors done even though things look bad. And the question now is, is there someone she met with that any other secretary of state wouldn't have or a favor she did that was contrary to U.S. foreign policy? Appearances do matter, but we don't have any hard evidence of corruption.

Now, that being said, she has made things worse by saying things that have proven not to be true about her emails, like she turned them all over - not true - or that FBI Director Comey said she was truthful in everything she said turned out not to be true or that Colin Powell blessed her private server arrangement. But all of this is why she is distrusted by so many voters.

SIEGEL: Well, how much room is there for all of this to move the needle in the race?

LIASSON: I think the Clinton campaign feels it's too late for this to cost her in a big way. They are pushing back against a lot of the stories about the foundations, but she's not holding a press conference. She's not going on a Sunday show for a long interview about this. They could have avoided the whole thing if they'd shut down the foundation before she ran for president or even when she was secretary of state.

But remember. This is Bill Clinton's legacy project. And unlike other presidents who have similar foundations, he had a spouse who was not only Secretary of State but then a presidential candidate. And the obvious question that this raises is, what if Trump had been as disciplined as he's been this week on focusing on Hillary Clinton's problems all along instead of spending weeks accumulating self-inflicted wounds?

SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.