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 Newsweek story 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-espionage and 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."
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senator Tim Kaine stepped before a crowd yesterday in New Hampshire.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TIM KAINE: Well, hello, Granite Staters. It is great to be in Exeter. And thank you for...
INSKEEP: He was in the brick town hall in Exeter. It's hosted candidates since Lincoln's time. He cast 2016 as different than many of those past campaigns.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KAINE: This election is also a little bit of a self-definition election. America looks in the mirror, and what is it that we see there?
INSKEEP: Afterward, we had a talk with the Virginia senator by the windows upstairs. Kaine told us that if he's sent to the White House with Hillary Clinton, he wants to be there in the room when all the important decisions are made.
KAINE: I really admire Joe Biden. And the role that he has played with President Obama has been, let me be there when you make every important decision. Let me offer my 2 cents 'cause I have something to offer. But let me also learn from the decisions you make. It's a two-way street.
INSKEEP: But to get in that room, Kaine and Clinton have to win an election. In recent weeks, she's faced more email news and criticism over when she disclosed a case of pneumonia. Her recent decline in polls loomed over our conversation with Kaine.
I ran across an interview that you did in 2008. You said in this interview that you believed that voters primarily decide on the character of a candidate.
KAINE: I do. Yeah, I do.
INSKEEP: Is that still true in 2016?
KAINE: I think so. Yeah, I think it is. The issues are really important. But usually, they need to connect to a broader view that a voter has about a candidate.
INSKEEP: If it's about character - and you've been able to raise so many issues about Donald Trump's character - why is the contest so close?
KAINE: We're a politically very divided nation. And Steve, I come from a state that is really battleground. You know, when I got into state politics in the early 2000s, it was incredibly red. Now we've worked it to battleground, maybe slightly blue in a presidential year. But Virginia's a microcosm for the rest of the nation, and we are very closely divided.
INSKEEP: But what is it about Hillary Clinton that when you say she's more experienced, she's ready in this way - and you believe it's about someone being ready for whatever happens in the White House - that you're not persuading a lot of Americans?
KAINE: Well, rather than answer for others, let me just answer for myself. The reason that I'm so sold that Hillary's going to be the right president is character. I tell people character in 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.
INSKEEP: Secretary Clinton was asked on CBS, why'd you pick Tim Kaine? And one of the things she said was, I want someone who can tell me when I am wrong.
INSKEEP: Have you told her that yet?
KAINE: You know, I'm not going to talk about my communications with her in that way. But I'll tell you this, Steve...
INSKEEP: Can you just give a yes or no? Have you told her she's wrong about anything yet?
KAINE: We have disagreements about things, and we've talked about them. We do. And that's not that unusual, but we do talk about them. I was the lieutenant governor to a wonderful governor, Mark Warner - played the same role with him, would share with him anything I thought, including if I thought he needed to do something different. But I didn't share it publicly. I shared it with him. I was essentially in the same role as a national party chair with President Obama. I didn't do it in the press. I did it to him directly.
So 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, and I relish that role. And Hillary and I have talked extensively about the way that she wants me to play it, and I feel very comfortable with the partnership.
INSKEEP: What did Secretary Clinton really mean by the basket-of-deplorables remark the other night, that she had to clean up?
KAINE: Two things - she meant look, if you look at - and remember, she was talking to a group that was fairly friendly. And she was telling that group, you need to know something about Donald Trump's voters. There are some who are motivated by dark emotions that are not in accord with American values. I mean, when you have David Duke doing robocalls telling people to vote for Donald Trump, which he did just a couple of weeks ago, that is highly troubling.
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. But she also said to the audience, but remember some of Donald Trump's supporters are also people who have deep economic anxieties, maybe because of the place that they live or the industry they were trained up in, and we have to be responsive to those.
INSKEEP: Although there's something about the setting that perhaps added to the jarringness of that moment because she's in a room full of prosperous people and analyzing ordinary folks out in the country in a way that people found offensive or patronizing, some people did anyway.
KAINE: You know, here's what I think about it, Steve. You - what should you do if you are confronted with a David Duke being active in the campaign and encouraging people to vote for Trump or a Donald Trump retweeting messages or material from people connected with white supremacist organizations? Are you supposed to just be silent about it? I think silence in the face of divisive, bigoted comments allows it to grow.
INSKEEP: What do you think about people around the country who aren't David Duke but are in some way anxious about the demographic change in this country? Are they racist? What do you call them?
KAINE: No, I would - I have a lot of experience in this in Virginia because I've made my whole career in Virginia. You know, Virginia was a state that, when I was born, wouldn't let kids go to school together if their skin colors were different. When I was born, women couldn't go to the University of Virginia. When I was born, one out of a hundred Virginians had been born in another country. We were very nativist. Today, 58 years later, we've opened up the doors of our schools and our universities. One out of 9 Virginians was born in another country. And, Steve, you know what happened in that 58 years? We went from bottom-15 per capita income to top 10.
By being exclusive and keeping people out, we were hurting ourselves. And by the time we actually started to open the doors of opportunity, we helped the state. There was anxiety along the way. They were battling against school desegregation. My father-in-law was the Republican governor of Virginia who integrated the schools in 1970, 16 years after Brown v. Board, because segregation had been maintained. And he was hated for that. 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.
INSKEEP: I mean, people thought they'd gone away when President Obama was elected in 2008.
KAINE: I don't think anybody thought that. I think people thought when President Obama was elected we were taking a step forward. We were entering into a new chapter. But it would be hubris to think that human nature had fundamentally changed and we weren't going to have some of the same challenges that we have had as a species. But I do - I deeply believe that, while some of these dark emotions are motivating some of Trump's supporters, I put those into kind of a - it's - I put it into a transitional phase.
INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much.
KAINE: You bet, Steven. Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.