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Campaigns Update: Controversy Ignites Over Trump And The KKK


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Eric Westervelt in for Michel Martin. The presidential campaign has spread out far and wide. The early states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina behind them, Republican and Democratic candidates are racing about a dozen states ahead of Super Tuesday, now less than 48 hours away, and our reporters are also racing around those states. We're going to check in now with NPR's Sarah McCammon following Donald Trump's campaign in Madison, Ala., and NPR's Tamara Keith is traveling with Hillary Clinton's campaign in Nashville, Tenn. Hi, guys.



WESTERVELT: Sarah, let's start with you and the latest controversy around Donald Trump. He was asked this morning whether he would disavow support he's getting from white supremacist groups and specifically, former KKK leader David Duke. This is what he said in an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN.


DONALD TRUMP: Certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong. But you may have groups in there...

JAKE TAPPER: ...The Ku Klux Klan...

TRUMP: ...That are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups, and I'll let you know.

TAPPER: OK. I mean, I'm just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but -

TRUMP: I don't know anything - honestly, I don't know David Duke. I don't believe I've ever met him. I'm pretty I didn't meet him, and I just don't know anything about him.

WESTERVELT: So, Sarah, what else is the Trump campaign saying about this?

MCCAMMON: Well, you know, it's unclear, Eric, why he said this. I mean, on Friday, he did disavow David Duke during the press conference with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Today, Trump tweeted out a clip of those comments, and his son was stressed about them - Donald Trump Jr. - and he said they're not interested in that kind of support from white supremacists. But, you know, 15 years ago, Trump said he didn't want to be part of the Reform Party because David Duke was in it. So - and he referred to him as a Klansman, so it's clear he at least, at that time, knew who David Duke was. I should point out, Eric, that Marco Rubio is denouncing Trump over this - sending out press releases today, going after him for not coming out strongly enough against David Duke and white supremacist groups. But of course, some of these controversies in the past have not done much to hurt Trump.

WESTERVELT: And Sarah, going into Super Tuesday contests, many of which are the South, how strong is Trump looking?

MCCAMMON: Well, I am here in Alabama, where Trump's holding a rally today. It's one of the states he's expected to do well. There are six other states voting on Super Tuesday, and Trump is popular in the South. Now Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is popular in his home state, which also votes on Tuesday, and he's got a big southern strategy as well. He has called Super Tuesday his firewall. But Texas is the only state where he has a clear lead. I mean, he's close in Arkansas to Trump, but Trump is dominating most of the other states. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio is looking for a strong showing or maybe a win in at least a couple of states, Virginia being one of them. That would give him a stronger path to a potential nomination.

WESTERVELT: And Tamara Keith, turning to you. You're in Nashville, where Hillary Clinton has a campaign event today. Have the Democratic candidates responded to Trump's latest controversy?

KEITH: Well, yes. Bernie Sanders sent out a tweet saying America's first black president cannot and will not be succeeded by a hate monger who refuses to condemn the KKK. And then interestingly, Hillary Clinton's account retweeted that Bernie Sanders tweet. Also, in some black churches this morning where Hillary Clinton spoke, she had a line that certainly seemed to be aimed at Donald Trump.


HILLARY CLINTON: You see, I do believe America remains great. But what America needs to do now is become whole.


KEITH: That, of course, a reference to Trump's make America great again motto.

WESTERVELT: And she had a big win last night in South Carolina, Tam. How confident is her campaign heading into Tuesday's big contest?

KEITH: They are certainly feeling a lot better than they were a couple of weeks ago after New Hampshire. They do think that Bernie Sanders could win a few states, and Bernie Sanders is saying that he could win a few states. But the Clinton campaign is definitely in the mindset of looking at the general election, taking no vote for granted as they like to say, but also very much looking at potentially having to figure out how to take on Donald Trump in the general election.

WESTERVELT: And Tam, what does Bernie Sanders' campaign have to do to bounce back from back-to-back losses?

KEITH: He needs to win. He needs to sort of outperform expectations. And in some ways, it seems like he's already trying to lower expectations. He used to talk about expecting or needing or wanting to win Massachusetts. Now he's talking about performing well there. And he's beginning to look ahead to the states of California and New York, which are delegate-rich. But that's a long way off, and Hillary Clinton could have an insurmountable delegate lead by that point.

WESTERVELT: All right, Super Tuesday around the corner, NPR's Tamara Keith and Sarah McCammon out on the campaign trail. Thanks a lot, guys.


KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.