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VP Candidate Kaine: Trump Is 'Attacking Central Pillar Of Our Democracy'

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine in New Hampshire in September.
John Tully for NPR
Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine in New Hampshire in September.

Donald Trump at Wednesday's presidential debate refused to say whether he would honor the results of the Nov. 8 election. But is that just a tease meant to build suspense?

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep he doubts that.

"I'm not sure anybody can believe it," Kaine told Inskeep the day after the debate. "That moment would not have been as big a moment last night had Donald Trump not spent the last few weeks going around saying that the election is rigged against him. And when Donald says that, he's basically, after a campaign of attacking virtually every group he can attack now, he's attacking a central pillar of our democracy — that we run fair elections, that we accept the outcome of elections and then that we have a peaceful transfer of power."

(Morning Edition also invited GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence on the program, but he declined, citing the time zone that he is in.)

Interview Highlights

On how some Democrats did not accept the result in 2000 when George W. Bush won

There was a legal process that Al Gore availed himself of, and I think at the end of the day what people remember about that is how gracious Al Gore was after that contested process in saying the results need to go forward and we need to respect this president.

Also, Al Gore didn't run around before the election telling everybody that the election was rigged. Al Gore didn't encourage the Russian government to cyberattack U.S. institutions and give them information that could help them win elections. This thing that Donald is doing is very, very disturbing, but I think Hillary Clinton last night also kind of caught it in terms of what his character was. She pointed out: This is what Donald does. He won't take responsibility for anything. Being unwilling to take responsibility is a pretty important trait for people to know about this guy.

As Trump continues to cast doubt that Russia is interfering with the U.S. election, is there any room to doubt that it has?

There's no room at all. I'm on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees and receive classified briefings, and now I'm receiving classified briefings as a candidate for vice president. There is no doubt that Russia is engaging an effort to try to influence the outcome of the election. And Donald has received the same briefings that I have. And what was interesting about last night is he wouldn't condemn Russia's activities and acknowledge that it was them.

But he also refused to defend the American tradition of free and fair elections. It was like he was Vladimir Putin's lawyer at the same time as he was attacking this central pillar of American democracy that we know how to conduct an election fairly.

Debate moderator Chris Wallace brought up the Clinton Foundation, quoting Clinton in 2009 when she was being confirmed as secretary of state that she would avoid even an appearance of conflict of interest. Given that the foundation did go on to take money from foreign governments, did she avoid even the appearance of a conflict?

I think she did, Steve, for this reason. First, it's important anytime we talk about the foundation to just point out they do very good work, they get very high rankings — even higher than the American Red Cross — for the charitable work they do in the U.S. and around the globe.

Second, no Clinton takes a salary from the foundation. This is not putting money in their pockets. It's a nonprofit. Chelsea Clinton doesn't. Bill Clinton doesn't. Hillary Clinton doesn't. And they never have.

Although they were asking the Saudis for money for their programs, to give an example.

They were because they are doing projects around the world, including projects in the Middle East. Governments in the parts of the world where the Clinton Foundation is working on important philanthropic activities have contributed to the foundation, but that does not put a penny into the pockets of the Clintons. And then contrast that — and Chris Wallace did this briefly, too — with the Trump Foundation, where they have been fined for illegally using charitable money to make campaign contributions and in some instances using charitable money to do things that are really self-aggrandizing for Donald Trump, like buying a huge portrait of him.

So, fair question to ask. I think voters have questions, but the track record of the foundation and then the State Department's own investigation and conclusion that Hillary never took any action as secretary of state that was at all influenced by the foundation. The actions she took were in the best interest of the country. That's a very important conclusion.

Did she avoid even appearances, though?

Well, the other side wants to make complaints about it, but when you get into the reality of it, she avoided conflicts and I think she avoided appearance of conflict to any reasonable person.

If the Clinton/Kaine ticket wins, how will you reach out to your opponents after an election campaign like this?

We're already doing it. I remember in my speech at the convention in Philadelphia, I talked about my Republican father-in-law [Linwood Holton], who's now 93. He was the governor of Virginia, the first Republican governor. And I pointed out that he was supporting our ticket, because a party that would nominate Donald J. Trump is not a party that is his party of Lincoln. ...

A lot of GOP folks are coming over on our side, and we're doing a lot of outreach to get GOP voters and GOP officials to back us — [former] Sen. John Warner from Virginia, for example. By doing that, we start to lay the groundwork for a working coalition in Congress to get good work done.

With respect to Trump voters, look, there are some Trump voters who are deeply concerned. They have economic anxieties because the ZIP code where they live or maybe the industry where they were trained, they don't see a path to success for themselves or sometimes for their children. Yet the burden is on our shoulders immediately, and in the first hundred days we're going to put a jobs bill on the table in Congress to speak to that anxiety and try to create an economy that works for everybody, especially people who are hard hit in any way. That is a core of the Trump supporters that we have to speak to immediately, and we have to govern with their concerns in mind.

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