Trump Campaign Uses Racist And Sexist Tropes To Attack Kamala Harris

Aug 14, 2020
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is returning to familiar territory - entertaining and amplifying a racist birther conspiracy. This time, he's targeting Sen. Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's pick to be vice president. Since her selection was announced, the Biden campaign has raised more than $50 million, and the Trump campaign is struggling to land on a consistent response. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: If you want to know what a campaign's official talking points are, just tune into one of their press calls.

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STACY WASHINGTON: You know, today, we're talking about Joe Biden's new running mate, Camala (ph) Harris, or as we know her, Phony Camala.

KEITH: That was Stacy Washington, a Black Voices for Trump advisory board member, earlier this week on a call set up by the campaign. She mispronounced Kamala Harris' name while keeping to the script about the senator's record of supporting "Medicare for All" and the Green New Deal.

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WASHINGTON: It couldn't be clearer that with this VP pick, the extreme liberal takeover of Joe Biden is complete. You don't have to take our word for it. Just look at the record of Joe Biden's new handler.

KEITH: The language was colorful, but the focus was ostensibly on policy. President Trump, though, immediately went more personal, describing Harris as disrespectful, nasty and angry, playing into the old racist, sexist trope of the angry Black woman. Then yesterday, given the opportunity to reject a birther conspiracy making the rounds on the Internet, Trump threw fuel on it.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I heard it today that she doesn't meet the requirements. And by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer.

KEITH: There is no question Harris was born in Oakland, Calif. Yes, her father was an immigrant from Jamaica, her mother from India, but Harris is as much a natural-born American as President Trump, whose own mother immigrated from Scotland. And so as he often does, Trump did add a dose of plausible deniability.

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TRUMP: I have no idea if that's right. I would have - I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.

DOUG HEYE: Unfortunately, this might have been inevitable.

KEITH: Doug Heye is a former Republican Party spokesman.

HEYE: If Republicans and Trump decide to go after Harris instead of Biden and say that she's the Biden whisperer from the left, there is the substance there for them to do so. And just as there was plenty of substance for Trump to go after Obama, these are the places that he always goes back to. It almost is his safe space.

KEITH: Birtherism is in the DNA of Trump's political rise. First, it was President Obama, like in this clip from ABC News.

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TRUMP: I have no idea. I really have no idea.

JONATHAN KARL: You don't believe him? He's produced his birth certificate...

TRUMP: I would - I'd love to believe him. You know what? I'll tell you what. I think he'd do a great...

KARL: ...Even at this point?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. Was there a birth certificate? You tell me. You know, some people say that was not his birth certificate.

KEITH: And then it was his 2016 primary opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz.

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TRUMP: I mean, I don't even think - you know, based on things that I've learned over the last few days, many lawyers are coming out saying he doesn't even have a right to run.

KEITH: And he always uses the same arm's length, just asking questions formula to inject conspiracies into the American bloodstream. On "CBS This Morning," Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, went to a defense Trump allies use regularly.

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JARED KUSHNER: He just said that he had no idea whether that's right or wrong. I don't see that as promoting it. But look; at the end of the day, it's something that's out there.

KEITH: This is a way for Trump to signal to his base that America is changing and that they should be afraid, says Amanda Renteria, who served as political director on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

AMANDA RENTERIA: You know, the energy that you've seen of women of color, of breaking barriers, sons and daughters of - a daughter of an immigrant - he immediately is trying to strip that down by saying that's not American.

KEITH: Trump held another press conference Friday and did nothing to correct the record. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.