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Week In Politics: Trump's Comments, Clinton's Taxes


We are 86 days from the election, and things continue to get heated in the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Here to talk about this past week in politics is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. She joins us from Martha's Vineyard, which is also where President Obama is on vacation. Welcome, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

AUBREY: So I want to start with the latest on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton released her tax returns just yesterday. Did anything in particular stand out?

LIASSON: Well, what we learned from her tax returns is that the Clintons earned $10 million in 2015. Most of it came from Bill Clinton's speaking fees. They paid an effective tax rate - federal and state - of 43 percent. They gave 10 percent of their income to charity, but the implicit message in these tax returns is not so much what's in them, but the Clinton campaign is trying to goad Donald Trump into releasing his tax returns which he has refused so far to do. And there are already ads from Clinton supporters asking what is Donald Trump hiding? Maybe loans to Russian oligarchs, no charitable contributions, maybe he's not a billionaire, maybe he paid zero taxes in 2015. But Donald Trump has said he thinks this is what killed Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney should not have released his tax returns.

AUBREY: So speaking of Donald Trump, where does the race stand now?

LIASSON: The race is leaning to Hillary Clinton right now. The polls are getting bad and worse for Donald Trump. He's slipping nationally and in battleground states. He's losing support in red states like Georgia and Utah. He's losing support among groups he should be able to take for granted like Republican women. In the latest ABC poll, Clinton has almost 50 percent support from independents. That's a group Romney won in 2012, and that's despite the fact that her numbers on honesty and trustworthiness have not moved. They're still terrible. So the changes in the polls are because Donald Trump has had a bad week.

AUBREY: Now, Donald Trump has taken heat for a few comments he made this week, including the comment that President Obama is, quote, "the founder of ISIS."


AUBREY: This did not go over so well.

LIASSON: This is causing Republicans to just tear their hair out. Recently, 50 Republicans wrote an open letter to the RNC saying you should cut off funding for the Trump campaign, focus on saving our House and Senate seats. That follows a letter from 50 national security officials from former Republican administrations saying that they think Donald Trump would be a reckless president and a national security threat. So a lot of pessimism of Republicans.

There is a pattern here. He does things like say that Barack Obama was the founder of ISIS or he picks a fight with a Gold Star family, and then Republicans stage a kind of intervention, beg him to get back on track, which he does briefly. He gave a speech from a teleprompter on the economy on Monday, but within a day or two, he's back to suggesting either the gun rights supporters, quote, "could do something about Hillary Clinton after she becomes president."

So Republicans are really upset about this because Trump routinely misses opportunities to focus on Hillary Clinton's troubles, of which there are many including emails between the foundation and State Department officials which also came out this week.

AUBREY: Now, between the controversy surrounding Donald Trump's comments and his declining poll numbers as you point to, there's a lot going on here. How is the Trump campaign responding?

LIASSON: That's a really interesting question. Donald Trump has acknowledged that he is slipping in the polls.


DONALD TRUMP: And if at the end of 90 days, I fall in short because I'm somewhat politically correct, even though I'm supposed to be the smart one and even though I'm supposed to have a lot of good ideas, it's OK. You know, I go back to a very good way of life.

LIASSON: But way back in the spring, he did an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly where he suggested a different reaction to losing.


TRUMP: If I don't go all the way and if I don't win, I will consider it to be a total and complete waste of time, energy and money.

LIASSON: So there you have it - either he can go back to his nice life or he's just wasted a lot of time, energy and money...

AUBREY: (Laughter).

LIASSON: ...If he loses.

AUBREY: So he's changed his tune.

LIASSON: Yes, but there's still several months to go. This has been a very unpredictable race, and it could stay that way.

AUBREY: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
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