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Trump's Unscripted Remarks Continue To Dominate Discourse


This was supposed to be the week Donald Trump stuck to the script. He gave a major speech on the economy, as did Hillary Clinton, who once again found herself beset by questions about emails and links between her State Department staff and the Clinton Foundation. Yet once again, big stories seem to come from Trump's unscripted moments. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Trump's economy speech had a day at the top of the news, but it was soon overtaken by his remark about gun rights supporters doing something to stop Hillary Clinton. Has that controversy now been superseded by others?

ELVING: It's back to being one in the catalog, although one I suspect we will hear about again and again as people continue to wrestle with what Trump may have meant by those remarks. It did certainly dominate the discourse for two or three days. But then, of course, the next train comes along.

SIMON: Which was about President Obama - he said was the founder of ISIS.

ELVING: The founder of ISIS. And he was invited to walk that back or modify it or call it a metaphor or something else in separate interviews and he did not. Then on Friday he finally sent out a tweet saying hey, everybody, don't you understand sarcasm, putting sarcasm in all capital letters. But then later on in the day in Pennsylvania, he said maybe he wasn't being all that sarcastic.

SIMON: We must note there was also some seriously jolting news for the Clinton campaign. Midweek, there were questions raised about the relationship between the Clinton Foundation and members of her State Department staff. Why do you think perhaps that didn't get as much attention?

ELVING: It did get some attention. We're talking about it now. We've talked about it on NPR. It's been in just about every news organization I can see. And in some precincts of the media it got quite a bit of attention. This came from Judicial Watch, which is a conservative watchdog group, dates back to the 1990s. And it released a batch of emails from 2009 that they had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. And in them there are conversations between staff at the private Clinton Foundation and staff at the State Department, which was headed at the time by Secretary Hillary Clinton. So they were talking about someone looking for a job and someone looking for a meeting, and they very much left the impression that Foundation people and donors were getting special treatment.

SIMON: Were they, based on what you read, getting special treatment?

ELVING: We don't know. The various folks involved deny it. The emails we've seen so far are inconclusive - they don't quite complete the circle or get to the pay-off - but we are promised more emails to come.

SIMON: So it seems, Ron, like we wound up with another week of (laughter) negative impressions, mostly, in two campaigns. But really, it must be said more about Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. What's your estimation of that?

ELVING: There could be several reasons, and one of them certainly is the visual element. Everything that comes from a Trump rally or a TV interview with Donald Trump is live and in color. It catches your eye. It holds your attention even through many repetitions, which it then gets on YouTube and on Facebook and so forth. And old emails about alleged improprieties from another decade are just going to be a little less compelling, especially as television.

SIMON: But these allegations are not just verbal gaffes, I mean, if what's being implied here by some is that there's - there was a breach of ethics.

ELVING: Yes. And if proven, the consequences could also be serious and go beyond a mere breach of ethics. But we are still several bricks shy of a load here. And let's remember that the controversies that are coming from Mr. Trump are also going beyond mere gaffes.

SIMON: There other reasons you think the coverage sometimes seems to be different?

ELVING: To some degree, the campaigns seek to promote or attract different kinds of coverage. I think the Trump idea has been to draw a crowd all along in person and on TV and on social media, and they certainly have done so over the past year. He feeds the crowd. He feeds off the crowd. And that's also been true with the media up to now. And now we're in the general campaign, and that dynamic has changed.

SIMON: Yeah. And what about the Clinton campaign?

ELVING: They know their campaign - their candidate - they know their candidate is less dynamic, maybe their campaign, too, less dramatic. They know that their best asset is probably the aversion that a lot of people have to Donald Trump. So they try to keep their head down, focusing on small events - you know, one-on-one interviews - minimizing the media time, hoping to keep the really bright lights and the real scrutiny on their opponent.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.