Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Kaine Twists Words of GOP Rivals

In a speech in Michigan, Tim Kaine cherry-picked the words of his Republican opponents, Donald Trump and Mike Pence, to leave a misleading impression of their public statements on military service members and white nationalist David Duke.

  • Kaine quoted Trump as saying, “the American military is a disaster,” as evidence Trump was “dissing 2 million young men and women” soldiers. But Trump was referring to the depletion of military resources, not the men and women who serve in the military.
  • Kaine said that Pence responded, “I don’t want to get into the name-calling business,” when asked if David Duke is “deplorable.” True, but Pence also said the Trump campaign doesn’t want Duke’s support or “the support of people who think like him.”

Kaine made his comments during a speech in Michigan on Sept. 13. In both cases, Trump and Pence uttered the words Kaine attributed to them. But in both cases, Kaine left out key context.

Military Is a ‘Disaster’

The Michigan speech was not the first time Kaine has criticized Trump for describing the military as “a disaster.” Kaine has pointed out this quote, which Trump made in a January primary debate, in numerous interviews and speeches.

Here’s what Kaine said in Michigan:

Kaine, Sept. 13: Donald Trump has a different approach. Donald Trump, on the military, repeatedly he has said, quote, “The American military is a disaster.” Now as a Blue Star family, when you hear somebody dissing 2 million young men and women who volunteer in time of war, risking their lives and their health, and just saying, well, they’re a disaster, it infuriates me.

Blue Star families are those that have members serving in the military. Kaine is a Blue Star parent because his eldest son, Nathaniel, is a U.S. Marine.

But was Trump “dissing” the men and women who serve in the military when he said, “Our military is a disaster”? Here’s the context of his comment.

Trump, Jan. 14: I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show. Obamacare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry. And I won’t be angry when we fix it, but until we fix it, I’m very, very angry.

If those were Trump’s only words on the matter, perhaps his meaning would be unclear. But on numerous occasions, both before and after that debate, Trump has made it clear that he is not criticizing the men and women who serve in the military, but rather elected officials who he says have left the military “depleted.”

For example, in remarks at a National Guard Association convention on Sept. 12, Trump made clear that his beef is with elected leaders who he believes have underfunded the military and left it “depleted,” not with active military members, who he called “the greatest men and women on earth.”

Trump, Sept. 12: My plan calls for a major rebuilding of the entire military and the elimination of the defense — and we have to do this so quickly, it’s a disaster — of the defense sequester. It is a disaster. Have no choice, it is a disaster. It’s called depletion. We have been depleted as a military, we can’t let that happen. The greatest men and women on Earth, but we have been depleted by what’s taken place.

In a speech in North Carolina the same day, Trump referred to military members as “heroes” who are “a permanent testament to the courage and character of our nation.”

During the NBC “commander-in-chief forum” on Sept. 7, Trump again made clear that when he criticizes the military, he is not disparaging the members serving in the military.

Trump, Sept. 7: We have a depleted military. We have the greatest people in the world in our military. But it is very sadly depleted.

Trump’s criticism of military funding has been a steady theme throughout his campaign, both before and after his comment in question at the debate.

For example, Trump said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sept. 20, 2015, several months before the “disaster” comment at the debate, “Our military is not the same as it was, obviously. It’s being depleted. I see it in the real estate business all the time. I’m getting listings for Army bases and naval bases and everything. They’re selling so much — so many things in so many places. And I say to myself, what’s going on?”

Trump had used similar language — that the military is “depleted” — going back to at least August 2015.

The Clinton-Kaine campaign told us that some could interpret Trump’s debate comment about the military as a slight to active service members, because he did not clarify that he was not talking about military members. And certainly some service members may be offended by Trump’s assessment of the military’s capability. But Trump’s comments both before that debate and numerous times since then have made it clear that Trump’s criticism is not of military members, but of the military condition due to funding.


Is Duke ‘Deplorable’?

In a defense of Clinton’s comment that half of Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorables,” Kaine also misleadingly cherry-picked comments from Pence about David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard now running for U.S. Senate.

Duke has said he supports Trump’s candidacy, and he has praised a number of Trump’s policy positions, including on immigration. He told his listeners in a February radio interview that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.”

Kaine seized on that support as evidence that some who support Trump do in fact fall into that “deplorable” category mentioned by Clinton. Kaine said Clinton “advanced the notion that if you’re chumming around with the head of the Ku Klux Klan or people that have that tie, that’s deplorable. You’ve got to call that out.”

Kaine, Sept. 13: And so Donald Trump says, well, that — you know, how insulting of Hillary to make that point. And so last night, on a news program, Wolf Blitzer asked his running mate, so is David Duke, you know, with all his connections with the Ku Klux Klan, is David Duke deplorable? Quote, “I don’t want to get into the name-calling business.”

If you cannot call out bigotry, if you cannot call out racism, xenophobia, it’s — if you can’t call it out and you stand back and you’re silent around it, you’re enabling it to grow.

It’s true that in an interview on CNN on Sept. 13, Blitzer asked Pence if he would call David Duke “deplorable,” and Pence replied, “I’m not in the name-calling business.”

But Pence wasn’t “silent” about Duke in the interview. Pence also said, “Donald Trump has denounced David Duke repeatedly. We don’t want his support and we don’t want the support of people who think like him.”

Here’s the exchange:

Blitzer, Sept. 13: But she said there are supporters — and you know this — there are some supporters of Donald Trump and Mike Pence who — like David Duke for example, and some other white nationalists, who would fit into that category of deplorables, right?

Pence: Well, as I’ve told you the last time I was on, I’m not really sure why the media keeps dropping David Duke’s name. Donald Trump has denounced David Duke repeatedly. We don’t want his support and we don’t want the support of people who think like him.

Blitzer: So you’d call him a deplorable? You would call him that?

Pence: Well, that — no. I don’t — I’m not in the name-calling business, Wolf. You know me better than that. What Hillary Clinton did Friday night was shocking. I mean the — the millions of people who support Donald Trump around this country are not a basket of anything. They are Americans. And they deserve the respect of the Democrat nominee for president of the United States.

People are free to take issue with Pence’s decision not to characterize Duke as “deplorable.” Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who has refused to endorse Trump, was among those who chastised Pence for not calling Duke’s views deplorable. But when Kaine singles out Pence’s comment about not wanting to name call, but omits Pence’s denunciation of Duke, it leaves a misleading impression of Pence’s public stance.

As for Kaine’s comment, “if you’re chumming around with the head of the Ku Klux Klan or people that have that tie, that’s deplorable,” the campaign told us he was referring to Duke, though he was not implying that Trump himself has been “chumming around” with Duke, only that some of Trump’s supporters have.

Trump repeatedly has been asked about David Duke. In one of the first instances during the campaign, Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he didn’t know anything about Duke. As we wrote then, that’s nonsense. We found instances of Trump criticizing Duke in 1991 and again in 2000, when he called Duke, “a bigot, a racist, a problem.” Trump later said he had an issue with a “bad earpiece” in the CNN interview, and he has since repeatedly disavowed Duke, and renounced support from any white supremacists.