The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s damn-near impossible to make sense of Donald Trump’s many mixed messages these days

Several members of Donald Trump’s campaign say the media is misconstruing his comments on the campaign trail. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday to talk about the state of the race -- and defend his boss's many, many contradictory and controversial statements. It was painful. Using Genius, I annotated it. You can too! Sign up for Genius and annotate alongside me! To see an annotation, click or tap the highlighted part of the transcript.

TAPPER: Joining me from New York is Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Mr. Manafort, thanks so much for joining us today.


TAPPER: So, Republicans in Washington and throughout the country, as I don't need to tell you, are starting to get very worried that Mr. Trump doesn't have the discipline to stay on message and win the election.

You see the polling showing him behind in battleground states. I know he did an economic speech Monday, and he is going to do a speech on terrorism tomorrow. But, in between, of course, he does seem to go off-message. Last night, he was talking about Monica Lewinsky's blue dress.

What do you say to Republicans when they call you up and say please get Mr. Trump to focus?

MANAFORT: Well, first of all, the piece you just did is an example of why we're -- he said last night that, besides running against Hillary Clinton, he's running against the media.

The point he was making is, this week was a substantive week. He talked about an economic plan. And Hillary Clinton presented her economic plan. They were two different plans. Our plan very clearly laid out how he was going to cut taxes, lower -- lower the tax rates for small businesses, how that would create more jobs. He talked about his trade policy.

He talked about his energy policy and making America energy- independent. And she laid out a program which, frankly, is exactly what this administration is doing, raising taxes, raising spending, increasing the national debt. And our -- there was a -- there was a debate that could have been had there.

Instead, the media chose to take her, Clinton -- the Clinton campaign narrative and go on attack on Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, in the course of this week, was very substantive on -- when he visited a number of battleground states. You didn't cover it. But, frankly, the local media is covering it. And so, from our standpoint, we're pleased that we're getting the coverage that we need in the battleground states, where this campaign is going to be fought.

Additionally, we think that, contrary to your report and contrary to "The New York Times"' nameless sources story, the campaign is moving to get forward and is very strong. We raised over $132 million in the last two months. We're organized in all 50 states, all 50 states.

We have been in the battleground states every day this month, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida multiple times this month. And we are starting to get traction in those states.

TAPPER: So -- so...

MANAFORT: So, we are concerned -- we are convinced that, contrary to the stories of "The New York Times," which are not correct, and contrary to the lead-in to this interview of Trump unplugged, that Trump is very plugged in. He is very connected.

And you're seeing crowds attending these appearances that are end-of- October numbers, not -- they're not August numbers. In August, look at the crowds Hillary Clinton is getting. She is appearing before 30, 40, 100 people. He's appearing before 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people. That shows you the campaign is working, and contrary to what the media is saying.

TAPPER: So, one of the reasons that Mr. Trump's message about the economy on Monday was sidetracked was, of course, when he raised the possibility of Second Amendment people taking matters into their own hands to stop Clinton from appointing pro-gun control judges.

That's a controversy that you reject. Trump said afterwards that no one thought he was suggesting violence, but I want you -- I want you take a listen. Here is Mr. Trump.


TRUMP: Nobody in that room thought anything other than what you just said, that there can be no other interpretation. Even reporters have told me, I mean, give me a break.


TAPPER: So -- but here is the thing. It wasn't just reporters. It was Republicans. It was people in Washington, D.C., who want Mr. Trump to win.

And then, if you look at the speech, when he made those remarks, the man with the white beard who was sitting right behind Mr. Trump at that event, CNN tracked him down. Take a listen.


DARRELL VICKERS, ATTENDED TRUMP RALLY: I was just absolutely taken aghast.

Down here in the South, we don't curse in front of women, we don't drink liquor in front of the preacher, and we don't make jokes like that in public.

We would have taken Mr. Trump to the shed and said, don't say things like that, because people will misconstrue it.


TAPPER: So that's Darrell Vickers. That's a man who is going to vote for Trump. And he interpreted it the same way a lot of other people do.

Now, does Mr. Trump need to listen to what Mr. Vickers had to say, which is, be more careful with your words?

MANAFORT: Look, I'm not going to say that he didn't interpret it that way or not.

The point is, most people did not interpret it that way. It was not meant at all to be a threat. But the point, again, is, you could have covered what he was saying, or you could try and make -- take an aside and take the Clinton narrative and play it out.

And you -- and chose to do that instead. I mean, there's plenty of news to cover this week that I haven't seen covered. You had information coming out about pay-for-play out of e-mails of Hillary Clinton's that weren't turned over, by the way, to the Justice Department for her investigation. That's a major news story.

You had -- you had the NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists. You had a number of things that were appropriate to this campaign, were part of what Mr. Trump has been talking about.

You had economic numbers coming out this week that showed that productivity is down, housing ownership is down, unemployment, you know, is at the -- at over 102 million. These are all things that could have been covered this week.


MANAFORT: Instead, you took an aside that the Clinton narrative told you was something, Mr. Trump told you he didn't mean, and you played it out for two days.

TAPPER: OK. First of all...

MANAFORT: And that's what we're talking about.

TAPPER: ... and the -- but, just as a factual matter, on Monday, my show covered Mr. Trump's speech, OK? We did. We covered Mr. Trump's speech. We covered the narrative. And we did cover those Hillary Clinton e-mails.

So, when -- these things, just because you say them, they're not -- they're not true. I mean, we have been covering the substance. We have been covering the things that are bad to Hillary Clinton.

MANAFORT: Jake, we -- we -- Jake, we have been talking about these messages all week. You covered it one day, and you covered this aside about the Second Amendment for three days.

I mean, come on. There's not a comparison here. You had a chance to have a serious discussion about the two economic programs that were presented this past week, this very week, by the two candidates. There was no discussion. There was no comparison. Instead, you took these asides.

TAPPER: And you -- and Mr. Trump bears no responsibility -- and Mr. Trump bears no responsibility for his campaign being off-message? He is not the -- his comments about the Second Amendment had nothing to do with why we weren't covering the economic message?

MANAFORT: His point about the Second Amendment was that people who cared about the Second Amendment should be concerned about Hillary Clinton's candidacy, and that those who are concerned probably would take up the cause.

Now, there's -- you can interpret it, which I certainly didn't, as a threat.

But if you want to go back and look at threats, then you ought to look -- go back to 2008, when Hillary Clinton was running against Obama, and in May of that year, when she was clearly the loser and asked, why are you still in the race, she said, well, remember, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

I mean, that's a much more direct reference, and laid at the feet of Hillary Clinton.


TAPPER: We did cover -- I did cover that in 2008. I did cover it in 2008. And Hillary Clinton, you know what she did? She issued an apology.

She said: I'm sorry my comments were meant that way, construed that way. That's not how I meant it.

But let's move on.

I want to ask you about Governor Mike Pence, Mr. Trump's running mate. He yesterday told an interviewer that he would soon release his tax returns. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have already released their tax returns.

That puts him at odds with Mr. Trump. Back in 2012, Trump pushed then nominee Mitt Romney to release his taxes. Take a listen.


TRUMP: You didn't see the tax returns, you would think there's almost, like, something wrong. What's wrong?


TAPPER: So, that's Mr. Trump saying, you need to see the tax returns; otherwise, you think, what's wrong?

You could put this whole tax return issue to rest right now if you release Mr. Trump's 2008 returns. That's a year no longer under audit, according to Mr. Trump's lawyers.

You obviously have made the calculation it's better to take the hit than to let the public see what's in those taxes.

But Mr. Trump said in 2012, as he said, what's wrong in these tax returns? What do you not want the public to see?

MANAFORT: There is nothing that doesn't want the public to see.

Mr. Trump's position has been clear from the beginning. He's under audit. When the audit is completed, he will release his returns.

By the way, in Mrs. Clinton's returns, you saw a lot of income coming from donors to the Clinton Foundation and people who benefit from her State Department term as well. I haven't seen any stories on that yet.

TAPPER: Mr. Trump unveiled his economic plan this week. I want to ask you about that, if we can.


TAPPER: He proposed across-the-board tax cuts, with the biggest monetary benefit going to the top 1 percent.

Now, you compare that to the rhetoric that Mr. Trump offered back in September. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 2015)

TRUMP: It reduces or eliminates most of the deductions and loopholes available to special interests and to the very rich. In other words, it's going to cost me a fortune.


TAPPER: Now listen to what Mr. Trump had to say to "The Today Show" in March.


QUESTION: Do you believe in raising taxes on the wealthy?

TRUMP: I do. I do, including myself. I do.


TAPPER: Does seem that the plan he unveiled Monday walks away from what he said in March and last September, when he talked about how it was going to really hurt the very wealthy.

MANAFORT: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear the last sentence, Jake.

TAPPER: My question is, his tax plan, as unveiled Monday, seems to walk away from what he said in September and March, when he said the very wealthy would pay much more.

MANAFORT: Not at all.

He lays out three rates, 12 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent. In those rates, what he's talking -- talking about is increasing the -- and taking away a number of deductions that are used by the very wealthy.

I'm sorry. It's 33 percent.

Taking away deductions that are only used by the wealthy, so that -- but, more importantly, he removes from the tax rolls a significant percentage of the American people. Taxes will go down. There will be more real spending income for middle-income working families.

And, as a result of this tax plan and all of the components of the tax plan, the trade elements, the -- the investment elements, you're going to have a situation where jobs are going to come back to America, manufacturing is going to benefit again, the coal industry is going to benefit again, the oil and gas industry is going to benefit again, which means more jobs, good-paying jobs.

And, as a result, the economy will grow again, unlike what it has under Obama, where you have had the slowest growth since World War II. And the Clinton plan that was announced this week would simply be more of the same, so that the kind of growth you have experienced for the last eight years, you will experience for four more years, whereas the Trump plan, similar to the Reagan plan and, frankly, similar to the John F. Kennedy plan in 1961, would spur growth, create jobs and lower taxes for most Americans.

TAPPER: But it wouldn't cost Mr. Trump a fortune, is my point.

But I only have time for one more question, sir, so let me ask you this.

The co-chairman of Donald Trump's New York campaign, Carl Paladino, said this week that Khizr Khan doesn't deserve to be called a Gold Star parent, even though his son died fighting for the U.S. in Iraq heroically, because, in the words of your New York co-chair, Carl Paladino, Mr. Khan supports this ISIS-type attitude against America.

Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer responded to Mr. Paladino, saying: "The Khans gave the ultimate sacrifice, their only son, to our nation in the war on terror. To attack them and claim that they somehow don't deserve to be called Gold Star parents is a slap in the face to everyone who has ever served in the military."

Do you think that, by having Mr. Paladino continue to serve as your New York co-chair, you're dishonoring the military?

MANAFORT: Look, I -- I will follow up on -- I'm not sure what he said. I hear you saying that.

I know I am concerned that the father of the Pulse cabaret murderer who killed a number of gays -- gays in Florida two months ago was sitting in the VIP section of Hillary Clinton's speech last week in Florida. That concerns me, wondering how he could get into that kind of speech. He is an avowed Islamic radical. And that -- that concerns me. She has totally ignored that fact.

TAPPER: All right, you didn't address the question at all. But that's all the time we have.

MANAFORT: Well, I don't -- I don't know about the quote. I don't know about the quote. I would have to check into the situation.

Certainly, Mr. Trump has made it very clear that he recognizes the sacrifices of all Gold Star parents, and he -- he empathized for that loss. And he talked about the importance of having a policy that will reduce the risk of terrorist threats in America and in around the world.


MANAFORT: And, this week, we will be talking about that.

TAPPER: Mr. Paladino, your New York co-chair, is attacking a Gold Star family. So, you might want to look into that.

Thank you so much. I really appreciated it.

MANAFORT: Thank you, Jake.