ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For broader look at the dynamic between the Trump campaign and white supremacist groups, Evan Osnos is here. He wrote about the subject over the summer for The New Yorker magazine, and he's been keeping tabs on it ever since. Welcome.
EVAN OSNOS: Thanks, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Where does this relationship have its roots?
OSNOS: It began, really, at the moment that Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. You remember, he made the now-famous reference to Mexico sending rapists, and that line resonated with a group of Americans who had otherwise opted out of the main stage of politics. They felt there was nobody who spoke for them. They tend to be white men with limited education and, importantly, limited wage growth over the last generation. These are people who have felt as if they have fallen away from the main current of American life politically and economically and culturally. And all of a sudden, they've discovered Donald Trump. And within two weeks after his announcement, he had been endorsed by the largest neo-Nazi news site in America.
SHAPIRO: You watched the first Republican presidential debate with members of a white nationalist group. What did they see in that debate that average viewers might not have latched onto?
OSNOS: The thing that got them the most excited was that they heard somebody railing against a culture of political correctness, and for them, that is a huge idea. It encompasses political elites and Wall Street and universities and major institutions in America to which they feel they are no longer able to gain entry. And then they saw Donald Trump, who is, let's remember, in their view, the archetypal New Yorker. He presents himself as the archetypal elite. And to hear him saying things that they had been saying in private out on the fringe of politics was thrilling.
SHAPIRO: Some of these groups have actively campaigned for Trump. There was a robocall in Iowa, for example.
OSNOS: Yeah. Over the course of the fall and into the winter, they went from being just enthusiastic to being organized. And you had a number of white nationalists who made robocalls on behalf of Trump's campaign. And then eventually, this led up to this moment now when David Duke has come out and called on his radio listeners to vote for Trump because, as he says, a vote for anybody else is treason to your heritage.
SHAPIRO: How conscientiously is Trump playing to these groups, or do these groups just see something in Trump that they find appealing?
OSNOS: You will never hear Donald Trump get up and say, I am speaking to white supremacists. He is a very sophisticated political player in his own way. But he knows - he figured it out a long time ago that his success with these groups of white supremacists was also an indication that he had some potential appeal among other people who may not regard themselves as being that far to the right but for whom some of these ideas will resonate.
It's worth pointing out that this is a tiny fringe in American life. But what we've learned over the years is that a small fringe, A, can have an impact on politics, particularly in places where we have closely contested races and we have a party that is fractured around what sort of values the Republican Party will hold. And then it has the effect over time of dragging the political race deeper into the territory of ideas about white supremacy that never, in a very long time, at least, have had any place in American politics.
SHAPIRO: These are unpopular views, to say the least. What does it mean for the Trump campaign to have the support of these groups that many Americans find reprehensible?
OSNOS: I think they'd - has to give pause to other mainstream Republicans who are deciding whether or not to stand with Trump. If this story about Trump's on-and-off-again association with enthusiastic supporters among white supremacists - if that becomes an ongoing issue, that is going to give pause to Republican politicians who have to think about not simply what the political effects will be one them for the next few months but, in fact, historically. If, down the road, this comes to be viewed as a grave mistake, do they want to risk having been associated with him?
SHAPIRO: Evan Osnos, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, thanks for coming in.
OSNOS: Thanks for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.