MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We'll start the program today with a volatile subject that has dominated the presidential campaign for the last couple of days, and that is race, specifically the relationships the two major presidential candidates are cultivating with different racial groups. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton delivered a blunt speech in Reno, Nev., on Thursday criticizing Republican nominee Donald Trump's track record with minorities and highlighting his support from white nationalist groups.
Donald Trump attended a rally in Mississippi where he called Hillary Clinton a bigot, saying she and other Democrats have taken minorities for granted. He also invited a group of black and Latino supporters to consult with him on Thursday. One of those supporters was former presidential candidate, the retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, and we'll start our conversation about these events with him.
Dr. Carson, welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
BEN CARSON: My pleasure.
MARTIN: First, can I ask you about the meeting that you attended? It's been described as part of his outreach to black and Latino voters. Is that what it was?
CARSON: Yes. He wants to find out from a lot of different sources what people perceive the problems to be and what they perceive the solutions to be, and he also wants to hear about things that have effectively moved people out of a position of dependency and put them on the ladder to success.
MARTIN: What was the expertise that the attendees represented? I recognized some of the names like Reverend Mark Burns, who's been a surrogate on the campaign trail. And certainly, everyone knows you. What was the expertise represented by the people who attended this meeting?
CARSON: I think the major expertise is having lived the life in the inner cities, growing up through the system and understanding what is necessary in order to succeed in this system.
MARTIN: So this was a policy discussion, in your opinion, more about policy recommendations, not so much a political discussion. Was that what it was?
CARSON: I would just characterize it as an opportunity for a lot of people who are interested in the same thing and that is empowering our cities because, as you know, the slogan for the Trump campaign is make America great again, but you cannot be great if you have large pockets of people who are failing.
MARTIN: Well, it's no secret that Donald Trump is doing extremely poorly with African-American voters, in some places polling as low as 0 percent in some polls. He's doing slightly better with Latino voters, but still far lower than Republican nominees have done in recent elections, even accounting for the popularity of the current president, Barack Obama. Why do you think that is?
CARSON: Well, as you - maybe you don't know - in one of those polls that had him at zero to 1 percent, this week he's up to 8 percent, and I think that's going to continue to improve. Recognize that in recent decades, the Republican Party has largely given the black vote up to the Democrats and assumed that there was no point in even pursuing it. Well, he has a different philosophy. The idea is to try to strengthen all of America, and you can't have pockets that you neglect.
MARTIN: Can I just ask you how do you feel like - you said that the Republican Party has not contested for the black vote. There are a lot of people who would agree or disagree with that. I mean, there are certainly - previous Republican officials could point to outreach efforts that were made, appearances before a certain, you know - high-profile groups. What has Donald Trump done to demonstrate that he is going to contest for this vote?
CARSON: Well, he's been speaking very openly about it and speaking about what has been happening. I think probably even the staunchest Democrat could not with a straight face say that the policies that have been carried forth in our big inner cities for the last 50 years have worked. I, personally, am not a very partisan person, but I am a person who wants to see people succeed. And that's why there's going to be such a strong emphasis on education - doesn't matter what a person's background is. You give them a good education, they can write their own ticket.
MARTIN: You'd mentioned just a moment ago that Donald Trump has distinguished himself by talking about these issues, but he is talking to mostly white audiences about these issues. We are told that now he's going to start speaking to black audiences directly. What do you think he should say?
CARSON: Well, first of all, I think it's smart to start talking about it to our audiences, and that's what he's doing because I think a lot of people in the black community are going to say, wait, a minute. You mean they're going to pay some attention to us? Let's listen to what they have to say. That's very important. Because when...
MARTIN: Forgive me. Forgive me...
CARSON: Well, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Because when you hear about mechanisms that will be put into place that you can get a good education, when you hear about mechanisms that bring families together, rather than tearing them apart, when you hear things about how we use the prison system in a positive way so that when people come out, they don't come out like they went in with no education and no skills and no job. And we give people a different pathway.
That's how you change the trajectory. That's something that has not been done.
MARTIN: But he has...
CARSON: And then they want to hear about policies that will empower people with jobs for people who are unemployed, underemployed or on welfare. That would be the biggest stimulus since FDR's New Deal, and it wouldn't cost the tax payer one penny.
MARTIN: But he has declined opportunities to speak to these groups directly, groups like the National Association of Black Journalists - George W. Bush spoke to this group - groups like the NAACP and the National Urban League. And yet, he is talking about these issues concerning African-Americans and Latinos to mostly white audiences. Why?
CARSON: There hasn't been anything traditional about Donald Trump's campaign, and I don't think it's going to start being traditional now either.
MARTIN: Do you agree with his message so far? I mean, one of the things that's been very attention-getting is his argument that African-Americans are undereducated, that they have no jobs, that their neighborhoods are disorder. Do you think that that's been a constructive message so far, an appealing message?
CARSON: Well, of course, not all of them are that way, but the number of African-Americans who are on food stamps has gone up substantially in the last seven to eight years. The incarceration rates continue to be very high. The family income - decreasing, like everybody else's...
MARTIN: But, you know, more white people are on food stamps than black people...
CARSON: Well, excuse me. Wait a minute. They're out of wedlock births. Think about that - 73 percent of black babies born out of wedlock. What does that mean? When that woman has that baby, the first one - usually her education - ends at that point, and that child is four times more likely to grow up in poverty. This is something that we should all be concerned about.
This is not a partisan issue, as far as I'm concerned.
MARTIN: But there are more white people on food stamps than there are black people, and I think you, certainly as a medical professional, are aware of the degree to which...
CARSON: It doesn't matter how many people are on it of any other color.
CARSON: What I said still stands.
MARTIN: You're saying that what you're concerned is the disproportionate nature of some of these issues. Well...
CARSON: I don't care where there's disproportion. I care about the fact that we have more people moving in that direction, rather than fewer people. That's - you got to focus on what's important.
MARTIN: Well, there are certainly of certain sort of dysfunctions and pathologies that particularly at - that white people are experiencing at a disproportionate rate like opioid addiction. And one is not hearing Donald Trump talk to majority white audiences about that, and I was just curious about why that might be.
CARSON: Again, if you want the whole country to be strong, you can't have large pockets of weakness, and you've got to address the entire foundation of the country.
MARTIN: Is there anything that Donald Trump has said or done in the course of public life, particularly around racial issues or issues attending to minorities, that concerns you? I mean, the fact that the Justice Department charged him with discriminating against potential black tenants, the fact that he mocked you - does any of that concern you?
CARSON: You know, we have to be able to move on. I don't hear anybody talking about when he moved to Palm Beach County, he was the voice against discrimination against blacks and Jews in the clubs or some of the other good things that he's done. You know, we can sit here and we can rehash those things from now to doomsday, but what I'm concerned about is what's happening to the lives of our people. And we always get caught up in these little arguments. You did this and you did this and this is your mama. And - I mean, why do we do that? You know, this is just crazy.
MARTIN: Well, in fact - the fact that he mocked you, personally, the fact that he tied Ted Cruz's father to the Kennedy assassination, none of that concerns you or is your argument that those issues are not as relevant or you have other priorities?
CARSON: You got to be able to prioritize, and I realize that a lot of the other people who are running, you know, he insulted them. And, you know, they're not able to get beyond that because it's about them. But see, this is not about me. This is about America, and the salvation of this country. I think it's very critical.
MARTIN: I understand your point on a personal level, saying that personal insults are things you're willing to put aside, but the other things for which he's been criticized are things that speak in the minds of his critics. And the question that they ask is if he has this opinion about other groups, as reflected in his public life and actions, can he be fair and truly represent the entirety of the United States? So the question...
CARSON: Yeah, but...
MARTIN: I ask again is there anything in his public life that concerns you vis-a-vis his relationships or attitudes toward minorities in particular?
CARSON: The problem, of course, is that a lot of people listen to the propaganda about his views of other people, and they say, you know, he hates all Muslims and he wants to discriminate against them, he hates the Hispanics and he wants to discriminate against them. Of course, they're not true. But, as you well know, it's a political tactic to demonize your opponent, particularly if you don't have good policies to talk about.
MARTIN: That's Dr. Ben Carson. He's a retired neurosurgeon as well as the author of a number of best-selling books, and he's a former Republican presidential candidate who's now campaigning for the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. And he was kind enough to speak to us from his home office in Florida. Dr. Carson, thank you for speaking with us.
CARSON: A pleasure. Take care now.
MARTIN: Dr. Carson also told us that he and Donald Trump will be taking that message of inclusion to Detroit next weekend. Coming up we'll continue the conversation with NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, who says there may be more to that outreach effort than meets the eye.
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.