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Can Clinton Win The Working Class, And Can Trump Hold On To Veterans?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, sometimes, the map can tell you a lot about a presidential campaign. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been spending time recently in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. The focus appears to be working-class voters who we have been told time and time again could help sway this election. Let's bring in Jared Bernstein. He's an economist who was an adviser in President Obama's White House from 2009 to 2011. He's in the studio with me. Good morning.

JARED BERNSTEIN: Good morning.

GREENE: So I know you're an economist and not a politician. But when we talk about these so-called working-class voters, who are these Americans? And what do they need right now?

BERNSTEIN: Well, many of these folks are in somewhere around the median household income, which a lot of people are surprised to find out is around 50,000 bucks a year - a little bit higher than that.

GREENE: Surprised because people would think it would be...

BERNSTEIN: A lot of people think it's more than that. And so these are people who have really been hurt by two trends that are related to each other. One is the increase in economic inequality. So as the GDP or the economy continues to expand, they don't always get ahead. In fact, many have fallen behind. And the other is globalization and trade, which, of course, loomed very large. And that's one of the things the candidates are talking to these folks about.

For years, I think both Democrat and Republicans elites have lectured the working class on how you just don't understand how healthy globalization is for you. Finally, I think they're responding to a very loud response from the working class that says, in fact, no, it's not.

GREENE: You might be lecturing us. But we're not feeling what you're saying we're feeling.

BERNSTEIN: We're feeling it in our communities and our paychecks and our jobs. And you know what? A lot of those people are right.

GREENE: Stay with me if you can, Jared Bernstein. I want to get caught up on sort of what happened on the campaign trail. We're going to hear about Donald Trump. He has been trying to talk about the economy but has been struggling to sort of get through this confrontation with the parents of a fallen Muslim-American soldier who spoke out against him at the Democratic Convention. My colleague Don Gonyea has been traveling with the Republican nominee.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Donald Trump did not mention his confrontation with Khizr and Ghazala Khan during events yesterday in Columbus, Ohio, and Harrisburg, Pa. But his Twitter feed was less restrained. There he kept up the attacks. It kept the story alive. Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus was asked about it all by Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER")

WOLF BLITZER: Wouldn't it been better if Donald Trump would've simply not said anything about this grieving family?

GONYEA: After a pause, Priebus responded.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER")

REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, look, I mean, hindsight's 20/20. But, I mean, that's - you know, obviously, I am who I am. And I'm just talking for the party. And I believe that these families - these Gold Star families - are off-limits. And they're to be loved and cherished and honored.

GONYEA: In Nevada, a military mother asked Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, about the Khans when she called Trump disrespectful. The crowd booed. Pence quieted them, saying that he and Trump honor the Khan family. And it came up at a Hillary Clinton event in Omaha - not from her, but from her opening act - billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Remember how Khan called out Trump for never having sacrificed, and Trump reacted that he had by creating jobs and building buildings? Well, Buffett responded yesterday that no one from his or Trump's family has gone to war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN BUFFETT: And our families haven't sacrificed anything. And Donald Trump and I haven't sacrificed anything. But how in the world can you stand up to a couple of parents who've lost a son and talked about sacrificing because you were building a bunch of buildings?

GONYEA: Trump was also rebuked by prominent members of his party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump responded to him indirectly by sending out a tweet in praise of the man who's challenging Ryan in his primary race next week. But on the road, Trump tried to put the focus back on issues like the economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: So I don't know if you've been reading your daily paper. But 1.2 percent in GDP - in another words, we're sinking. One of the lowest ever - we're going down.

GONYEA: The economy is a topic that has resonated with working-class voters when Trump himself isn't creating his own distractions.

GREENE: That is my colleague Don Gonyea on the campaign trail. I'm with Jared Bernstein, a former White House economic adviser in the Obama White House. Donald Trump saying there that we are sinking because GDP is at 1.2 percent - what exactly does that mean for people who don't follow the economy closely? And are we, quote, "sinking?"

BERNSTEIN: No, 1.2 percent is an increase. Sinking would mean the GDP was actually getting smaller. And by the way, GDP is just the broadest measure of the value of the economy in trillions of dollars. And it is growing at a relatively slow rate. But it's not sinking. It's increasing. And the thing about that 1.2 percent is the underlying growth rate of GDP is actually around 2 percent.

But these quarterly reports are noisy. In fact, if you get into the guts of the report, the trend growth rate is around 2 percent. That's not as high as we might like. But it's actually much better than most other advanced economies right now.

GREENE: Well - so you mentioned before we listened to Don's piece there that, I mean, the argument that the candidates have tried to make is that GDP is healthy and that working-class Americans should be feeling that. Hillary Clinton has been struggling to connect with working-class voters. She brings Warren Buffett on the campaign trail, a billionaire. Was that the right move (laughter)?

BERNSTEIN: There's a guy whose...

GREENE: His GDP is doing well (laughter).

BERNSTEIN: There's a guy for whom GDP growth is working for.

GREENE: What do you think of that move?

BERNSTEIN: Well, you know, I don't know that that kind of thing really sways a lot of voters. I mean, there are people - actually, Warren Buffett is kind of a unique guy because he's such a sage. And he has this kind of folksy persona, which I think is actually pretty genuine. And so it may be that there's some business-type Republicans who are kind of on the fence.

They look at Donald Trump, think, this guy's really going to hurt the economy. And the Chamber of Commerce is another group that fits into this category. And they're saying, typically, we business folks like to vote Republican. But we're so nervous about Trump that we may take a closer look at Hillary Clinton. Perhaps someone like Warren Buffett helps nudge some of those folks.

GREENE: And we have just 30 or 40 seconds left. You worked on some international trade deals that are now being trashed on the campaign trail. Has your view of international trade evolved in recent years?

BERNSTEIN: You know, it definitely has. I mean, I think the problem is that these trade deals - they're rules of the road. That's not a problem. You actually need rules when you're driving down a complicated road like that. The problem is that the trade deals that we've written tend to have corporate interests at their center - at their heart - instead of worker interests on both sides of the border.

And I think reshaping globalization through trade deals that focus more on workers' interest is a smart idea. I don't think you can restrain globalization. I don't think you put that toothpaste back in the tube. But you can reshape it.

GREENE: All right. Jared Bernstein was an economic adviser in the Obama White House. Thanks so much for coming in this morning. We really appreciate it.

BERNSTEIN: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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