East Tennessee Congressman John Duncan says Donald Trump's campaign is laying bare a political divide based on income.
On a day in which Donald Trump attempted to clarify comments on federal debt payments, NPR's All Things Considered host Robert Siegel talked to Duncan about his support for the apparent GOP nominee for president.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now to a veteran Republican congressman who has endorsed Donald Trump. Rep. Jimmy Duncan has represented the 2nd District of Tennessee - that's Knoxville - since 1988 when he succeeded his father. He's a member of the Liberty Caucus. That's a conservative group. Rep. Duncan, welcome to the program.
JIMMY DUNCAN: Well, thank you very much.
SIEGEL: Our reporter tried to understand Mr. Trump's statements about refinancing of the national debt. I'm just curious: Do you understand what he's talking about and do you agree with him?
DUNCAN: Well, no, I don't really understand fully what he's talking about there. I do sympathize with and agree with him on being very concerned about our national debt. When I first went to Congress, it was less than $3 trillion dollars. And now it's over $19 trillion and headed up very fast, so it is of great concern.
SIEGEL: You are one of the most fiscally-conservative members of the House. Some conservatives say Mr. Trump is potentially a big spender. He says some taxes might have to go up for the rich. Does he pass your test as a fiscal conservative?
DUNCAN: Well, yes, I think, first of all, there's no perfect candidates. And what attracted me to Mr. Trump, first of all, was I'm the only Republican left in the Congress who voted against going to war in Iraq. And so I was attracted to Mr. Trump because of his seeming reluctance or noneagerness to go to war.
SIEGEL: Well, as an disputed conservative, what do you make of so many conservative writers and activists who are saying Trump isn't one of us?
DUNCAN: Well, I think there are probably even more conservatives, though, who find most of his views just fine. There - some who haven't been given a lot of publicity. But I agree with his foreign policy and that he's not a neocon, and I agree with his trade policy. I'm a little more sympathetic, I guess, on immigration. I have helped hundreds of people immigrate here legally. But even on that, though, in a way I agree with him on immigration also.
SIEGEL: When you say in a way, I don't hear you saying, "I think we should build a wall, and Mexico should pay for it."
DUNCAN: Well, I don't believe that that's going to happen. I believe that something's going to be worked out. But I do believe that we've got to have tougher enforcement of our immigration laws.
SIEGEL: How would you describe Donald Trump's appeal to your constituents?
DUNCAN: Well, he has great appeal. In fact, he carried 94 out of 95 counties in Tennessee, and he carried every county in my district. There's a fascinating social or economic divide in many upper-income neighborhoods where it's just not polite to publicly say something good about Donald Trump.
I mean, the name just sort of brings shudders to many upper-income, elitist types. But he has tremendous appeal to middle and lower-income people, and, in fact, I think we're seeing the return of the Reagan Democrats.
SIEGEL: Congressman Duncan, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and Donald Trump have differences, it seems, of both substance and style in their meeting this week. Should the speaker embrace Mr. Trump's views on, say, banning Muslims from entering the country or the wall in Mexico? Should Trump meet Ryan halfway? What should happen at that meeting?
DUNCAN: Well, I have great respect and admiration for Paul Ryan. And I think that his nonsupport thus far for Mr. Trump has been greatly exaggerated.
SIEGEL: He said I'm not there yet, and he wants to be there...
SIEGEL: ...To embrace Mr. Trump.
DUNCAN: I think the tune of it was that he really wants to support Donald Trump for president. And I think he'll try to find a way to do so.
SIEGEL: But what do you make of Mr. Trump responding that perhaps Paul Ryan shouldn't chair the convention in that case?
DUNCAN: Well, I think that Donald Trump is a very nice man and because he hadn't run for office before that he at times maybe has overreacted to a little criticism.
And I think even his strongest supporters will tell you that he's said things that they maybe wish he hadn't said. But they do like his lack of political correctness, his forthrightness and his honesty. So...
SIEGEL: But forthrightness - you're describing - also being thin-skinned is what you're describing as well.
DUNCAN: (Laugher) Well, there might be a little bit of that in there. I - you know, that's the way I've explained it.
SIEGEL: Congressman Duncan, thanks for talking with us.
DUNCAN: OK, thank you, Mr. Siegel.
SIEGEL: Rep. Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee, who has endorsed Donald Trump for president.