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Politics In The News: Primary Season Continues To Heat Up


Much like the reality TV programs in which Donald Trump once starred, the Republican presidential campaign is maintaining a good deal of suspense. Trump won two more states over the weekend. But Ted Cruz also won a couple of states and gained in the delegate count. Marco Rubio, after many, many disappointments, took a primary in Puerto Rico. John Kasich still hasn't quit. And we haven't even started talking about the Democrats. We're going to discuss all of this with Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.


INSKEEP: And also Ben Domenech, who is founder of the conservative website The Federalist. Welcome to you, sir.

BEN DOMENECH: Good to be with you.


INSKEEP: What difference, Cokie, did it make that Mitt Romney, John McCain and others hammered Donald Trump last week?

ROBERTS: It might have helped him. The truth is is that these voters are making it very, very, very clear that they have had it. They have had it with politicians, including Republican politicians. Now, it is true that Trump's percentages in Kentucky and Louisiana, the states that he won, and in the other states as well were lower than they had been in the polls going into those contests. So maybe the attacks made a difference there. But it's also true that his opponents had a lot of ads up and they were campaigning in those states. But, you know, he has really been hit hard on the national level. And I think that it's going to be very hard to take away this nomination from him. And if the politicians try to do that at a contested convention, I think they will face the wrath of the voters.

INSKEEP: Which is in fact what some politicians are talking about. Ben Domenech, I want to understand something here. We have heard so many times, as Cokie mentioned, that people are angry, that a vote for Donald Trump is a signal of that anger. Do you sense that voters also affirmatively approve and favor some of the things that Donald Trump is promising to do? He says he wants to torture people. He wants to build a giant wall on the border. He wants to deport millions of people. He's said for a moment he wasn't sure what he thought about the KKK, defends the size of his hands on TV. Do people actually favor what Trump is saying?

DOMENECH: I do think, Steve, that some people are affirmatively choosing Trump because they trust him. They believe in him. He has lived in their households over the course of decades in their televisions. And they believe in him to a certain extent. I think for a lot of disaffected voters, that's true. I think for others, it's meant to send a message to the Republican Party. I do think it was an underestimated moment of weakness though for him in the Detroit debate, which got extremely high ratings on Fox News the other night, when he sort of softened his tone when it came to immigration issues. The H1B visa issue that came up, he said, oh, I'm changing, I'm softening. That really riled up a lot of his sort of anti-immigration supporters, made them very frustrated, sort of cut against a core thing for him - maybe the one core issue that he's stood for since the moment he got into this campaign. And I think...

INSKEEP: Hasn't this been the pattern his entire - the entire year that he has been campaigning almost. He'll make an extreme statement that sticks in the public imagination, but he quietly backs off when he is asked about it later.

DOMENECH: Yes, it really is something that he does. And it's one of the reasons why he can say in one instance that he hates someone or loathes them or thinks that they're a liar and then the next say that he loves them. And (laughter) it's something that Trump does very well.

INSKEEP: Cokie, I want to ask about something I read over the weekend. The Washington Post reporter Dan Balz, who has covered many, many campaigns, and an excellent article talking about, among other things, disaffected white working-class voters, people who have abandoned the Democratic Party, felt like the Democrats aren't sticking up for them but now feel that the Republican Party hasn't delivered a thing for them either. And so they're with Trump.

ROBERTS: Well, and that's - he's really going to test that tomorrow in Michigan because that's where you see a lot of those voters. And I think that that is certainly what we've been seeing in the exit polls. We didn't have exit polls over the weekend. But that is definitely the pattern that we have been seeing is that he is doing very well with lower-income people and lower-educated people. And these are exactly the people who have been feeling left out of the economic place as well as the political place.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm just thinking there's this classic Democratic argument claiming that people are voting against their own economic self-interest when they vote for the Republican Party. Are those people actually saying, yes, I was voting against my own economic self-interest and so I'm going for Trump, who wants a trade war and other things that might be, I imagine, more in my favor?

ROBERTS: Well, not only that. Look, you asked about, do people really believe - support what he's saying? If you look at the exit polls, something like three-quarters of the people voting on the Republican side have been saying that they are for banning Muslims. And close to half are for deporting people who are here now. So there is a lot of sentiment behind that and that does attach to what they see as their economic self-interest.

INSKEEP: Ben Domenech, let me ask about the rest of the field. We could talk about Kasich. Ted Cruz had a big weekend. Marco Rubio has not had such a great time. What's going wrong for him?

DOMENECH: So Ted Cruz had a weekend in which he really made up a significant degree of ground. He came out of the weekend with the most delegates of anybody. But you see a situation now where Marco Rubio really has a difficult road ahead. In terms of locking up the nomination, Trump would need 58 percent of the remaining assigned delegates, Cruz - 64. But Rubio would need 74, which seems like a very high proposition. The failure of Marco Rubio to launch is kind of an indication of a failure of the leadership of the Republican Party. His campaign is basically built around the blueprint of the autopsy report that they took in the wake of 2012. He has essentially locked up every major endorsement in a number of different states. Over the weekend in Kansas he had the endorsement of the governor and virtually every Republican figure, and yet his numbers disappointed. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that people have not responded to Rubio the way that people thought or expected that they would. For all his, you know, claims to electability in a general election, voters do not view him as a dramatic change agent. And they clearly want dramatic change.

INSKEEP: OK, there were some Democrats debating last night. Cokie, what can Bernie Sanders do besides that fiery debate performance - if you want to call it that last night - to actually catch up in the delegate count with Hillary Clinton?

ROBERTS: He can't catch up in the delegate count. It's - there's no winner-take-all primaries for Democrats. So there's not going to be some big boost. But tomorrow's a big day for him, too, because he gets to show whether he can make inroads with African-Americans outside of the South, where he has not been able to do that. Michigan is a state where African-Americans have been displaced as well as white Americans. And he's using that trade argument, or anti-free-trade argument, with them.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's Ben Domenech of The Federalist, also Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.