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This Week In Politics: GOP Presidential Race


Now let's take some measurements of the presidential campaign. The Des Moines Register made its endorsements over the weekend - Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, Marco Rubio for the Republicans. That's significant at least somewhat because of course, The Des Moines Register is an influential paper in Iowa, which holds its caucuses days from now. We're joined, as we are most Mondays, by NPR's Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.


INSKEEP: And also this morning by Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster, author of the book "The Selfie Vote." Good morning.


INSKEEP: Cokie, let's start with you. Is this - just help me figure this out here. I want to figure out on the Republican - mainstream Republicans are casting around for an alternative to Donald Trump. The leading alternative is Ted Cruz, so they're casting around for an alternative to Ted Cruz, which takes some of them back to Trump. Is that right?

ROBERTS: Yes, it is. But what you've got is an interesting split between the people who are the opinion writers, the intellectuals in the party and the politicians, the pragmatists. And the intellectuals, for lack of a better word, are saying Trump is not a true conservative. He could mean the end of conservatism. He's really an authoritarian populist. And they are very adamantly against Trump, whereas the pragmatists, the politicians, the people who actually have to run for office and serve in the Senate first of all dislike Ted Cruz enormously because he has made a career of making them dislike him. But they also feel that his positions are so antithetical to what most voters like that he would bring down the party in a big way. So they're more ready to sort of work with Trump, saying maybe he's somebody that, you know, we can make a deal with and the person we have to defeat is Cruz. So there's a really interesting split going on here.

INSKEEP: And of course, the big question for many politicians - and it's a question they have to ask, it's not totally cynical to ask it - is which one of these guys can win, or can some of the other candidates win ultimately? Which gets down to winning a general election in a more and more diverse country with new kinds of voters and younger voters, groups that Republicans have not done well with in the past. And Kristen Soltis Anderson, you have tracked those voters. Do you see anything that Trump, Cruz or anyone else is doing that would appeal to new audiences?

ANDERSON: So Cruz at the moment is mostly focused on winning as many sort of hardcore Republicans as possible. So he has not at this moment focused on the general election. Trump is the interesting wildcard, and I think this is also a piece of why you see some of these, quote, unquote, establishment Republicans starting to think that Trump may be the better alternative than Cruz because Trump is so unpredictable. And because if Trump wins the primary, that's a signal that he's activated new voters. He has reached out and brought in voters - in this case, not necessarily Latino or young voters but rather sort of white working-class voters who may have been turned off by the party in the past but feel something about Trump's message is resonating with them. So in an odd way, even though the polls at the moment show Trump doing very poorly among independent voters, among moderate voters, in a general election context - if he is able to win the general, it just may be an unpredictable enough scenario that he could wind up creating a new Republican electorate out of a lot of those white working-class blue-collar voters.

INSKEEP: You're reminding of a New York Times analysis from a couple of weeks ago finding that many of Trump supporters weren't even formally Republicans. They're registered Democrats who are identifying Republican at the moment, which does suggest reaching out to new people.

ANDERSON: You're absolutely correct. It just doesn't look like the kind of new people that in the Republican sort of post-election report after the 2012 loss - they said, you know, these are the groups we need to reach out to. We need to be doing better with Latino voters. We need to do better with young voters. These are groups that, say, Marco Rubio has done a good job trying to reach out to, even in this primary. The question is will he make it to the general?


ROBERTS: And of course, the long-term scenario is you have to still reach out to Latinos and young people. If you just look at the numbers in the population, they say oh...

INSKEEP: Cokie, let me ask about the Democratic side. Hasn't Bernie Sanders also, fairly explicitly from time to time, been trying to reach out to disaffected groups, including the white working class so to speak - people who voted Democrat maybe in the past or their grandparents voted Democratic but they're not? Is that part of Sanders' apparent success at the moment?

ROBERTS: Well, it is but it's mainly - his big success is among young people, and it's white people again. And so he is also not reaching out to other groups in the population. But look, there's a huge amount of excitement around Bernie Sanders. And people in the Democratic establishment are beginning to say this looks a lot like 2008, where Hillary Clinton started off strong and then of course lost to Barack Obama. I think it's looking a lot like 1972, where Ed Muskie had all of the establishment behind him and then George McGovern got these young people excited and eventually won the nomination. And - but of course lost the general election...

INSKEEP: Got creamed.

ROBERTS: ...Dramatically. And that's what a lot of Democrats are worried - who are in office are worrying about now is that if you had a Sanders nomination, you could lose everything on the Democratic side. So a lot of concern on both sides - and Michael Bloomberg talking about getting in.

INSKEEP: And we'll see what happens there. Cokie Roberts, thanks as always.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And Kristen Soltis Anderson, author of "The Selvie Vote," thanks to you on this snowy morning.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She's also a columnist for the Washington Examiner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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