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Memories Of Former First Lady Nancy Reagan


Nancy Reagan, the wife of former President Ronald Reagan has passed away at the age of 94. Nancy Reagan was one of the most influential first ladies in modern American politics. For more, we are joined by NPR's Ron Elving.

Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: She was a singular figure in American politics - and American life. Tell us a little bit about how you think of her legacy.

ELVING: Nancy Reagan was as intimate and as integral to Ronald Reagan's success as any political spouse has ever been. She really set a new standard. She was very largely responsible for his success in politics. That may be something many people have forgotten because, in her later years, she was not in the public eye. She did not go out in public very much. She didn't take public positions very often.

But if you go back to the early history Ronald Reagan's political career - when he was making the move from television pitchman to being a world leader, one of the people who was absolutely essential to that was Nancy Reagan. Her father was a very influential figure in Ronald Reagan's life. They introduced him to a world of people that was quite different from his Hollywood world, much more politically conservative.

She was with him from that transition point on. She was enormously important to his success in California and also nationally.

MARTIN: Was she always comfortable in that role - in Washington, in politics?

ELVING: There were difficult years for her at the beginning of the time they were in White House. She was largely criticized for her spending - lavish spending on things like dishes and plates and glassware and things of that nature. And there was a sense that she was trying to bring a certain air of class and elitism, perhaps, to the White House. In contrast to the Jimmy Carter years that had immediately preceded, that was something that a lot of people noticed and commented on negatively. But she turned that around with a series of public appearances that mocked her own image very successfully. And really, when she went into her campaign against drugs, the Just Say No campaign, that became much more her signature and her legacy.

MARTIN: I'm going to ask you to pivot now because, of course, we are talking in the middle of a presidential election. And there were more contests yesterday. Can you get us up to speed on where we are right now in the race?

ELVING: Yes, there is another presidential election going on. And we saw a rather dramatic development over the weekend thus far in the Republican field, where Donald Trump seems to have lost some of his altitude. He did not win as decisively as expected in Louisiana. He did not win by a large margin in Kentucky, and those were two states that were supposed to be very good for him.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz did extraordinarily well in the small caucus states of Kansas and Nebraska - excuse me, Kansas and Maine. The Nebraska caucus was on the Democratic side. We’ll get there in a moment.

Ted Cruz had a very good night. He also won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference going on outside of Washington, D.C., this weekend. He had a lot to brag about last night. And, perhaps, best for Ted Cruz and good, too, for Donald Trump, perhaps, Marco Rubio won nowhere, did not do particularly and clearly has to feel disappointed with the results of this weekend thus far, although he is expected to win the Puerto Rico primary today.

MARTIN: And on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders - still putting the pressure on Hillary Clinton.

ELVING: Yes, he won two caucus events - one in Nebraska, as I mentioned, and one in Kansas. He won them both very handily. He had almost 60 percent of the vote in Nebraska - had two thirds of the vote in Kansas. So, as a result, he will pick up delegates there. He'll get 13 delegates more than Hillary will get from Kansas - four more than she'll get from Nebraska, which helps him, to some degree, make up for losing very, very badly in Louisiana, where Hillary Clinton, once again, showed great strength among African-American voters on the Democratic side. She won there with more than 70 percent of the vote, so she'll get 35 delegates from Louisiana, a much larger state. And Bernie Sanders will only get 12.

MARTIN: Briefly, Ron. We saw Mitt Romney come out and make this big speech eviscerating Donald Trump - the establishment in the GOP clearly trying to dismantle his race for the White House. Is any of it sticking?

ELVING: It appears to be because in Louisiana, we had a very clear difference between those votes that were cast several days earlier or a week or two weeks earlier. There, Donald Trump won by 2 to 1, as expected. But among those people who had just made up their minds and voted on the last day that they could participate - people who had just made up their minds voted more for Ted Cruz by a small margin.

MARTIN: NPR's Ron Elving breaking down the state of the race and remembering the legacy of former first lady Nancy Reagan.

Thanks so much, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.

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