Week In Politics: Super Tuesday, GOP Rift
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
It has been quite a week in politics, especially for the Republican Party. First, there was Super Tuesday. Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump takes seven of 11 states with increased Republican voter turnout. Then yesterday, big figures in the party establishment come out against Trump. And then, of course, there was last night's debate, as we just heard. Here to talk about all this are our regular Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Hello there.
E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.
MCEVERS: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome.
DAVID BROOKS: Good to be with you.
MCEVERS: First, let's talk about this debate, right? On the one hand, you have these - some of these establishment Republicans coming out against Trump this week. But on the other, as we just heard from Scott Detrow, at the end of the debate, you have Cruz, Rubio and Kasich all saying they'll support Trump if he gets the nomination. E.J., what does this mean?
DIONNE: Well, I think this is a problem for the anti-Trump movement. Rich Lowry of the National Review tweeted about Marco Rubio that he is now going to have to say, vote for the con artist, it's important - a play on a slogan used years ago against David Duke, appropriately enough. And I think they undercut their, you know - their anti-Trump campaign. But, you know, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president 155 years ago today. And I imagine he would've been mystified and appalled by that whole show last night. Jamie Johnson, senior director of Rick Perry's campaign, tweeted my party is committing suicide on national television. And if somebody had told me that American presidential candidates in what was apparently the most-watched debate of the year talked about the size of various body parts, I would have dismissed it as anti-American propaganda, but it actually happened.
MCEVERS: David, your thoughts on the debate?
BROOKS: Depressing, horrific, a circus. It was awful. And if you had imagined where the Republican Party would be a year ago, this would probably be in the worst possible place. One - I've been in Texas and in California this week and what's interesting to me is I've always heard moderate Republicans say I don't recognize my party. Now I'm hearing conservative Republicans say that, so there's a fair bit of despair. One of the interesting questions for me is whether Trump is a one-off thing or a fundamental shift in the party.
BROOKS: And parties do shift every 40 or 50 years, and I'm suspecting it's something fundamental has happened, which is it's less of a free-market party - the way it used to be - and it's - Trump is defining a new sort of very closed nationalism, which the party may shift into, which could lead to repercussions and people shifting away from the party, a new party forming in the years ahead.
MCEVERS: One of those Republicans who did come out against Trump this week, who, of course, was former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Let's hear a little bit of what he said.
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MITT ROMNEY: He inherited his business. He didn't create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there's Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.
MCEVERS: So, you know, as you said, David, we're hearing all these Republicans coming out now and saying, you know - joining up in this sort of stop Trump movement. I guess the question is - is it too late?
BROOKS: Probably, but they should do it anyway.
BROOKS: You know, you got nothing to lose. And so I think this is the best line of attack. Previously, Republicans have attacked him for being things that his supporters actually liked, like being a change agent or politically incorrect. But the core of his character is extreme narcissism, and he's someone who betrays all his friends. If you support him, he only thinks about himself, so he ends up betraying you. And that was true of the people who have worked for him at Trump Mortgage. It's true of the people who gave him money for Trump University. And in an age of cynicism where people do feel betrayed, I do think this is the strongest line, and it's a true line. Whether it will have any effect at this late date and without every single Republican officeholder really echoing the chorus...
BROOKS: ...we'll see. But they've got to take their shot.
MCEVERS: One way folks are talking about taking that shot, of course, is a contested convention. You know, if Trump doesn't get the required 1,237 delegates that could happen. Of course, Republican Party chair Reince Priebus says there's an 85 to 90 percent chance that that won't happen, not a 100-percent chance. What do you think about that, E.J.?
DIONNE: I think there is a reasonable chance that it'll happen, but so much depends on what happens on March 15. In order to get to a contested convention, you have to have John Kasich winning the Ohio primary, and there are polls that have shown him behind Trump there. And Marco Rubio absolutely has to win the Florida primary. If Trump wins either of those, then it becomes hard to stop him. And if he wins both of those, it becomes almost impossible to stop him. But what that also shows is no one else can assemble a majority except for Trump, so that if those two fall away from Trump and then the other states start splitting, you could very well have the thing that political junkies have fantasized about for decades. But that is a real possibility this year.
MCEVERS: This contested convention...
DIONNE: Contested convention.
MCEVERS: I mean, if I were one of the millions of people, though, who have already cast my vote for Trump, this idea of a contested convention in some kind of backroom deal, I think that would be frustrating, no?
DIONNE: You're absolutely right. I think the risk here is absolutely enormous for the Republican Party because the whole Trump appeal is to people who are angry at party leaders, at bosses, at the establishment. And so if Trump emerged with a big plurality, if not a majority, and then the nomination were grabbed away from him, I think there would be hell to pay. But there'd probably be hell to pay either way if he wins or if he doesn't.
MCEVERS: David, you talked about the fact that this may be a moment that the party is being remade. What do you predict? I mean, what do you imagine in that remaking? What do you think is going to happen?
BROOKS: Well, the party has been a party more or less of open free-market nationalism, if you want to call it that, which is for open trade, a belief in markets, a belief that markets by themselves can create social mobility, can create growth, can create wealth. And Donald Trump sort of rejects that. He's ideologically all over the map and, as we saw last night, he's willing to say anything. If he stands for anything, it is for a European-style nationalism, which is to say close borders, build a wall, arrest threats. And then he's for an authoritarian-style of government. Politics is always about recognizing people who are different than you and you have to compromise with them. He represents a more authoritarian-style, and as political scientists have pointed out that the number one trait that correlates with Trump supporters is authoritarian belief in the structure of power. And so he represents something fundamentally new. And if he goes away, will the people who support him suddenly vanish?
BROOKS: Will their impulses vanish? I think probably not. Some of these trends have been building, and some of them are a product of economic dislocation, of cultural dislocation, of demographic changes which are actually pretty deep in the electorate.
DIONNE: You know, I agree with David's characterization of Trump. But what I think is happening is that the Republican Party has leaned for decades on the votes of white working-class voters who have very little to show for these tax cuts and free-market policies. And Trump is their rebellion against the leadership of the party and what they haven't gotten all these years. And so I think that you are looking at the - a possibility of a split, but it's not clear where these voters would go.
MCEVERS: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thank you both. Thanks.
DIONNE: Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.