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GOP Candidates Ratchet Up Raucous Discourse


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Scott Simon is away. This week, Republican candidates met in Detroit for a debate that got down and dirty - really kind of dirty.


DONALD TRUMP: And he referred to my hands. If they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This boast came early on in the debate and it set the tone for a discourse that seemed at best raucous and at worst - let's just say it - vulgar.


TED CRUZ: Breathe, breathe, breathe.

MARCO RUBIO: When they're done with the yoga, can I answer a question?

CRUZ: You cannot.

RUBIO: Well, he's very flexible, so you never know.

TRUMP: He couldn't get elected dog catcher.

CRUZ: Count to 10, Donald, count to 10.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Frank Luntz is a political consultant for the GOP. He's not supporting any Republican candidate, though, we should say a decade ago he consulted for Florida House Republicans of whom Marco Rubio was one. But as we say, he's not supporting anyone this time around, and he joins us today. Welcome.

FRANK LUNTZ: Well, I have to admit that any discussion of tone you have to focus not just on this debate but on the last three. And each one has gotten worse and worse and worse, and I've had parents in my focus groups tell me that they won't let their kids watch because they're too embarrassed that they will see or hear something that they don't think is appropriate for an 8, a 10 or even a 12-year-old.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me, was there a moment that you thought the tone had gone too far? When did you say, all right, this is really now too much?

LUNTZ: It was the moment that Trump and Rubio were talking over each other so you couldn't hear either of them speak. And the two of them were going back and forth. They were actually behaving in ways that you would not tolerate from your own family. And yet, this is on public stage for every American to watch. It was embarrassing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, Trump in particular has really perfected this idea of the mocking insult. How do you fight a guy like that if you don't want to engage on that level? What advice would you give?

LUNTZ: I think Marco Rubio's strategy is horrific. He is trying to fight fire with fire, but it doesn't work because that's not who he is. It is far more effective to look at them and say, you know what? I would respond to you, but I don't know how. Instead of attacks, I'm going to talk about substance. The problem that we have right now - and you have to understand the reason why we have Donald Trump is that for Republicans the last seven years have been horrific, both in policy, in politics and in real life - in day-to-day life. And Donald Trump is the exact opposite of Barack Obama. And - can I give you an example? Obama uses a teleprompter; Donald Trump never does. Obama is calm and cool and even a little bit disconnected. It's an explanation for why this segment of the public has rallied around Donald Trump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does this have an impact in the way that when you sit over the dinner table and you have discussions how people relate to each other? How do people internalize these debates, do you think?

LUNTZ: I will tell you that people are more afraid to talk politics now. They do it socially, but they do it with tremendous fear that people will be - will hold them responsible and that you can't have normal conversations. But on the other end, every restaurant I walk into, every single night I will walk past someone who's talking about the presidential race. So the good part of it is for the first time politics is truly been democratized. The bad part of it is the way they talk about it is so, I think, poisonous and disruptive.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you worried that this rhetoric is actually dangerous?

LUNTZ: Yes, I am. I'm afraid that bad things are going to happen this year. I was too young to remember 1968, but I have studied it and I'm afraid that the divisions that exist today are as sharp and pointed as they were back then. And I don't want that same experience. People - they have that sense of betrayal, and I don't want them to think that anything beyond words is acceptable in the political process.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Frank Luntz is a political consultant for Republican candidates. Thank you so much.

LUNTZ: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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