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Former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour Weighs In On State Of The GOP


What's the difference between being nominated at a political convention and being nominated by a political convention? Well, it's pretty big if you listen to one savvy observer of the GOP. Haley Barbour used to be Republican National Committee chairman, as well as governor of Mississippi. With the possibility of an open convention looming, a convention at which no one arrives with a majority of delegates, I asked Barbour what principles ought to guide the rules of such a convention.

HALEY BARBOUR: Well, the rules are very plain, and they've been the rules for 200 years in both parties. To win their presidential nomination, a person has to get a majority of the delegates - for good reason. This is about picking somebody that can win in November and can govern. Secondly, we don't need to be changing the rules in the middle of the game.

We have Rule 40B, which says to be nominated from the floor - that is, for somebody to get to go up to the podium and put a candidate's name and nomination, to have a demonstration and to have seconding speeches, all of which takes time - that candidate has to have a majority of delegates in each of eight states favor him.

But that only deals with getting time from the convention. Not only can any uncommitted delegate vote for whomever they want to, whether that person's name's been put in nomination or not, but there will be a number of delegates there that are required to vote for somebody whose name hasn't been put in nomination - Marco Rubio.

SIEGEL: So if I understand you, Gov. Barbour, you're saying that the rule - which only recently became a majority of delegations from eight states. It used to be five states not too long ago. But that rule determines who can formally be nominated at the convention, have a nominating speech, seconding speeches and some time demonstrating on the floor. That does not determine who can actually be approved by the convention, nominated by the convention to run for president.

BARBOUR: That's correct.

SIEGEL: Are establishment Republicans right to be worried about either Trump - or Cruz, for that matter - doing damage to the party in November if they're at the top of the ticket?

BARBOUR: Of course, I've learned, Robert, that establishment is somebody that you don't agree with.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) Gov. Barbour, you've been Republican National Committee chair, and you've been around for a while, and you've been governor of a state. Come on, you know you're part of the Republican establishment.

BARBOUR: Well, I'm certainly a regular Republican. I've been a Republican since 1968. But people are looking at two things - electability - and today, in The Wall Street Journal, Clinton leads Trump by 11 points. Almost every poll shows Trump running under 40 in a general election. That's very scary because if we have a presidential candidate that runs in the low 40s or below, then a lot of Republicans down the ticket are going to lose. They can't overcome that.

SIEGEL: Does Cruz pose the same threat to the party as Trump?

BARBOUR: His numbers are not as bad today, but one has to worry about electability. And you look at Kasich - he leads Mrs. Clinton by six or seven points in the poll, not as well-known. But we have in Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the two most unfavorably seen presidential candidates ever.

SIEGEL: You would support him, though, if he were nominated, wouldn't you? I mean, that's - you said you would.

BARBOUR: I'm going support the nominee of the party, whomever it is.

SIEGEL: Are you at all concerned that a Republican coalition of working-class and evangelical Christian whites and businesspeople - that that coalition can survive this election cycle intact or that in all of the drama of the season, that grouping could just break apart?

BARBOUR: Well, I don't think that's likely. I do think that there are going to be some people disappointed depending on the outcome. But we have going for us that Mrs. Clinton is very, very well-known and many, many, many Americans don't want her to be president.

SIEGEL: She's your unifying force.

BARBOUR: Life is a series of choices, and the choice is going to be the Republican versus Hillary Clinton. And for a lot of Republicans, they will say, I don't want more of what we've had the last eight years.

SIEGEL: Haley Barbour, former Republican National Committee chair and former governor of Mississippi. Thank you very much for talking with us.

BARBOUR: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.