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Barbershop: Reporters On The Campaign Trail


Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we gather a bunch of interesting folks to find out what's in the news and what's on their minds. Joining me this week -NPR's Don Gonyea, The Atlantic's Molly Ball and Ruby Cramer with BuzzFeed. Welcome to all of you. Thank you for coming.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

MOLLY BALL: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, you might have picked up that there's kind of a theme. All of you are political reporters. Ruby, you've been covering Hillary Clinton. Molly, you've been following Donald Trump and the Republicans more broadly. Don, you've been on the road all over the place...

GONYEA: Yeah, pretty much with everybody.

MARTIN: ...but recently with Trump - with everybody. And we asked you here because it's been such a quiet week in politics, nothing happening, nothing big.


TED CRUZ: Tonight, I'm sorry to say...


CRUZ: It appears that path has been foreclosed.


CRUZ: We are suspending our campaign.


MARTIN: All right, so that was Ted Cruz dropping out of the presidential race on Tuesday night after a poor showing in Indiana. That left the Republican race between Donald Trump and John Kasich for about 10 minutes before John Kasich also dropped out. And all of this made me wonder how voters are responding to all this, how they feel about the race so far. So I wanted to go to people who've been actually out on the road and, you know, talking to voters and - as well as the political professionals.

And Don, I'm going to start with you because you literally just drove in from West Virginia, which has its primary this coming Tuesday. And you were with Trump in a state where he's doing pretty well. Could you just tell us what you were hearing from voters? What was the atmosphere?

GONYEA: He did one of those big coliseum events. And West Virginia votes on Tuesday, holds its primary. Nobody thought the wheels were going to fall off so quickly in terms of the Cruz campaign and then Kasich getting out. So these people all had their tickets, and they were all thinking oh no, maybe Donald Trump isn't going to come.

Well, he came and there was this kind of festive atmosphere outside the Trump event this time. Often there are big protests out there kind of mixed in and there's a lot of security and there's even some tension outside. This time it kind of felt like...

MARTIN: Even some tension - (laughter) really, even?

GONYEA: Well, even some (laughter) - well, it's - you know, you don't always get it until you're kind of inside. But you feel it there. And this time it felt like they knew they were having the first party of the general election season. And they were really excited about it, even though they won't really play, you know, a meaningful role in terms of nominating at this point.

MARTIN: Molly, what about you? What do you hear from voters when you go to these things?

BALL: Well, it's a little bit paradoxical. I mean, as Don said, a lot of these Trump rallies really have a festive atmosphere, especially in deep red states. It kind of feels like a big outdoor concert. For the vast majority of people at these rallies, I would say that while certainly when you talk to them about how they feel about their country, they are frustrated, they are angry. A lot of them are fearful. But the vibe at the events themselves is a joyful one.

I think being around so many like-minded people for a population that's really being driven by this feeling of not being heard by the political system, there's a cathartic effect of that.

MARTIN: Ruby, I want to hear from you because you've been with Hillary Clinton for quite a while. What are her rallies like?

RUBY CRAMER: It's very hard to characterize the Hillary Clinton rallies as a uniform thing no matter where you go because you're getting, like, this mix of people who, you know, kind of come - like, maybe they are excited about Hillary Clinton, maybe they want to see a Democrat continue Obama's legacy. You're not seeing the same kind of, like, mass energy that comes behind, like, a Bernie Sanders rally, for example.

MARTIN: Molly, you wanted to say something?

BALL: I was going to ask you a question, Ruby. I mean, can she - does she even really have rallies? All of the events of hers I've been to people have pretty much been sitting down.

CRAMER: (Laughter) The preferred title of the Hillary Clinton campaign is roundtable. The Hillary Clinton roundtable is like the Hillary Clinton as candidate quintessential event. It's not - it doesn't look like a political event. It looks like...

GONYEA: Do they...

CRAMER: ...A policy, like, wonky...

GONYEA: Do they blast...

CRAMER: ...Dialogue.

GONYEA: ...Music?


GONYEA: Are there the trappings of rallies even though they're...

CRAMER: No, no.

GONYEA: ...Seated around?

CRAMER: They really are rallies. I mean, rallies in a traditional sense, like, the Democratic governor from the state comes on, introduces her, she appears, everyone cheers. They've got signs. Katy Perry music - lots of Katy Perry music...

BALL: Oh my God, yes.

CRAMER: ...Only Katy Perry music. Kill me - I actually watched the Katy Perry documentary. Like, I don't hate Katy Perry, but...

MARTIN: But you will by the time this is over.

BALL: If you didn't before, you will now.

MARTIN: You will by the time this is over. I hear that people often want to tell her their personal stories. Tell me about that part of it.

CRAMER: People will grab her on a rope line or get a chance to talk to her after an event. It becomes very emotional very quickly. Within 10, 15, 20 seconds, they're telling her stories that often have to do with politics or touch politics in a certain way but are really more personal than anything. And often they're very painful. They're about, you know, like, a mother who had a heroin addiction and couldn't get treatment and overdosed or a family that the breadwinner has lost work and then that has obviously affected other things. They're telling her their whole life stories and she's listening. And it's the way that she actually functions as a candidate. It happens on a smaller scale.

MARTIN: Don, I'm going to ask you to compare this to 2008 in part because you have been traveling this - kind of the gamut and both in 2008 and in this year, too, moving from campaign to campaign. And the thing that I remember about 2008 is those were some of the loudest rallies I have ever been to in my life. It wasn't just a campaign for a lot of people. It was like a cause.

GONYEA: It was indeed that. And people felt they were getting on the right side of history. That really powerful, you know, sweep of history that people were caught up in.

MARTIN: OK, but we're hearing now that Donald Trump has also brought people into the process...

GONYEA: He sure does.

MARTIN: ...Who had not previously been a part of it. So why is it that that isn't part of the way we talk about his crowds as well?

GONYEA: A Trump rally feels a little bit like it's the Obama rally that has tumbled through the looking glass, right? And it's the opposite in every way except it's still in a big Coliseum and you have this charismatic figure on the stage. But whereas Obama was refined and speaking of uplift, Trump relishes, you know, the insult and the brag. I talked to somebody in Charleston - it was a woman who was there as a Trump supporter. And she started telling me Donald Trump gives her hope. It's the first time she's felt this hope and the possibility for the future of this country. And I thought to myself this could be word for word what I heard people saying eight years ago.

MARTIN: So Molly, you wrote this really provocative piece called "The Day The Republican Party Died." And one of the things that struck me about it is just how differently the political professionals seem to see this than the voters that you all are describing. I mean, what do you think accounts for this very different opinion?

BALL: Sure. I mean, so, you know, a lot of people have opined that the Trump phenomenon really shows you how out of touch that establishment was with this vocal, you know, plurality faction of the party base. So there were a lot of people in the Republican Party who really spent decades building what they believed was a party of ideas. And that has now been completely overthrown by a candidate who is not about those ideas and may not be about ideas at all.

MARTIN: Molly, you spent some time with Bernie Sanders and his campaign. Tell me a little bit about the atmosphere there.

CRAMER: Well, Bernie Sanders, unlike Hillary Clinton, has been having these enormous rallies. And a lot of his support comes from young people. His rallies on college campuses have been the most interesting to me because they are huge and enthusiastic and a lot of times very festive. He gets really hip bands to play. And at one point, I asked his campaign, like, where are you getting these bands? You know, they had Vampire Weekend with them in Iowa, for example. I said do these people just call you up? They said oh yeah. These bands are just squarely in the Sanders demographic and literally just call up the campaign and say can we play for you?

MARTIN: You don't think they're on his playlist?


CRAMER: I'm going to guess not, but I think Bernie's...

MARTIN: They are now.

CRAMER: ...Taste in Music may be a little bit more retro.

GONYEA: I want to hear somebody explaining to Bernie that Vampire Weekend is coming...

CRAMER: Yeah, exactly.

GONYEA: ...To his really (laughter).

MARTIN: Don't sell him short. Don't cut - don't sell him short. He knows them now. I'm sure he knows them now. But now that we have a de facto nominee on the Republican side and a mathematically likely nominee on the Democratic side, I just wanted to ask how is your job going to change and just what kinds of things should we be looking for? Don.

GONYEA: Aside from Donald Trump effectively nailing down the nomination this week, there's been that other interesting news - you know, Paul Ryan saying he can't yet say he will support him. And Trump talks about unity. He says he's going to unite this party. You know, it's going to be so united. The country's going to be so united.

I'll tell you, the people at his rallies have no interest in unity. And the people you used to see at the Rubio rallies or the Jeb Bush rallies or whatever, it's like they've just kind of gone away. They're not engaged in this process in terms of attending events.

MARTIN: So what are you going to be looking for? What are you looking for next?

GONYEA: I'm going to watch to see how Trump kind of pulls this transition off.

MARTIN: Ruby, what about you?

CRAMER: I think we're going to see Clinton try to reach out to what she has called, quote, "thoughtful Republicans." And I would like to see how she goes about connecting with some of these people who supported her over Barack Obama in 2008 in the Democratic primary but also people who really connecting deeply with her husband when he was running, who now just have a visceral dislike of her. They're so dug in, and I don't know how she is going to be able to have a conversation with them and maybe even sway some of them. Maybe she can't.

MARTIN: OK, Molly Ball, final word to you.

BALL: I want to bring this question back to the sort of opening of the segment when we were talking about, you know, what we can learn from going to campaign rallies and how the candidates interact with their voters. That changes a lot when you go to the primary to the general election because if you're a politician, it's very easy to get a false single from standing in front of an adoring crowd at a campaign event.

If you're Donald Trump you think oh my gosh, there's 30,000 people here who love me - obviously I'm winning. But there's this whole other swath of people who have felt very alienated by his message. And as Don was saying, his ability to change his message to appeal to that broader swath of Americans who vote in general elections is going to be the whole question of this general election.

MARTIN: All right, that's The Atlantic's Molly Ball, NPR's Don Gonyea and BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer. Molly and Don were here with me in Washington, D.C. Ruby was all by herself at NPR West, but we were happy to have her. Thank you all so much for joining us. Come back and see us.

BALL: Absolutely, thank you.

CRAMER: Thank you.

GONYEA: We'll be back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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