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Businessman Donald Trump continues to top the polls of likely Republican voters. The latest survey finds him with a two-point lead over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Trump sparked debate among Republican hopefuls when he referred to Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists.” And his recent remarks questioning Sen. John McCain’s heroism angered many conservatives. But Trump’s supporters say he’s a fighter who’s not afraid to stand up to Washington insiders. We look at Donald Trump’s surge in the polls and what it could mean for the 2016 presidential election.
- Ron Elving Senior Washington editor, NPR News
- David Winston President of the Winston Group, Republican strategist and CBS News consultant, and adviser to the House and Senate Republican leadership for more than a decade.
- Kathleen Parker Twice-weekly columnist, The Washington Post, and winner of 2010 Pulitzer Prize for commentary
- Matthew Schlapp Principal and founder, Cove Strategies; chairman, The American Conservative Union
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Presidential Donald Trump continues to lead the polls and dominate the headlines. He's drawn the ire of fellow Republicans for slamming Mexican immigrants and for questioning Senator John McCain's heroism. But supporters say he's a straight talker who's not afraid to take on Washington insiders.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to discuss Donald Trump's surge in the polls and what it tells us about the 2016 presidential electorate, Republican strategist David Winston, Ron Elving of NPR News, columnist Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post and Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union. Thank you all for being with us.
MS. KATHLEEN PARKERThanks for having us.
MR. RON ELVINGGood to be here.
MR. DAVID WINSTONGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Ron Elving, polls, polls, polls, polls, polls. We've got another one this morning. Donald Trump still on top, but not by as much. Tell us what the polling indicates now about this race.
ELVINGThe polling would seem to indicate, if we take all of these polls at face value, which is a huge "if", that perhaps the Donald Trump phenomenon of this summer has plateaued a bit because he seemed to be rising in every new national poll until this one and he's down just slightly from the 24 percent that he showed in the ABC/Washington Post poll that was such a shock to many people on Monday, Particularly after his remarks about Senator McCain, which, of course, were made after most of the polling had been completed.
ELVINGSo perhaps, the last day of that poll is the most relevant and we are told that on the last day of the ABC/Washington Post poll, his numbers had started to drop. We see a little bit more of that now in this PPT poll, but none of these polls is particularly meaningful. The election is a long way away. The biggest question is who's going to get in the debate. That's two weeks from today, two weeks from tonight and clearly, Donald Trump will be in that debate.
PAGEHe'll be in the debate. Even with drop in support, he's still at the top of these polls. Well, David Winston, why? Why is he at the top of these polls? What is his appeal to Republican voters?
WINSTONWell, I'm sure that there's an appeal. I think what you're watching is -- look, this is guy who's very good at getting media attention, right? And what he's very good at is creating train wrecks, right? And so what he's doing is he's taking each individual moment and trying to set the stage for a train wreck. Again, CNN covered him yesterday, I mean, like, his whole speech, waiting for a train wreck.
WINSTONHere we've got John Kasich announcing and they're covering him doing his speech and sure enough, he delivers a train wreck in terms of doing Lindsey Grahams phone number and giving it out and then you had Lindsey Graham following up, beating up his own phone. So what I think you're seeing is here's a person who suddenly emerges. People hear the name. They're sort of intrigued, some of them saying they're going to support him.
WINSTONBut the challenge for somebody like that is how do you sustain that and he's got no ability to sustain those group of voters for any period of time. So the question really is when does this begin to fall off.
PAGEAlthough, Kathleen Parker, you had, in your most recent column, it was titled "Why We Can't Dismiss Donald Trump." Why can't we dismiss Donald Trump?
PARKERWell, I don't think he's going to fizzle as soon as people think or hope. And that's because, you know, he's still got, well, 14 more candidates to gang up on so every day the train wreck has a name, right? So initially, it was a large group of people and the big problem called immigration. Now, he's narrowing his focus to individuals. First, he hits McCain, then he hits Lindsey Graham and then he hits Rick Scott and they're all responding in kind.
PARKEROf course, Lindsey Graham and Rick Scott must be delighted because finally they're getting a little attention, too. But, you know, I was watching him in South Carolina and I am a South Carolinian and he is standing among an audience of local people bashing their senator. And though, you know, not every single person in South Carolina loves Lindsey Graham, everybody in South Carolina is pretty much opposed to anyone who criticizes one of their own.
PARKERAnd I watched the women in the background. I don't know if you saw that, but they looked very embarrassed and uncomfortable because you can't really applaud as this show person is carrying on and saying really bad things, really nasty things, including Lindsey Graham couldn't get a job today.
PAGEIn the private sector.
PARKERIn the private sector. He wouldn't be successful. He'd be poor. Well, Lindsey Graham grew up poor and a lot of people are poor so he's also kind of casting a nasty light on poor people and we don't believe in making fun of that.
PAGEMatt Schlapp, you are chairman of the American Conservative Union. You were a political director at the White House for George W. Bush. Has Trump managed to strike a chord with Republican voters, at least with some Republican voters?
MR. MATTHEW SCHLAPPWell, I think -- I would just like to correct one thing that I think gets reported a lot and said a lot which is Donald Trump does a great job when someone says something about him that's disparaging. So what did John McCain say about Donald Trump? Oh, he's going to unleash the whacko birds and here come the crazies. Well, a lot of people I work with don't really like being called crazy or whacko-bird.
MR. MATTHEW SCHLAPPAnd when Lindsey Graham says he's a jackass, now John McCain and Lindsey Graham are really good at plucking the strings of the media. Lindsey Graham's probably one of the best. He's actually the one who's usually doing this type of thing in terms of generating a lot of press over, you know, some tactic. Well, Donald Trump is, you know, equal to that task and so what we're seeing, actually, is it's -- yes, it's partly about Donald Trump and this persona that's been around for my whole lifetime.
MR. MATTHEW SCHLAPPBut the other part of this is that he is resonating with real people out there in the country. When I talk to real conservatives out there in the country, they say to me, I know I'm not supposed to say this and I'm not supposed to like him, but I do and I agree with the fact that he's taking on Washington and I think Washington is broken and we need an outside to fix it.
PARKERI think that's true. And what I hear from people, and I get a lot of mail every day, they say -- one today, particularly, caught my attention. He said Trump is not a candidate. He's a voice. And people do feel like he's saying the things that they're thinking and can't say and I don't think they're going to pull away from him any time soon because they enjoy hearing those things put out into the public square. And it's fine if he says it. And later, if they want to determine that someone else makes a presidential candidate that'll be fine.
PARKERBut for now, he is speaking for all these people who feel that they've not been represented well in Washington.
PAGESo David Winston, you've done a lot of polling over the years for Republicans, including the congressional leadership. Who exactly is drawn to Trump? What is the demographic characteristics of a Trump supporter?
WINSTONAnd here's something that's very confusing 'cause I think it's hard to determine and I'm going to focus in on specifically looking at two surveys, the PPT poll that just came out and the Washington Post/ABC poll and this is what you're seeing. He gets more support among non Tea Party people than Tea Party people. He gets more support among non Evangelicals than Evangelicals. He gets more support amongst moderates than conservatives.
WINSTONAnd he actually gets more support when you look at the survey that the post did amongst independents than Republicans. I'm not sure what the tells us. That is, that sort of goes directly against the narrative that's been laid out here and I think, to some degree, going to what Kathleen was saying, this dynamic that he's saying something that somehow's striking a chord with some people, I still think it goes back to the fact that what he's very good at is he's gotten attention and he's a train wreck and some people just get engaged with train wrecks.
ELVINGThere is also a phenomenon here of polling, I think that David could possibly corroborate, which is the tyranny of small numbers. When you have a huge few, you get a tiny set of numbers. Now, we were all terribly excited to see that Donald Trump was at 22, 23, 24 percent. That's also where Bernie Sanders is polling. And while Bernie Sanders has gotten a remarkable amount of attention, perhaps, in the last several weeks relative to what he had received in the rest of his political career on a national scale, he is not considered to be a serious threat in the Democratic party and we're just not spending anywhere near as much time on Bernie.
ELVINGBut when Donald Trump gets that much in a field where no one is getting more because there is no Hillary Clinton, suddenly Donald Trump is that most exciting thing out there.
PARKERI'd like to make one other observation about his success in capturing attention. It is summer and there's not much news. And I think we should change the metaphor from train wreck to shark attack, so. And when there's another shark attack, Donald Trump is going to go down in the ratings.
SCHLAPPWell, I'm going to disagree with that a little bit. I actually think he's a serious candidate. I think this is an actual real phenomenon that's happening in politics. Like I said, it's not just about him. I think the Bernie Sanders example is a great example. I think Republicans are acting like Democrats and Democrats are acting like Republicans. We don't know who our nominee's going to be. It's chaotic. It's hectic. It's scaring the heck out of our donor base.
SCHLAPPWhat do the Democrats do? They have their chosen person and they're propping her up and pushing her forward and she looks pretty weak. And I actually think the Bernie Sanders thing, they are two different kinds of people, but the Bernie Sanders phenomenon of this outside voice taking on the inside players is very similar to what Trump is doing and it matches our political time.
PAGELet me go down around the table and ask you if you think, at the end of the day, it is possible that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president next year. Matt, is it possible?
SCHLAPPYeah, sure. I mean, you know, polls are numbers and eventually we're going to have results. And if he's leading the field, he's leading the field so I, you know, I'm open to the prospect.
PAGEKathleen, is it possible that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee?
PARKERIt's possible and here's why.
PAGEI don't mean possible ever, ever. I mean, is it...
PARKERHere's why I think it is possible.
PAGE...in the realm of possibility.
PARKERBecause I think when people step up to the ballot and they look at all the names, they go, nah, none of these people excites me. What the hell? I think he's going to get the what-the-hell vote and they're going to vote for Trump.
PAGERon, is it possible?
ELVINGI don't think it's possible in the sense of plausibility. I think it's much more possible, much more plausible that he would be on the ballot as a third party option.
PAGEPlausible's probably a better word. David, is it plausible that he would be the nominee?
WINSTONWhen you take a look at the negatives he has within the party, I mean, he's just got a real ceiling. He doesn't have the ability to put together a majority coalition within the Republican party to make that work. Having said that, going back to Ron's point, a big concern here is what he's saying is that there may be a third party.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll talk about the possibility that Donald Trump just might run as a third party candidate and what that would mean. He talked about that in an interview this morning in the Hill. We'll talk about that and we'll take your calls and questions. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio: Matt Schlapp, he's the founder of Cove Strategies, chairman of the American Conservative Union, former political director at the White House for George W. Bush. And Kathleen Parker, she's the twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. She received the Pulitzer Price for Commentary in 2010. And David Winston, president of the Winston Group. He served as an advisor to the House and Senate Republican leadership for more than a decade. And Ron Elving, a familiar voice here, senior Washington editor for NPR News.
PAGEOur phone lines are open. You can call our toll-free number to make a comment or ask a question, 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email. In fact, we've got an email from Tony who's writing us from Florida. And he writes, "I suspect Donald Trump of being a Hillary supporter. I think his plan is to isolate a chunk of the far right, run as an independent, throw the presidency to Hillary Clinton." What do you think, Ron?
ELVINGThat has been suggested. That is the conspiracy theory of the week, that because Donald Trump has in the past given Hillary Clinton money for her Senate campaign and actually shown up at some of her events and seemed to be in some sense a supporter of Hillary Clinton, that this has been cooked up somewhere in the vast conspiracy of the Clinton family as a way to torpedo the Republican Party in a year when, by historical pendulum swing, they should be expecting to win the presidency. So it's out there. A lot of people are going to find that plausible. But in all likelihood, it's hard to imagine Donald Trump in any conspiracy in which he does not have the lead role and become president.
PAGEDonald Trump is all about Donald Trump, isn't he? I mean, but that does not mean he might -- he wouldn't run as an independent candidate whatever the impact. How frightening...
SCHLAPPLet's just not have a double standard there.
SCHLAPPI mean, all these guys -- these men and women who are running, they are self interested and focused on themselves, right?
PAGEVery true. Yeah.
SCHLAPPHe just does it particularly well.
PAGEThat's right. So how scary a prospect would a third-party bid by Donald Trump be to Republicans?
SCHLAPPThink about the irony, Susan. Ross Perot, a Republican businessman, wealthy, literally keeps George H. W. Bush from winning the presidency -- in my opinion, David...
SCHLAPP...and it would be horribly ironic to see another Clinton enter the oval office because a wealthy, mostly Republican businessman runs as an independent. And I think this: I think we should embrace him as a party -- I'm speaking as a partisan Republican here -- we ought to embrace him. He can speak to people that Republicans often can't reach. We have to broaden our coalition and appeal if we're to win the White House, including getting people who aren't necessarily always in the Republican camp. And we are foolish, the extent to which we belittle him, push him out and only encourage him to run outside the Party.
PAGEWell, in fact, here's what he said -- Donald Trump said in an interview with The Hill that's published this morning. He says, asked about a third-party run, he says, "If they're not fair," meaning the Republican National Committee and establishment Republicans, "If they're not fair, that would be a factor in terms of running for a third party." How should Republicans -- the Republican Party, David, treat Donald Trump?
WINSTONWell, if he continues to make the statements he's making, the incoming he's getting from other Republicans is well deserved. So you have to start with that point. And so to some degree he's got to start deciding, if he wants to be a serious candidate, that he needs to start saying serious things and not things that are intended to just get media attention and are just beyond the pale for most Republicans at this point. I'm sorry, the McCain remark to me was just so completely beyond the pale and he needs to walk that back a lot more than he has tried to. So the first onus, I would say, the responsibility starts with him. Start acting like a responsible candidate and guess what? You'll get a reaction.
WINSTONI mean, having said that, I want to go back to one -- to the point is, when you take a look at the one data point that's out there, who does it impact? In The Washington Post poll, they had Bush versus Clinton. Clinton was leading by 6. When you interject Trump, that margin for Clinton goes from 6 to 16, as Trump get's 20 percent of the vote.
PAGEWell, you know, you can say it's up to Trump to behave more responsibly. But that doesn't seem likely even in response to the...
WINSTONYeah, but he is running for President of the United States.
PAGE...criticism on McCain, he hasn't apologized, you know.
WINSTONThe behavior he is exhibiting at this point does not reflect what is needed in terms of a President of the United States. And he's got to learn how to be more responsible, if he expects, in a general election, to be handed that responsibility by this country.
PAGEBut what can Republicans do to make that happen? Because it seems like he's sort of an unguided missile.
PARKERI think they're going to have to walk a very fine line during the debate. And, you know, parenthetically, I think what his goal was thus far was to get into that debate. He has now a space to talk. And whether he has any real, serious policy plans, I don't have any idea and I don't think anyone else does. What we know is, you know, what he's said thus far. So when he's in the debate, what Republicans should do is treat him respectfully. And if he targets them for some sort of over-the-top criticism, they just have to shrug it off. They have to be Reaganesque and sort of take the high road, laugh it off. And the American public will see how he compares to that more adult treatment.
ELVINGIt's interesting to see how each individual Republican candidate parses this. Because if you're Lindsey Graham and you're at 1 percent in the polls, you really need to have as many clashes with Donald Trump as you possibly can. He's getting more attention than he's gotten at any other point in this campaign. If you're Rick Perry, this is your chance to be number 10, getting just over the line and into the debate. If you're Ted Cruz and you're thinking, "Hey, you know, a lot of Donald's voters ought to be my voters and they really ought to come to me," then you want to be very careful that you never say anything to alienate those people.
ELVINGAnd tell the media, "I'm not going to get down into the gutter with you media people in talking about Donald Trump." And put the blame entirely on the media and stand there, hoping with your hands open, to catch those Trump voters at some point.
SCHLAPPYou know, I just -- no offense to all of us sitting here, I don't think he actually should listen to us. I think he's tapping into a spirit in the country. And I really do think we ought to look at it on the other side of the other nominating process too, that it's very shocking to everybody who's inside the beltway and advises candidates and everything else. And we have to -- once again, as a partisan Republican -- we have to be able to speak to people that sometime find the Republican Party really off base. They think this town is broken. And I think it's wrong to say that he's being irresponsible.
SCHLAPPAny other candidate, if they were getting 27 percent of the vote, people are saying, "What are they doing? What's the secret sauce there, that's allowing them to rise?" Yes, he's going to have to transition and talk about policy. That's going to be the next stage of all this. But I think chastising him is exactly what's helping him.
PAGEI don't know if Donald should listen to us. But I'm pretty sure Donald Trump will not listen to us.
PARKERI'm pretty sure of that. That's my comment.
PAGEWe're got a comment posted on Twitter. This comment is, "Please don't confuse support with a thumbs up. Many of us would not vote for him, but love that he speaks his mind and pushes back against D.C. media and pals." I guess that would be us. Let's go to the phones and to Baton Rouge, La., and talk to Brandon. Brandon, hi. You're on the air.
BRANDONHey. Thanks a lot for taking my call. I'll speak quickly. I'd like to make two quick points. I think there's been so many good points made. But first off, I'd just like to say, regarding the "Trump factor" as we'll call it. As all of the panelists have noted, I think it's more impactful, it's more compelling and some people take it at first blush -- I think, as we've all noted, at first blush, it's kind of, "Who is this guy? He's a cartoon character. Is he even a serious candidate?" But to that end, I think he reflects a sentiment of the country. I think what's going on is a sea change of sorts. And 2016 may very well reflect that.
BRANDONBut that is to say, the populace, electorate, is extremely -- (unintelligible) in my point too -- dissatisfied, almost I would say disdained, with the political system that has arisen, the impasse, the gridlock, whatever you want to call it. And my second point is to say, you know, whatever your particular brand or preference is -- CNN or Fox News, what have you -- I think the pundits speak in terms of a political career being like any other career. You're supposed to matriculate. And then, you know, "He's not ready in 2016, but he'll run and lose and maybe by 2020, his voice will be heard," that sort of thing. And I think that is a reflection of the Trump factor.
BRANDONThat's the exact sentiment of the populace is to say that, you know, "Well, you need another 20 years in the Senate before your voice can be heard." He flies in the face of all that. So whether or not, you know, we speak in terms of conclusions, I don't think he'll win the race, seriously. And I don't think a lot of folks think, ultimately, he'll even win the nomination. But, as many of the panelists have said, with regard to the impact of his voice or what he represents, I think that's very compelling. Because, again, I'll close with this, I think the sentiment of where our country stands is in utter disconnect. Those who are appointed and elected to make our laws and speak for us, absolutely do not. They have other interests, that sort of thing.
BRANDONAnd it doesn't matter, again, which side of the line you fall on. So I'll just close with that and I'll listen to your comments. But, again, I think it's more compelling maybe than some are giving him credit for. So thank you for the call.
PAGEHey, Brandon. Thanks very much for your call. You know, it makes me wonder, a point that, I guess, Matt was making, comparing Trump and Sanders. Because both of them talk about, the government doesn't represent you, it doesn't stand up for you. And I know that supporters -- some supporters of Senator Sanders take umbrage at the idea that he reflects something that's parallel to Donald Trump. But do you think there's something to that, Ron?
ELVINGYes, I do. I think that there is, as Matt suggested earlier, a real connection between the alienation on the left and the alienation on the right. And people have observed that if you bend the spectrum far enough, the two ends come to meet at a populace point at some point or another, where it's mostly about the rejection of what goes on in Washington, the system in Washington, the mechanics of Washington. The problem is that, if you want to turn that into a political movement and actually get some power, you have to reconcile the fact that Bernie Sanders is running against billionaires and Donald Trump is a billionaire. He is very proud of being a billionaire. And in fact, once he...
PAGEYou know, he's very rich.
ELVINGYou know, he is very rich. And if Forbes says he's worth $4 billion, he's says, "Nah, I'm worth $10 billion." And that's a little different approach from Bernie's. So reconciling them and putting them both on one ticket to run as independents I think would be problematic.
PARKERWell, I would just say that I totally agree with that because I wrote that about four weeks ago, or three weeks ago, that they were mirror images of each other in a sense. And those are three very important words. But they're both representing kind of the -- not only just the -- not just the extremes of the party, but that sense of alienation of each party. And they do mirror each other that way. And I think, though, because they're both sort of off in their own spheres -- I mean, I don't think anybody's ready for a socialist president. I don't think anybody's ready for a Trump president. But they force the conversation to sort of move more toward the center as we move along. And I think that's the benefit of having those two voices out there.
PAGEDavid Winston, Donald Trump is going to the border today. He talks a lot about immigration. That was the first issue that really got him center-stage in the debate. To what degree is the immigration issue a kind of fundamental, in terms of his appeal to some voters?
WINSTONI think that's been a starting point, clearly. And that's what he began this whole process with. The thing, in terms of, take the Republican electorate, while immigration is an important issue, this is still going to be about jobs and the economy. If you take a look at the 2012 and actually the 2008 cycle, virtually every single exit poll -- with the exception of one, the very first one in Iowa in 2008 -- jobs and the economy was the number one issue overwhelmingly. So I think he's using this to, again, continue the narrative. Because, again, I'm going to suggest to you, one of the things that he is very good at is getting attention. He knows how to play the media like a violin here and make sure that he's the lead story every night.
WINSTONBut the ultimate challenge he's still going to have -- and this is where the other campaigns need to sort of step up -- right now, he's the train wreck. I'm going to go back to that. And what Republicans have got to do here, in terms of their campaigns, is make what they're saying so compelling, so interesting at a policy level that, that becomes irrelevant. The train wreck becomes a sideshow and actually the debate, in terms of the policy, in particular over jobs and the economy, takes center stage. Having said that, that's got to be something that they've got to figure out with media as well...
PAGEYou know, that's true. Here...
WINSTON...in terms of making that work.
PAGEHere we've got an email from Peggy, who writes, "Regardless of Trump's antics, what are his positions on domestic, international and social issues? I like to consider myself well-informed. All I know is he knows how to defeat ISIS but won't tell us." I wonder if this is a failure on our part, Kathleen, the news media, columnists, reporters, to not -- in a way by only covering kind of the most flamboyant comments he makes and not pressing him for what would he do as president?
PARKERWell, I think, yes. We're always to blame if we don't ask the questions. And that's what's next, I suppose. And it -- certainly it'll come up in the debate, what exactly do you have in mind? And I don't know, Matt seems to have a little inside line to the Trump Tower. But I wonder if he is going to surprise everyone and actually come out as a very serious candidate during the debates. He's not a...
PAGEDo you think he will, Matt?
PARKERHe's a smart person. He knows what's going on.
SCHLAPPHe's a very smart person. I do think he's spontaneous. And that's one of the -- that matches the times of how you make news is by spontaneity and social media and saying things that go viral. And he has more Twitter followers and Facebook friends than I think anybody. But I think this -- he is a serious person on policy. This idea that he's -- that he secretly likes Clinton, let me just say that's completely wrong. He really is -- he uses these, you know, really strong adjectives and verbs and everything else, but he doesn't like her. I'll just say that. And he's really repulsed by the Obama presidency. This is real. He's having a real reaction.
SCHLAPPLook, he's dabbled in supporting Democrats and being a Republican at times and drifting. And he's realized that the Obama presidency is way too radical and has been bad for the country. So where he is today is real. This is a real political move by him.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's talk to Marnie, calling us from Cleveland, Ohio. Marnie, thanks for giving us a call.
MARNIEThank you. You know, I think Donald Trump's stock in trade is being outrageous. And really, I think he will go down as Sarah Palin went down, in the same way.
PAGEAll right, Marnie. Thanks very much for your call. Some people nodding their heads around the table.
SCHLAPPMarnie is saying that Donald Trump is going to be the vice presidential candidate then.
PARKERI thought about that a lot. In fact, I was interested in the polling results. Because I assumed there might be some Palin overlap in his support but apparently not -- no Tea Party, or not particularly Tea Party. And so, I think there's a possibility that that could happen exactly so but just probably not for the same reasons. I mean, he is outrageous, but he can also -- let's see if he can tone it down. I don't know yet. I really don't know. So, yet to be seen.
ELVINGDonald Trump is a candidate for many things. I think vice president would not be among them.
ELVINGHe just does not fit that profile. And this field, by the way, has some excellent prospects for vice president. Marco Rubio, if he's not the nominee, would be an excellent vice presidential nominee for the Republicans. John Kasich, who is not at this point among the leaders, he -- if he stays in the contest long enough, if he's in the hunt for a while -- would be an excellent vice president. He give you the state, perhaps, of Ohio, as Marc Rubio would give you a leg-up in Florida. So these are guys who would be perfect for that particular role. Donald Trump is the opposite. Donald Trump is in this to change the game, not to be the runner up.
SCHLAPPHe's unconventional. That's the whole deal. He doesn't check all the boxes that you look at for the perfect candidate. He actually wipes all that away and comes at it from a totally different perspective. And if the party was smart and if these candidates were smart, they'd stop focusing on him and think about how he's connecting and copy it.
PARKERWell, I think Jeb Bush did that the other day. He said, "Look, I understand why people are finding his message appealing. But it's divisive and therefore, you know, we prefer to go about it a different way." But I think there's one thing we keep forgetting to mention as we're talking about this, and that is, remember that Donald Trump led the exhausting, sort of, campaign to determine whether President Obama was actually born in the United States. And that's, you know, that's going to come back up. And it's...
PAGEAnd what does that tell you or what do you draw from that?
PARKERWhat, that we haven't been talking about that?
PAGENo, no. What do you draw from the fact that he was one of the most outspoken people questioning the president's citizenship?
PARKERWell, I don't think it's helpful to his candidacy. It might for certain -- a certain sliver of the Republican Party that agrees with him on that. But I think most of us figure that if there were anything to bring to the light about his residency or his birthplace, you know, the Clinton machine would have produced it.
PAGEYou know, I think one lesson that other candidates might take from Trump's experience is, you know, he's out there talking to reporters all the time. He's available. You know, he's spontaneous, as you said, Matt. And it seems to me that's a pretty appealing quality in a candidate, to look a little less scripted and a little more available. I realize that's in my self interest to say. We're going to take another short break. And when we come back, we'll continue our conversation about, what is behind Donald Trump's appeal? How long is it likely to last? We'll take your calls and questions. We'll read some of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me today in the studio, Ron Elving of NPR, Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post, Matt Schlapp of Cove Strategies, and David Winston of The Winston Group. We're talking about the appeal that Donald Trump has demonstrated among some Republican voters. Here's an email we've gotten from Bao who's writing us from Fairfax, Virginia.
PAGEBao writes, I am a 45-year-old Democrat and I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton. But after following Mr. Trump for the last few weeks, I've decided to vote for Donald. Unlike other politicians, Donald speaks his mind, takes tough questions. At least he always gives some direct answers. He doesn't dance around with zero information like other politicians do. That alone is more than enough for me to vote for him. What do you think, David?
WINSTONWell, I think what that's reflective of, and then let's start with a basic context. The attitude about the direction of this country has been on a negative path for an extended period of time. Since, basically, 2008. I mean, that's the longest period of time I've seen. And there's a real frustration with that. And match with that the fact that there's also an equal frustration that the political discourse isn't addressing a lot of those concerns that people have. And so, what I think you're watching Herb basically say is, given this political system, I'm willing to do 52 card pick up to see if something would happen.
PAGEThat's the what-the-hell voter.
PARKERYeah, the what-the-hell voter.
PAGEThe voter that you were talking about, Kathleen.
PARKERYeah, I think it's a -- people would might not admit it. It's sort of the reverse Bradley Effect. They'd say, I'd never vote for him. Are you kidding? And then they go in and go, what the heck, let's just see what happens.
ELVINGThat's exactly right. And the other thing is all of these Republicans who are criticizing Trump, they're actually missing the whole point. It's all their criticism from the inside crowd, the clique, the operatives and everything else, that is appealing to all the people who are supporting Trump.
PAGEHere's another email we've gotten from Robert. Robert, who's 28 years old, says, as a younger voter, I feel like his monetary wealth makes him less of a target to be bought. I mean, that's interesting. And the fact that, you know, usually...
ELVINGI keep trying to make this argument. People should give me a lot of money so that, you know, I can be impervious to...
PARKERBeholden to no one.
WINSTONNo, to your point, and that's where you see a very dissonant line from what's been the major line of coverage from the media? Who's raised the most money? And I think there's a frustration with that discourse, as well.
PARKERYeah, that's interesting. Yeah.
ELVINGOddly enough. Oddly enough. The billionaire is the anti-money candidate in that curious mathematics.
PAGEYou know, I wonder if history tends to repeat itself. I wonder what kind of historical comparisons there are for the rapid rise and the appeal at the moment of Donald Trump. I saw a piece this morning by Mae Reston on CNN.com that was comparing Trump's supporters to Nixon's. Silent majority, because Trump often uses the phrase silent majority. Is that a good comparison, Matt, or not an aft one?
SCHLAPPYou know, that particular terminology, I might not embrace, but I do think that there are more people that Trump is appealing to than would admit it. And I do think that there is a broader group of people, I'll give you an example. I had a bunch of family come in from Kansas. And we were sitting around the dining room table last night, and I was surprised by how many people, how many of these people I was talking to, really, they didn't know if they should actually say they support him.
SCHLAPPBut they loved the fact that he was taking on Washington and taking on all these people. I cannot stress enough the fact that people believe that this town is broken. That they do believe the country is on the wrong track. They think that Obama has shown a ton of incompetence. And they believe that career politicians don't necessarily solve the problem. Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Caron, Donald Trump, these people have never held elected office. They are resonating.
WINSTONThat is true. There is a population that you are describing, I think, accurately. The question is where they're going to go in the end. And will they be satisfied with a Republican nominee who will, I'm prepared to say, not be Donald Trump? Will they follow him out of the party? Or will they find someone else out of the party? Or will they stay home? I suspect, and perhaps this is also a product of a certain amount of time in Washington and watching this process. That, in the end, they will have some fun with some of these other candidates. But they'll wind up voting for whom the Republican Party nominates.
PAGESo, they'll date Trump, but they'll marry somebody else.
WINSTONAnd it might very well be somebody like Jeb Bush, who right now, is an anathema to that particular attitude. And that, I think, is understandable, as well.
SCHLAPPI don't know if that's true, in all candor. I mean, Jeb Bush, one of the things that he has going for him is he really hasn't spent his career in Washington. I know his family has, but really, if you think about his career successes, are as a conservative governor in one of the most important battleground states in the country.
WINSTONThis is the candidate with just a first name.
SCHLAPPNo, but he has a claim to this, as well, and he should grab it.
WINSTONHe does. And he does grab that all the time. But I think it's going to be tough for him to get away with just running on his first name. Which he is trying to do, and running on his record in Florida, because people just have too long a memory and he does represent, in the end, when you look at his money, he represents the Republican Party as people have come to know it. And in many cases, dislike it.
PARKERYeah, but Jeb Bush is a serious, he's a serious thinker. He's really kind of an intellectual. And that's how he, you know, obviously distinguishes himself from our perceptions of other, previous Bush presidencies.
WINSTONAnd I'm the person saying he's probably going to be the nominee in the end.
PARKERI think so, too. And I think people will like him more and more as they get to know him better, but he's just not -- he is not known well, independently of his name.
ELVINGAnd what you're defining here was Matt was laying out, and both of you are laying out, ultimately, these candidates have got to start defining their content. Right? The one jump that he seems to -- that Trump has seems to have gotten is like, all right, I'm going to go out and stake a position. And everybody else is scrambling around, trying to figure out how to respond rather than saying, okay, why me? Why am I better? And all of them have a terrific story to tell, if they would actually stand up and begin.
ELVINGAnd I don't, what I mean story, it's not like who I am, it's where am I going to go with this country and start defining that future. But without that occurring at that scale, Trump is able to take up all the oxygen.
PAGEDave, I know you're a student of history. Do you see a parallel with something that's happened before in American politics, when you look at the Trump phenomenon?
WINSTONThis is a difficult one, because it's the context that I think is so different. I have never seen this extended period of time where people really think the country's headed in the wrong direction. You're seeing that in polling results in the sense that this is the first time we've seen a generation who thinks the next generation is not going to be as well off as they are. That's a very different environment in terms of what I've seen. So, I'm not sure I can contextualize that into some other historical timeframe.
PAGELet's go to Michael. He's calling us from Ashburn, Virginia. Michael, thank you for holding on.
MICHAELThank you. Good morning. First of all, I think I can give you a historical comparison, although the politics may not be the same. The populism might be, and that would be the candidacies of William Jennings Bryant. That's for one. For two, I think that Donald Trump is operating under a paradigm that you guys, you the press, don't particularly want. And I think that he is, he has both the capability and the capacity. This is a man who is certainly very bright. He's a Wharton graduate. He is, by all means, successful.
MICHAELThis is not a stupid guy. And I think what's going to happen is he becomes the legitimate candidate once he's garnered serious votes from one of the first primaries. And certainly, from the debate that's coming up. This is a guy that's operating under his own rules.
PAGEHe certainly is doing that. Michael, let me ask you, would you vote for Trump in the Virginia primary?
MICHAELOh, you know, you're asking me a question that's very difficult. I'm a 61-year-old lifelong Democrat white guy, and I was joking about this with some friends the other day. I don't like Hillary. I like Bernie Sanders, and do I make it easier for Bernie by voting for Trump? But the more I kind of listen to this populous rhetoric, I'm really confused and I don't know what to do, but it's a great question.
PAGEAll right, Michael, thanks for your call.
SCHLAPPMichael, give me a call and I'll tell you what to do. No, I think this is, this caller, Michael, is really, he's not the only one out there trying to figure this out. Partisanship in this country has been beaten up, and people don't like associating so clearly with parties. And they just want somebody who can step up and tell it like it is in the short amount of time they have to concentrate on politics.
WINSTONBut let's just interject here that when Donald Trump tells people like it is, it is frequently not. When he says, my book, "The Art of the Deal," is the biggest selling book ever. For example, when he says, I led a parade, it was the biggest parade they ever saw in the city of New York. Et cetera. Et cetera.
PARKERAnd let's not forget everybody loves me.
WINSTONWhat I'm saying, what I'm saying is this is not...
SCHLAPPNew Yorkers, they all talk like this.
ELVING...there is such a thing as gigantism. This man suffers from gigantism and narcissism at the same time. So, if you can put those two phenomenons...
SCHLAPPWell Ron, if you look at his financial disclosure statement, one of his most interesting pockets of a lot of money was the continuing royalties on that book. So, it is, you know, it is a tremendous success.
PARKERWell, I haven't checked Amazon today, but I bet it's advancing.
SCHLAPPIt's doing very well right now.
PAGEI asked you earlier, whether you thought it was plausible that he would be the Republican nominee and we had a difference of opinion on the panel. Let me ask you this, does Donald Trump think it's plausible that he could end up as the Republican nominee? Let's just go down, around the table. Matt, do you think that in his head, this is actually what he's running for, or does he have some other agenda?
SCHLAPPI think when he first ran, he didn't know. And I think, my guess is, that when he sees these polls and he sees the response, I think he's becoming more of a believer in the fact that he could actually be the nominee. But when he first ran, I think he was trying to make a point, too.
PARKERYeah, I think he just wanted to have his voice out there, sort of like Lindsay Graham, well, Lindsay Graham's running to keep Rand Paul from doing well.
PAGESo, do you, Kathleen, think that, in his own mind, Donald Trump thinks this is actually…
PARKERWell, I think in his own mind, all things are possible for Donald Trump. So, I would put the presidency in that too.
ELVINGThis is the movie, right? This is "All the King's Men." This is when the candidate starts out just to be a voice, just to bring a message, then winds up becoming somebody who takes himself very seriously as an actual leader. That could conceivably happen, but I suspect that Donald still has a different agenda.
PAGE...what agenda would that...
ELVINGI think the agenda is to be a bigger Donald. And to continue to wax more powerful as a figure in American business and American cultural life. And perhaps, at some point or another, turn that to a political power position, but not necessarily by being this Republican nominee.
PAGEDavid, what do you think? Do you think Donald Trump thinks he's plausibly could be the nominee?
WINSTONWell, the thing about dealing with candidates, and suddenly, they get a surge, right? You know, they go into sort of a different zone for a while. Having said that, I think the real intention for him in this, was to give himself a much larger voice, get a lot of attention for himself. Make himself a more important figure. And do it in a way that just garnered attention. But again, having said that, and we've all dealt with candidates. When you see a slight bump in the polls, it's like, see, everything's going my way.
PAGELet's talk to Bernie. He's calling us from (unintelligible) New York. I'm sure I'm saying that wrong. Hi Bernie.
PAGEYou're on the air.
BERNIEYes, well, my comment on this whole thing is I would absolutely love to see Donald Trump as a Republican nominee.
PAGEAnd that is why?
BERNIEI can't think of a Democrat in the United States that couldn't beat him, except for the ones that are in jail.
PARKERBecause he's a Democrat.
PAGEAll right, Bernie. I'm sorry, you're breaking up. But I think we got your point that, as a Democrat, you think it'd be a great idea for him to run.
PARKERI think, you know, instead of comparing this to "All the King's Men," I would say it's almost like Barack Obama, who I don't think had any idea that he would become President of the United States when he ran in 2008. I think it was a big, big surprise. And I think, now, he's thinking, can't wait until this is over. Watching the watch. And I think, Donald Trump, if he won, would be sort of thinking, oh my gosh, oh now what? I don't want to do this. I like big houses.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. You know, yesterday, we heard a big speech by Rick Perry, the former Governor of Texas, about Trump. That described Donald Trump as a cancer on conservatives. David, do you think he is? Is Donald Trump's campaign damaging conservatives or Republicans who are, may also have political ambitions, want to run for the House or the Senate? Is he having an effect on the party?
WINSTONHe's having an effect on the political discourse in the sense of you have a lot of Republican candidates, want to get their ideas out and right now, he's taking up all the oxygen, and it's making it very difficult. The idea that where does, the fact that he is potentially going to take somebody else's place on stage that obviously, one of them may be Rick Perry. Is obviously of concern. But I also, I want to point out one other thing that I am concerned about. And that is, I am not a fan of the idea that we're only going to have 10 candidates on this debate stage. I think it's created a dynamic that does not allow people who really matter to be on that stage.
WINSTONAnd what will happen is that, actually, in some regards, gives Donald Trump a larger voice, because some of the other potentially good voices won't be there.
PAGEDo you have another -- you can understand what Fox had in mind, which was that can you put 16 people onstage and have an affective debate? What, how else would you have handled the debate, rather than limiting it to the top 10 in the national polls?
WINSTONI mean, there's got to be a way that you get them all up there, and you just have a very disciplined situation and set it up with the individual campaigns. Look, this is going to be shorter and we're going to ask you some basic questions. But you have to have them all up there. I mean, bear with me, at this point, you've got somebody and let's pick on Kasich or Perry. You've got two elected governors who are elected twice, who have real standing, who have a real right to have, and have earned that right, to at least have their voice heard in a Presidential nomination process.
SCHLAPPLook, in the end, this is a television broadcast. This is what this debate is. And it has to be able to work. And if you have more than 10 people on that stage, you're talking about people getting two and a half minutes to actually say something. We're never going to get down to the issues. And let me just say one other thing on Rick Perry. I understand what he's doing and I understand that they've gotten a bit personal and they're starting to talk about each other's spectacles and God knows what else.
SCHLAPPBut the fact is this. We have got to broaden our reach as Republicans. You went through those polls. He's reaching out to people that we don't even realize. It's, you know, it's people that we didn't even think he's appealing to, he's appealing to. We have to get those people to vote for us, cause we're not going to get the funny shaped room in the White House. And we're not going to be able to get the trust of the American people to win the Presidency. Let's broaden it. And if someone has appeal beyond the standard Republican line, why is it so scary to us?
WINSTONBut here's my point about the debate and let's look at where -- if it were done today, if you look at the real clear politics average, there's a tie for 10th place between Perry and Kasich at 1.8. Right? And look, I do polling, right? There's a margin of error, there. And so what, are we going to go to two digits, three digits? Right? And by the way...
SCHLAPPBut this goes back...
PARKERWell, Kasich did just announce.
WINSTONThe other four are within .6 of a percent. Also within margin of error. Who, why do you get to decide that? Sorry, these people deserve to be on the stage.
SCHLAPPWell you, but, but Donald Trump, if he is what you fear and other people fear, that he's going to make this debate into kind of a bit of a circus, don't count out the fact that those other people that don't make the stage -- they're now going to be at five 'o clock and they're all going to stand there without Donald Trump. That might be a very interesting debate to watch.
PARKERThat's going to be a good debate. That's going to be a good one.
WINSTONBut hold on. One last thing, Matt. We just went through that, where we had all the candidates come on stage. Okay. Can you name me a statement that any of the other candidates made, in terms of that particular debate?
SCHLAPPCan you name me a candidate, a statement that any other candidate has made besides these back and forths with Donald Trump in the last week? I can't.
WINSTONOh yeah. You've had quite a few. You've had Jeb Bush talking about education, you've had him talking about his four percent economic plan. You've had John Kasich announce, he went through his whole process in terms of what his economic plan was.
SCHLAPPPlease. How many other Americans have followed any of that?
WINSTONBear with me. And then you've got CNN, rather than covering Kasich, went and covered Donald Trump in South Carolina. His entire speech, waiting for the train wreck.
PAGEWho read the Ohio governor announcing his candidacy getting less attention because of Trump. The week before, the Wisconsin Governor also announcing his candidacy, his also overshadowed.
SCHLAPPAnd that's the problem.
PAGEAnd we've had the same kind of lively discussion on this show that the Republican presidential field.
PARKERI will say this, Donald Trump's presence on the debate stage is going to bring people to the debate.
SCHLAPPAnd that's great for us.
PAGEWe're all going to be watching. Well, I want to thank our panel for joining this hour. Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post, Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union, David Winston of The Winston Group, Ron Elving of NPR News. Thank you all for being with us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Thanks for listening.
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