Guest Host: Derek McGinty
Donald Trump is the last man standing in the GOP race for the White House. Ted Cruz dropped out, and yesterday Ohio Governor John Kasich did the same, making Trump the apparent Republican nominee for president. In the Democratic arena, Bernie Sanders – fresh off his victory in the Indiana primary – vowed to stay in the campaign “until the last vote is cast.” Guest host Derek McGinty talks with political commentators Nia-Malika Henderson and Ross Douthat about what it all means.
- Nia-Malika Henderson Senior political reporter, CNN
- Ross Douthat Op-ed columnist for The New York Times and author of "Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics"
MR. DEREK MCGINTYThanks for joining us. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. She is recovering from a voice treatment. Well, Donald Trump has not yet officially won the Republican nomination for president, but as of yesterday, he became the lone contender for the honor as Ohio Governor John Kasich gave up. I'd wager a year ago, even Trump himself could not have imagined this scenario and no doubt this morning, many Americans, including the pundits and politicians are struggling to get their minds around this and who knows what comes next?
MR. DEREK MCGINTYJoining me here in the studio to talk about what this means for Republicans and the two Democratic contenders, Nia-Malika Henderson, a senior political reporter for CNN and by telephone from Connecticut, Ross Douthat, conservative op-ed columnist for the New York Times. Good to chat with you both.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONGood to be here.
MR. ROSS DOUTHATGood morning.
MCGINTYGood morning. Okay, let's--Nia, I'll start with you. Kasich out. It's all over. How surprised were you to see it end so suddenly?
HENDERSONI was very surprised. First, with Ted Cruz dropping out after that tough Indiana loss that, in some ways, they knew was going to happen by the time Tuesday rolled around, but his people were saying that they were going stick in the race until the bitter end. They didn't do that. And then, Kasich, at the last minute, literally on a plane on the tarmac and then deciding that his heart wasn't in it, cancelling press conferences, cancelling a fundraiser as well and concluding what we all knew, which is that he didn't have a shot to overtake Trump and, you know, kind of come in as the shining white knight and rescue the party from Donald Trump.
HENDERSONDonald Trump, I think, himself, as you said, is surprised at this. He wrapped it up. You know, I mean, the polls have shown him steadily ahead going back to June. He was behind Ben Carson for a time in some of those national polls, but in some ways, I think the Republican party has seen this coming for some time.
MCGINTYAnd Ross, did you see this coming?
DOUTHATAt what point? 24 hours ago? Yeah, absolutely. Before that, no, not really. I think what's interesting is that something changed in the last three weeks, basically, since the Wisconsin primary. Now, obviously, Trump had been ahead in national polling for a long time. He was clearly going to be ahead in the delegate count going into the convention no matter what. But those of us who had predicted that he wouldn't get the nomination and who would continue to make that prediction, foolishly, obviously, in hindsight, looked at the numbers and said, well, he's still topping out at about 35 or 40 percent of the vote.
DOUTHATTed Cruz won Wisconsin and won it handily, suggesting that he was able to compete pretty well with Trump in favorable terrain. And at that point, it seemed like it would be close in Indiana. It would be a tough district by district fight in California and in the end, Trump would probably fall about 50 delegates short and then it would be a question of whether he could twist arms and figure things out at the convention or whether Cruz or someone else would win on a second or third ballot. And that theory, basically, fell apart and it fell apart in the northeast where we expected Trump to win, but he ended up winning by about 10 or 15 percentage points more than the demographic suggested.
DOUTHATAnd then, clearly, it fell apart in Indiana, too. And basically, something seemed to have happened to make Republican primary voters sort of shrug and say, let's get it over with. And maybe that was the momentum from the northeast. Maybe it was that, you know, when Trump started talking about how Cruz was gonna steal the nomination with all his success in recruiting delegates, maybe that resonated with voters. We'll be arguing about what happened for a long time to come. But I would say it's been in the last three weeks that Trump has gone from still possibly not the nominee to, you know, what we have right now.
MCGINTYDoesn't have all the delegates yet so we can't call it presumptive, but he's obviously going to...
DOUTHATNo, no, we can call him presumptive.
HENDERSONI think we can, yeah.
HENDERSONYeah, but I mean, he's...
MCGINTY...I will say this, the folks at NPR have put the--I saw a memo this morning saying...
HENDERSONOh, the memo. Okay.
MCGINTY...that we shouldn't call him presumptive because he doesn't actually have the delegates yet. We can call him apparent or something. There's an argument, apparently, about this. But Ross, I wanted to talk to you because on May 3, you wrote a column where you talked about what you called the death of true conservatism that Donald Trump has wrought.
DOUTHATRight. And I meant that term slightly ironically. I capital T, capital C. I meant true conservatism to refer to basically a theory of what the Republican party should be that was embodied by Ted Cruz, above all, but also by lots of other people in conservative movements and in the party. And this is the theory that what Republican voters really wanted was the most conservative possible candidate, that they had had enough, you know, of compromise and any kind of moderation and that they wanted someone who, you know, had proven himself willing to fight President Obama on just about any issue, even in some cases, to the point of absurdity.
DOUTHATThat was the theory of the Cruz campaign and it turned out that that only really excited about a third of the Republican primary electorate and that there was a much bigger chunk of the primary electorate that was very happy to have a candidate, Donald Trump, who didn't seem to care about conservative orthodoxy very much at all, who sort of ignored a lot of the party's litmus tests, who talked about issues like trade in ways that Republican politicians don't usually talk about it, promises that he's going to protect Medicare and Social Security, who says nice things about Planned Parenthood and so on.
DOUTHATSo what we've learned from this campaign, among many other things, is that the Republican electorate is much more sort of ideologically heterodox, you might say, than a lot of conservatives thought, that there's sort of a core of the party that's committed to Ted Cruz's vision, but it's not enough to win a primary. And, in fact, there are lots and lots of Republicans who, given the choice between Ted Cruz's conservatism and what a lot of people see as these sort of dangerous absurdity of Donald Trump chose Donald Trump. They were Never Cruz in the end, rather than Never Trump.
HENDERSONThat's right. And I think we're gonna continue to see ways that Donald Trump is going to rip up the typical Republican playbook at the presidential level and just party politics. He's talking about raising the minimum wage, for instance. That's something that typically Republican candidates have not backed. We, of course, saw his foreign policy speech. It's very much a critique of Bushism, of neo-conservatism and it sounds, at times, sounds like Bernie Sanders, saying we need to spend money building things here rather than building up countries overseas.
HENDERSONYou know, I do think what is true is it'll be interesting to see how he's able to rewrite the playbook on the map, right? On the electoral map. Typically, a Republican candidate for president, essentially, shows up at the general election very much in a hole. Democratic candidates, essentially, start with about 200 electoral maps, 240 electoral votes because they just are more likely to win a collection of states, 19 or 20 states. And, you know, Donald Trump has obviously rewritten the primary politics, but those voters are about 10 percent of the entire eligible electorate so it'll be interesting to see if he can really put those states in play.
HENDERSONSo far, I mean, ironically, he is performing worse than Mitt Romney among white voters. I mean, he, in some ways, has a white voter problem. Mitt Romney got something like 59 percent of the white vote in 2012. Our CNN polls show Donald Trump getting 52 percent of the white vote. The problem is he's just performing well among white women.
MCGINTYLet's shift over to the Democratic side for a moment because as Donald Trump himself points out, he thought that he'd still be fighting and Hillary Clinton would be done, whereas just the opposite is true. How much does it hurt Hillary Clinton that she's still out there campaigning against Bernie Sanders?
HENDERSONI don't think it really hurts her. I think we sort of exaggerate the idea of these continued fights sort of damage somebody in a general election. I think it is damaging if Clinton is dragged too far to the left by Bernie Sanders, but she's been pretty good so far at mapping out this kind of center left position, which she thinks will be good for a general election. I think she's got to conserve her resources in terms of money. That's what they were thinking about when they decided not to play at all in Indiana.
HENDERSONIn some ways, you wonder if they made a mistake because it's certainly put the wind at Bernie Sanders' back again and so -- and certainly his supporters want to see him stay in this thing. But it's all but certain, at this point, that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.
MCGINTYAll right. So as we look at that, Ross, do you agree that Donald Trump will have to rewrite the electoral map to have a chance? How big a hole do you see him being in right now? We look at the polls that suggest he's way behind, but a lot of us didn't think he was going to be in this position either, did we?
DOUTHATNo, we didn't. And so all predictions about Donald Trump have to be proceeded by the caveat, you know, the man making this prediction didn't think Trump would be in this position. But with that caveat, Trump has a very difficult task ahead. He in a hole of, you know, between 5 or 10 percentage points, if you take the average of national polls and he's -- yeah, he's in a hole with just about every demographic group, including the white voters that, in theory, you'd expect him to be doing best with.
DOUTHATAnd I think that the problem for Trump is basically this. It's not the positioning, right? I mean, I think his total ideological flexibility is very helpful in a general election. The fact that he's willing to say things on economic policy and foreign policy that, you know, might even sort of effectively attack Hillary Clinton from the left, that's all very helpful to him. The problem is, Trump himself, that whatever his positions on the issues, he is seen by millions of American women as a misogynist, accurately, I would say, based on the public record.
DOUTHATHe's seen by African-Americans and Hispanics as a race-baiter. I think fairly accurately based on the public record. And it's not clear exactly what he can do to sort of magically change that impression. Trump is in a position where if he, you know, if you just listed his positions sort in the abstract and say, could this guy win a general election, he'd be very competitive. He...
MCGINTYIt would be very, very tough for -- and that will -- Ross Douthat, I want to thank you. That's going to have to be the final word in this segment. I appreciate it. Nia-Malika Henderson is political reporter with CNN and Ross Douthat from the New York Times. I'm Derek McGinty. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."