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GOP Swallows Bitter Pill After Trump Dominates Super Tuesday


For others in the Republican establishment, Trump's success is a bitter pill to swallow. Now, for the big picture, let's turn to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And, Mara, first, what happens next? I mean, does Donald Trump have the math? Has he wrapped this up?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, he hasn't wrapped it up officially. He needs 1,273 delegates to do that. He doesn't have it, but it is getting harder and harder to stop him. There are only two weeks left until Ohio and Florida vote. Those are the two big winner-take-all states. And if they establishment, the anti-Trump forces want to stop him, the most they can hope for is to deny him the 1,273 delegates he would need to get the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. After the first ballot, delegates are unbound, and then there would be a contested convention. But for that to happen, John Kasich has to win his home state of Ohio handily. Marco Rubio has to do the same in Florida, even though Donald Trump is leading in the polls in Florida right now.

CORNISH: So who's in the best position to beat Trump?

LIASSON: Well, if you listen to the remaining candidates, they're all in the best position, if only the other guys would drop out. And that's the problem. It's in their collective interest of defeating Trump if everyone unifies behind one candidate, but neither Kasich or Rubio or Cruz have any individual incentive to do that. And that theory that the anti-Trump votes would coalesce behind one person is not accepted by Donald Trump, who says that, when candidates drop out, he gets some of their supporters, too, and that has been the case. Just today, Ben Carson announced that he sees no path to the nomination for himself. He won't be at the Republican debate tomorrow. It's not clear where his small chunk of votes go. But of all the candidates, you'd have to say that Ted Cruz has the strongest case to make just based on math. He's won four states - Iowa, Alaska, Oklahoma and Texas. Rubio's only won one - Minnesota. Cruz is closer to the base of the party than Rubio, and even Lindsey Graham, who is a supporter of Jeb Bush, said yesterday maybe it's time to unify behind Cruz. And that's a bitter pill also for the establishment. They don't like Trump, but they also don't like Cruz. As one leading conservative intellectual said to me who doesn't like either Cruz or Trump, he said, given the choice between Stalin and Hitler, I'll take Stalin, meaning Ted Cruz.

CORNISH: OK, subtle. So just to remind people - correct that number. It's 1,237, right? That's the magical number.

LIASSON: I'm sorry, 1,237 - that's what I meant.

CORNISH: But this gets to the point - why didn't the establishment actually unify earlier? They wouldn't be in this position otherwise.

LIASSON: Well, that's one of the eternal questions about this primary. Part of it was a failure of imagination. They just couldn't imagine that Trump, who was so outside the traditional bounds of an acceptable Republican candidate, could win. And there was never a strong enough anti-Trump to rally around. But also, this is a democratic process. The Republican voters are choosing a nominee, and close to 40 percent of them are choosing Trump. He is the Republican Party right now. He's winning with the kind of broad coalition that Republicans who go on to be the nominee tend to get.

CORNISH: And we just heard from Congressman Collins, basically telling people to get over it, but are they ready to get on the bandwagon?

LIASSON: Well, not all of them. There are a lot of senators - Republican senators up for reelection who are wondering, if Trump is the nominee, how do they separate themselves from him without alienating his supporters? They need - some of them need college-educated women, who are turned off by Trump. And Mitch McConnell said recently that he would drop Trump like a hot rock. That's just not so easy to do.

CORNISH: This feels like a turning point. Can you talk about what it means for the future of the GOP?

LIASSON: Well, that is a huge question, and you cannot underestimate the anguish and pain a lot of Republicans feel right now. It's hard to be a Republican establishment member. And here's someone about to be, perhaps, the nominee who disagrees with all these basic, bedrock beliefs about health care, about Putin, about Planned Parenthood, about entitlements, about free trade, about immigration. It is an existential moment for Republicans. And when you talk to them, you hear talk about maybe they should form a third party. Maybe the GOP will break apart. Maybe it will lose then regroup. Maybe Trump will win. Then what? I think one thing we know is the party won't survive as we've known it, which is with a business-backed elite with - and blue-collar, downwardly-mobile, angry base that somehow coexist. Those days are over.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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