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Trump Promises AIPAC Speech Will Outline Middle East Plan


Let's talk about the state of the presidential race. And let's begin with a text for discussion. It comes from NPR's Weekend Edition yesterday, where a group of younger Republicans talked over their party's future. In that talk, Republican strategist Margaret Hoover offered her perspective on the choice between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.


MARGARET HOOVER: We're screwed either way, guys. Let's be very clear about what the reality is. We are not going to win this election either way. But in one - and this is the calculation that Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina made - he hates, despises, abhors, disrespects, cannot really buy Ted Cruz at all. But he believes that at the end of the day, we lose 40 states, we still have a Republican Party that we can rebuild. And if you go with Donald Trump, it's destroyed.

INSKEEP: OK, that's just one perspective, though it suggests the angst within the GOP. As it happens, both Trump and Cruz have said the other would lose in November. Though, of course, each also says he can win. So let's talk through this fraught moment with commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts who joins us once again. Hi, Cokie.


INSKEEP: And with Robert Costa of The Washington Post who's in our studios. Welcome back, sir.

ROBERT COSTA: Great to be here.

INSKEEP: And Robert, let's begin with you. We reported elsewhere that Republicans are speaking today before a pro-Israel group. But who else is Donald Trump meeting today?

COSTA: It's a moment of choosing for many Republicans in Washington. Donald Trump is coming here to the capital. He's going to be at Jones Day Law Firm meeting with several lawmakers and longtime party operatives. And many of them feel, as much as they find him not really a normal Republican, they do see him as someone who could perhaps rouse working-class voters and someone who's really about to become the presumptive nominee. And so there's this awkward moment where they don't really like Trump, but they're ready, in some quarters, to rally around him.

INSKEEP: Cokie, what are you learning about that?

ROBERTS: Not all quarters are ready to rally around him, and you do have some members of the Senate and House who were invited to this meeting who politely declined - or maybe not so politely. And I think that there's not quite a willingness to just get in line, partly because of what's been going on on the campaign trail with the violence at the rallies and the sense that Trump's own statements have been a problem for them - for the Republicans.

INSKEEP: Well, let's just put Margaret Hoover's proposition on the table then, Robert Costa. What about this notion, that many Republicans seem to have, that if Trump is nominated, it will somehow break up or destroy the party?

COSTA: He does not come out of the Republican political class. He has very few allies in Washington. He has not been in the trenches in the GOP for years, and so people are uncomfortable with him. They're not sure if they can trust him. But there's also a sense, now, that it has struck some kind of chord with the Republican base that has grown very weary with the elected leadership in Washington.

And so there's a thought that Cruz - he's going to keep the party safe on ideological lines, and he's going to run a conservative campaign. But he's not necessarily going to expand the map. And that's what's tantalizing to some people about Trump. Could he expand the map? Even though he turns off so many minority voters and women voters, could he, for some reason, get disengaged voters who haven't participated for years to come out?

INSKEEP: Cokie, would you explain what expand the map means and what the prospects are?

ROBERTS: Expand the map means getting in white voters who - many of whom have sat out the elections in recent years - and it would mean especially in Midwestern states - Michigan, Ohio, Illinois - where you don't have huge minority populations, which could tip the states in an electoral college sort of situation.

But look, the problem that many Republicans have with Trump is not just that he hasn't been in the trenches - he wasn't a Republican. And so they, you know, they're not at all sure where he is ideologically. And, you know, you have - it's interesting that Margaret Hoover is the person making these statements, you know, the descendent of a president who was roundly defeated, but the party lived on. And I think that that is kind of the model that they're looking at with Ted Cruz.

INSKEEP: Do Republicans, Robert Costa, believe that a bad presidential result could also cost them control of the Senate?

COSTA: They do worry about that, especially when it comes to Trump's comments. Even those who think they could go around Trump and think that he could maybe bring in some new voters, they worry he's not become a disciplined candidate.

And if you're like Senator Mark Kirk in Illinois or Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire or Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and you have to win at suburban voters, swing voters, independents - his kind of comments, incendiary ones, are not helpful. They're also worried that he's changing the fundamental profile of the Republican Party away from supply-side economics and tax cuts and a hawkish foreign policy to a more economic nationalism and non-interventionism.

INSKEEP: Very briefly though, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, has said, don't worry about that. We'll run local campaigns. The national campaign won't matter.

ROBERTS: That is something that we've seen over and over again. You saw it in 1996 when it was clear that Dole wasn't going to be elected president. You saw it in 1972 with the Democrats when it was clear that McGovern wasn't going to be elected president. But they're not quite at they called the Dole strategy yet. They're still hoping that there's a prospect of winning the presidency, but they are very much concerned about the Senate campaigns.

COSTA: It's going to be very hard for the Republicans to do that. In talking to several of these Senate campaigns and House campaigns, they feel Trump is such an overwhelming media presence to run a different campaign or separate from him, even if you try, will be almost impossible.

INSKEEP: We just got a moment left. Cokie Roberts, how does all of this affect what is only in theory a different matter, the nomination of Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court which President Obama sent to the Senate?

ROBERTS: It totally affects it because what the Republicans in the Senate are saying when they're looking at these disaffected voters from the Republican leadership, is to say look, it really does make a difference to have a Republican Senate. We can stop this nominee, and we can stop liberal nominees. And so it's very, very important to you voters to have a Republican Senate. And that is a big part of the campaign they're running on.

COSTA: If you're a vulnerable Republican up for re-election in the Senate, look for them to perhaps start pushing for some kind of hearing or at least more meetings with Merrick Garland because that's one issue that's sitting out there that may help a Republican win over some moderate voters in the coming months.

INSKEEP: Robert Costa of The Washington Post is in our studios. Robert, thanks for coming by.

COSTA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We really appreciate it. We've also been listening to commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts who joined us by Skype. Cokie, thanks to you as always.

ROBERTS: Bye-bye, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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