GOP Establishment: It's Hard To Get A Fix On Trump's Philosophy
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This day was designed to hurry the presidential nominating campaigns toward a close. It is Super Tuesday. More than a dozen states vote for candidates in one party or both. Party leaders intended for this day to crown a front-runner, avoiding a long and costly nomination fight.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Now, Republican leaders face the reality that Super Tuesday could give a huge advantage to a candidate many have opposed. Some, like New Jersey's Chris Christie, have gone ahead and endorsed Donald Trump. Another, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, says he would not vote for Trump in a general election. We called a longtime Republican leader.
INSKEEP: Mike Leavitt is his name. He served in the cabinet of president George W. Bush and also served three terms as governor of Utah. We reached him on a cell phone.
What are you hearing when your fellow Republicans get together and talk about what's happening?
MICHAEL LEAVITT: This is a reality that most Republicans don't recognize. And so there's a lot of concern among those who have been more traditional in their political views and their expectation of how the presidential race will go.
INSKEEP: This may seem like a funny question, but can you define it for me? From your point of view, what is it that Trump is doing or saying that is not traditional?
LEAVITT: He's appealing on the basis of attitude, not necessarily aptitude. People are accustomed to candidates putting forward positions that are based on a philosophy. And at this point, it's very difficult to get a fix on what Donald Trump's philosophy is. And so people are feeling a sense of momentum while at the same time not fully recognizing or understanding exactly what you can expect from a so-called President Trump.
INSKEEP: Is it that Trump might stand for something that you don't believe in? Or are you just afraid that he would lose if he's nominated?
LEAVITT: Well, there is a great deal of concern about his capacity to govern. I think that if Donald Trump were elected, he would be in for a significant surprise at how difficult it is. Those who support him would be in for some degree of disappointment because he's put forward ideas and promises that, in the eyes of most people who are experienced in dealing with government, can't and won't be produced. Hence, they believe he's laying out a set of ideas that aren't real.
INSKEEP: For example, saying that you're going to deport 11 million people. Is that the kind of thing you're describing?
LEAVITT: Saying you're going to deport 11 million people, saying you're going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it are just prominent examples of the long litany of such promises.
INSKEEP: Well, what's a strategy for Republicans who still oppose Donald Trump?
LEAVITT: Well, I think there are two possible strategies. One would be for a Marco Rubio to emerge, or a Ted Cruz or a John Kasich, by winning their own state and then building some momentum from there. The second is that as you get closer, it's possible that candidates could combine. And that could create a new narrative. If Donald Trump is to get the nomination, he has to average somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent of the popular vote in order to get 1,237 delegates at the convention. If there are three or four candidates still in the race and they're gaining any kind of traction at all and getting delegates, then Trump would have to win every winner-take-all state in order to get 1,237.
INSKEEP: As I understand it, you're saying if all of Trump's rivals stay in, they may each grab different amounts of delegates in different places. And they would deny Donald Trump the majority, which would allow this to go to a convention, where the delegates would argue it out. And anybody could win.
LEAVITT: I think that's a possibility. You have four candidates. None of them at this point are showing any sign that they're prepared to get out. If Ted Cruz wins Texas and on the 15th Marco Rubio wins Florida, and if John Kasich were to win Ohio, they are all viable candidates. And if all four of them stay in and at some point the race becomes about denying Donald Trump 1,237 delegates, they may suddenly realize we're all advantaged by staying in because we deny Donald Trump 1,237. And if you deny 1,237, we all live to fight another day.
INSKEEP: If any of the candidates were to call you and ask for advice, what would you tell them?
LEAVITT: The main ticket in my mind is a combination of Marco Rubio and John Kasich. You have Ohio and Florida. You have youth. You have experience. You have a Hispanic candidate that will be appealing. I think one of the interesting parts of this is I think we're seeing an intra-generational fight for the leadership of the Republican Party between Marco Rubio and Senator Cruz. Both are about the same age, both in the United States Senate, both advocating a conservative agenda. I think it's very difficult to imagine either of them getting out.
INSKEEP: One final thing, Governor Leavitt. What would you say to those who observe this campaign and think perhaps they're looking at the final flameout of the Republican Party?
LEAVITT: I think what we may be seeing is a very significant change in the way parties play in American politics. People are not relating to the Republican or Democratic Party the way they have in the past. If you ended up with a Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, I think the chances of an independent candidacy go up substantially. We're seeing a quite historic shift in the way parties work and the way people perceive their relationship to politics.
INSKEEP: Michael Leavitt is a former governor of Utah. Governor, thanks very much.
LEAVITT: Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: And his is one of several perspectives we're hearing on this Super Tuesday.