Sanders Wins West Virginia; Trump Wins There Too Plus Nebraska
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Meanwhile, it was Nebraska's and West Virginia's turns in the presidential campaign season yesterday. They held presidential primaries. West Virginia went decisively for Donald Trump and for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Last night, Sanders was already campaigning in Oregon, which holds its primary next week. He drew a huge crowd in Salem.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BERNIE SANDERS: What the people of West Virginia said tonight and I believe the people of Oregon and Kentucky will say next week...
UNIDENTIFIED SANDERS SUPPORTER: We love you.
SANDERS: ...Is that we need an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.
GREENE: All right, the state of Nebraska went for Donald Trump and for Hillary Clinton, though on the Democratic side, not clear how much it mattered. Nebraska delegates were actually selected in caucuses back in March when Sanders received a majority. Now with us in our Washington, D.C., studios, we have two political veterans, longtime Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee who now heads at Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service and longtime Republican strategist John Feehery who's president of QGA Public Affairs. Hey, guys.
MO ELLEITHEE: Morning.
JOHN FEEHERY: Good morning.
GREENE: Mo, let me start with you. West Virginia, it's coal country. I mean, what is happening there? What's on people's minds that would lead them to go so decisively for Bernie Sanders?
ELLEITHEE: Yeah, look, it's a tough state for - it's increasingly a tough state for Democrats. And, you know, it's a state that Hillary won fairly decisively last time, and it flipped this time. I think there's just an angst against the establishment all around there. And it was a little bit of a rejection of that.
Having said that, it's not going to matter in the overall - in how the primary plays out. She's got the numbers of delegates necessary - or will - is very close to hitting the necessary number of delegates to win the nomination. And it's going to take some sort of cataclysmic event to change that. But...
GREENE: What would a cataclysmic event look like? I mean, it's - the Sanders campaign, of course, talks about these superdelegates who are people who can decide on their own and pledge their support, who make up some of these numbers. Many of them have pledged their support to Hillary Clinton. I mean, if Bernie Sanders keeps picking up some votes, does he have a legitimate argument going forward that some of them should change their pledge?
ELLEITHEE: No, not even close. Look. You know, I was on the other side of this. I was in their position eight years ago. I worked for Hillary Clinton. We won six out of the nine final primaries. We won between March and June. We won more states, more votes, more delegates. We were making the same argument he's making. The math was never there for us, and we were never as behind as he is now.
At the end of the day, he actually has very little argument against - to the superdelegates, in large part because Hillary Clinton has a 3 million-vote lead over him in the total popular vote. It is hard to make the argument to superdelegates that they should change when the party is so unified behind her.
GREENE: John Feehery, let me turn to you. Donald Trump, the last candidate standing in the Republican race, he wins in West Virginia, wins in Nebraska. But, I mean, a little out of nowhere, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, yesterday says he might get back in the race if Nebraska voters send him some kind of sign. Here's Cruz speaking to Glenn Beck.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM")
PAT GRAY: Ted, are you leaving the door open to - if Nebraska were to somehow...
TED CRUZ: It's not going to happen.
GRAY: ...Miraculously choose you tonight...
GLENN BECK: (Laughter) Pat's going for the Hail Mary.
GRAY: (Laughter) Is there - I mean, if that happened, would you consider getting back in the race?
CRUZ: (Laughter) Well, I am not holding my breath. My assumption is that that will not happen. But listen, let's be very clear, if there is a path to victory, we launched this campaign intending to win.
GREENE: OK. So Nebraska votes for Donald Trump. I mean, what was going on with Ted Cruz there, John?
FEEHERY: God, he was just hoping upon hope that some miracle would happen for him. And, of course, that's not going to happen in Nebraska or anywhere else. It's Donald Trump, and I think there's a lot of conservatives who are, you know, panicked about that. They don't want it to be Donald Trump. They want it to be Ted Cruz. And I think Ted Cruz is among those folks who, you know, desperately wants Ted Cruz to be the nominee. But, you know, Trump has a big mow (ph), and it's all over. So we're just going to - we're going to have to go on from there.
GREENE: Well, you're now supporting Donald Trump. I mean, tell me what you have heard from him that makes you support him. And what would you say to these conservatives, as you put it, who are reluctant and not feeling that?
FEEHERY: Well, supporting Donald Trump is not exactly - I'm supporting the Republican nominee. And I've written about Donald Trump being our nominee. You know, what Donald Trump has done is he's shaken up a political system here in Washington that desperately needs shaking up. And we see it on the Democratic side as well with Bernie Sanders. And we are sort of stuck in this ideological fight that we can't get anything done. And I think that, you know, someone like Donald Trump could come in and mix things up.
Now, a lot of things that Donald Trump has said and done are reprehensible to me. And I think he's got to change his tune on things like the Muslim ban and this idea of having Mexico pay for a big wall. But, you know, there is this kind of sense that he's a breath of fresh air to a political system that needs it. And I think that that's why, you know, he's the change candidate in this. And he's also the Republican, and I'm a Republican. So that's the other reason why I'm supporting him.
GREENE: Mo Elleithee, we have about 45 seconds left. As you look forward, if this is indeed a Clinton-Trump race, what keeps you up at night? What is the biggest risk for Hillary Clinton as she goes into a race against Donald Trump?
ELLEITHEE: Nastiness. I think the nastier the race, the worse it is for her. Democrats do well in presidential elections in large part because voter turnout and the demographic changes in the country favor us. Higher the turnout, the better Democrats do in national elections. I'm worried about this race being so toxic, so toxic that people just throw up their hands and say we're not going to play. We don't - there's no incentive for us to turn out and be a part of this ugly, ugly process. That hurts her, and it hurts the process at the end of the day.
GREENE: John, just a couple seconds left. Is this going to be a nasty, toxic few months?
FEEHERY: Well, yeah, I think so. And I think it's unfortunate. And I think Mo's right. I think a lot of people are not going to vote because of it. And they don't like either Hillary or Trump. And they're just going to throw up their hands. But, you know, that's not good for democracy. And I wish we had better candidates on both sides.
GREENE: All right, two veteran political strategists, Republican John Feehery and Democrat Mo Elleithee. Thank you, guys.
ELLEITHEE: Thank you.
FEEHERY: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.