DAVID GREENE, HOST:
There is a growing movement inside the Republican Party to deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination at the GOP convention next month in Cleveland. But yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Trump dismissed that threat.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
DONALD TRUMP: Number one, they can't do it legally. Number two, I worked for one year, and we won all of those delegates. So I win 38 states and somebody else won none, and they're going to be the nominee? I don't think so.
GREENE: Donald Trump also said he believes he can win the election whether or not he has the support of his party. And let's talk about this with NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts and Washington Post national political reporter Robert Costa. Good morning to you both.
ROBERT COSTA: Good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So Robert, let me start with you. Donald Trump says they can't do it legally. Can - can Republicans legally prevent him from getting the nomination if they can form enough support behind that?
COSTA: Well, the nominating process in the Republican Party is actually not a legal process. And so while many of these delegates heading into the Cleveland convention are what we call so-called bound delegates, there's a thought among some of these conservative delegates - those who are not aligned with Trump - that perhaps they could become unbound during the rules meetings ahead of the convention, and they could vote for whoever they want.
GREENE: Do you think this is likely?
COSTA: It's likely there's going to be a protest and a revolt. There's a sense among those who worked for Senator Ted Cruz in the primary and those who don't see Donald Trump as conservative that they have to make a moral decision, a political decision to back away from Donald Trump. But I'm not sure, based on my reporting, whether the votes are there in any of these committee settings to pull the nomination away.
GREENE: Cokie, are you taking this seriously?
ROBERTS: No, in a word. And that's because these things have been tried before. It is interesting that - that Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House and the chairman of the convention, said in a Sunday interview yesterday that he would never tell a delegate not to follow his conscience. And the phrase being used is the conscience clause - that votes - that delegates could be unbound by following their consciences, and the rules committee could vote to do that. There was a very similar fight in 1980 at the Democratic convention, where Ted Kennedy tried to get the rules committee to unbind delegates committed to Jimmy Carter. That fight scarred the Democratic Party for years because it became so tense. And some of the biggest names in political activism were born during that fight. But Ted Kennedy lost it, and I think anybody challenging Donald Trump would lose it as well.
GREENE: Well, Robert Costa, I mean, you cover national politics. You've certainly covered the Republican Party through the years. I mean, do you see the party potentially being very scarred by whatever happens in Cleveland?
COSTA: The party is already scarred. The Donald Trump campaign has really revealed some of the divide that's been existing for a long time. You have a non-ideological candidate, in many ways, who's not tethered to the conservative movement, who really doesn't have roots in the party now being the presumptive nominee. And this makes Paul Ryan, the House speaker, uncomfortable. Leader McConnell in the Senate is visibly uncomfortable with this prospect. But you have no one really able or willing to stop it in a serious way because there's a populist rage that's coursing through the party's veins. And most of the party leadership, though they would like to stop Trump, seem just willing at this moment to endure trump.
ROBERTS: A part of it is they're a little late to the game. You know, they - they could have tried to rally at much earlier in the process, before the votes were all cast. Trump is right. They votes have now been cast, and he won.
GREENE: Well, I mean, there seem to be some - some troubling numbers right now in terms of polls for Donald Trump.
GREENE: And I wonder - I mean, is that, do you think, just sort of a temporary response to some of the, you know, what's been seen as very extreme language he used in reaction to the Orlando shootings? Could he sort of get back to where he was and really resonating with Republican voters? Or has something sort of more permanent potentially happened here?
ROBERTS: It depends on what he says. Again yesterday he talked talked about profiling Muslims being just simple common sense. So he continues to do it. That's the real issue. Is there a possibility that he can clean up after these few weeks that have been really disastrous for him, or is it something that he just is going to keep doing?
GREENE: I mean, Robert Costa, you've recently written that Trumpism resonates in an anxious era. I mean, is Trumpism still resonating at this moment?
COSTA: Republicans are unsure about whether Trumpism is resonating. There's a feeling now among the upper ranks of the party that, if Trump's poll numbers continue to slide and his unfavorable numbers are in the 60s and 70s with many American voters, that if they can't get rid of Trump, there's going to be a push at least to isolate Trump and to run the Senate campaigns and gubernatorial campaigns almost as local and state races and to keep Trump out of it. There was a thought early on that Trump could be a lift, that he was connecting with voters who were unhappy with the economy, who see immigration as a key issue. But he's not listening to party advice. He doesn't have relationships with the party leaders. And so this idea that Trump could change or pivot, that's really fallen away.
GREENE: Let me - let me just turn, if I can, to Hillary Clinton. I mean, she is, according to polls for so long, in many ways, you know, a flawed candidate and has some concerns about trust from voters. And yet, we have Donald Trump not really focusing much on what is seen as her weaknesses - I mean, you know, the State Department email scandal and other vulnerabilities. I mean, is Donald Trump making a mistake, and could he begin to make hay more in polls if he focused more on that, do you think?
COSTA: Well, Trump was supposed to focus on Secretary Clinton starting a week ago today. He was scheduled to give a speech last Monday on the Clintons. That speech, of course, was shelved because of the tragedy in Orlando. And I think last week was a microcosm for Trump's challenge. Current events and crisis always happen during presidential campaigns. And Trump was knocked off his schedule of talking about the Clintons. And Clinton won pretty widely favorable reviews for how she handled the situation in Orlando versus Trump. Trump really focused, in his Twitter messages and his speeches, on himself and his supposed prescience in seeing how this would all unfold. His campaign tells me they want to focus more on Clinton in the coming days. But again, sometimes with presidential campaigns, you can't dictate exactly what you say and when you say it.
GREENE: So Cokie, if Donald Trump gets back to his game plan, I mean, could he see those poll numbers start to tick back up again?
ROBERTS: Sure he could, but it's a big question of whether he will get back to the game plan. Every time the Republicans think that he's on message, as they put it, he goes off. And as Robert just said, events intervene. And that's always a terrifying thing for presidential candidates, but Donald Trump seems to not care about that and just go with it.
GREENE: Thank you both so much. That's NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts and also Washington Post national political reporter Robert Costa. I hope you guys both have a good week.
COSTA: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Thank you.
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