AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In any other year, a big win in South Carolina would all but anoint a presidential candidate as the nominee. Donald Trump has that now, and his big win in New Hampshire with support across various age and income groups in the Republican Party - he should be a shoo-in. But this is no ordinary year, and Trump is no ordinary candidate. Joining us now to talk about the Republican race for president is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey there, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: All right, so there is no doubt about this, right? Donald Trump is the clear frontrunner.
LIASSON: He is the frontrunner. And normally, we'd say someone who won the New Hampshire primaries by a huge margin, as you said, and the South Carolina primaries by a huge margin would be the prohibitive frontrunner, and I don't think you can find a Republican candidate who won both those primaries and didn't go on to become the nominee. But that being said, this isn't a typical election year, and there are many Republicans who think either, A, it's just not possible for Trump to be the nominee or, B, it would be terrible for the party if he became the nominee.
CORNISH: And we keep hearing about this fear and frustration over Trump, but why hasn't the establishment really taken him on? I mean, how does an opponent challenge a candidate like Trump?
LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. The establishment has taken him on in fits and starts. Jeb Bush, you could say, fell on his sword trying to take on Donald Trump. Trump and Ted Cruz have been battling for similar slices of the vote in Iowa and South Carolina, and Cruz has attacked Trump ideologically, saying he's not a real conservative. And there are currently a variety of super PACs running ads attacking Trump, and here's just a sample of a new pro-Rubio super PAC ad that takes aim at both Cruz and Trump.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We live in dangerous times, terrorism growing, the economy teetering, the Supreme Court in the balance. Trump - erratic, unreliable - Cruz - calculated, underhanded.
LIASSON: As you can hear, Rubio supporters are trying a new attack. They're attacking Trump for what polls tell us is his biggest weakness - his temperament. We'll see if that makes a difference since nothing else has so far.
CORNISH: I want to get into this more 'cause, you know, it sounds like we know what a Trump-Cruz fight sounds like. What would a Trump-Rubio fight sound like?
LIASSON: Well, we're not sure yet, but if that ad is an indication, Rubio, who has been very reluctant to take Trump on directly, might go after his temperament. A while ago, he once said that Trump was insecure. Trump, in the past, has said that Rubio sweated a lot. And yesterday, he re-tweeted a tweet that suggested Rubio might not be eligible to be president because his parents were born in Cuba. That was similar to his attacks on Cruz, who was born in Canada to American parents. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say that Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Canada to American parents. In fact, his mother was born in Delaware. But his father was born in Cuba.]
Trump has said he only counterattacks. He only responds to attacks on him. And if Rubio did attack him, he could conceivably unload on Rubio and accuse him of being owned, lock, stock and barrel, by billionaires while Trump is self-financing. He could say that Rubio's been in elected office all his life. The one private-sector job, or one of the few private-sector jobs, he did have teaching a college course - his salary was paid for by John's he did have digital college courses was paid for by Norman Braman, one of Rubio's deep-pocketed supporters in Florida who also employs Rubio's wife.
But Rubio could try to take on Trump directly the way Jeb Bush did to say that he's intolerant; he denigrates minority - minorities. But we don't know if that kind of fight will happen because Rubio and Cruz have been very busy attacking each other. And the longer this race goes on with more than two candidate in it, the better it is for Donald Trump Polls show that either Cruz or Rubio could beat Trump if the race was a two-man race, but neither Rubio nor Cruz has an incentive to drop out anytime soon.
CORNISH: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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