LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's looking more and more like a civil war and there's no hiding it. It's all about Donald Trump. The Republican Party establishment wants to take him down. After his impressive Super Tuesday victories, party strategists and big donors are now organizing a full frontal attack. Here to talk about the strategy and the money are NPR's lead political editor, Domenico Montanaro, and our money and politics correspondent, Peter Overby. Hey, guys.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Hello.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hello.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let me start with you, Peter. These attacks on Trump, who's behind them, how much money are they putting into it?
OVERBY: Trump announced last June, from then until the end of the year, just over a million dollars in super PAC money was spent attacking him. In January, that tripled. And in February, that more than doubled to $9 million in the one month. Now, we've got a new wave of super PACs breaking out a new wave of ads against him. The most interesting one maybe is sort of the Republican establishment's super PAC. It's called "Our Principles." The seed money was $3 million for Marlene Ricketts of the Ricketts family - they own the Chicago Cubs. Trump tweeted that the Ricketts family, quote, "better be careful. They have a lot to hide."
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That seems like a pretty direct threat.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Domenico, what took them so long, I guess, is the question here and is it even plausible for these forces to halt Trump's rise at this point?
MONTANARO: Well, there were a lot of people in the race, first of all, right? So a lot of people thought that they could make their way through this funnel and figured that Donald Trump would fade away at some point. Well, they were wrong. And the messages now - we're starting to see people from other campaigns try to get on the same page with messaging against Trump. But the question is whether or not it can really stop someone like this because, you know, there are a thousand delegates over the next two weeks that are at stake. But there doesn't seem to be one candidate who everyone can rally around to say that's our guy.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peter, do they have the organization and the money to put a dent in Trump?
OVERBY: Well, it's not clear that they do. Let me give you one comparison. You go back four years, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were duking it out in the Republican primaries. Going into the Florida primary, the Romney campaign and super PAC together spent $10 million in 10 days to take out Gingrich. That was the end of the Gingrich campaign. It's not clear to me that the anti-Trump people are going to be able to sustain that kind of effort, that magnitude of effort.
MONTANARO: It's not clear the TV matters all that much in the same way.
MONTANARO: I mean, when Gingrich got taken out, was in Florida after his South Carolina win. And Romney's Restore Our Future super PAC was really able to hammer him and change the numbers. That's not the same kind of base of support that Donald Trump has that Newt Gingrich had last time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, are people just not responding in the same way? Is that the issue?
MONTANARO: The zone has been flooded for so many of these TV ads in so many these states, but also it's the kind of support that Donald Trump is bringing in. You've seen record turnout for Republicans in every state so far except for, I think, Vermont. And a lot of these people are coming into the fold who are new because they're with Donald Trump and because he's making them feel something that's motivating them to go and vote for him and against Barack Obama.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What happens if Donald Trump gets the nomination? Does all the money then all of a sudden go to him?
OVERBY: It's not clear. I mean, he has said that he's going to start raising money. He's going to no longer self-finance, which he wasn't quite doing anyway, but that's besides the point.
MONTANARO: He's, like, loaning himself money.
OVERBY: And he was collecting money, he was making money from selling Make America Great Again caps. Those things are 25 bucks a piece.
MONTANARO: Which he's trademarked.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is the Republican Party machine going to back him and start giving all that money?
OVERBY: That's the question.
MONTANARO: Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said at the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, on Friday that the party would absolutely get behind whoever the nominee is. And we saw in the debate on Thursday night that these candidates who were saying Donald Trump is dangerous, that he couldn't be the person, that no one should vote for him, each one of them, all four, said that if he were the nominee, grudgingly perhaps, but they would support him.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many questions - NPR's Domenico Montanaro and Peter Overby are going to be answering them, of course, over the next weeks and months. Thank you so much.
OVERBY: Glad to.
MONTANARO: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.