RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Here are a few numbers to go with your coffee - not too many, so stick with me. The finish line for the Republican primary race is 1,237. That's the number of delegates needed to secure that party's nomination. Right now, Donald Trump has 678. Ted Cruz has 423. And John Kasich has 143. There are 98 up for grabs when Arizona and Utah vote Tuesday, another 42 when Wisconsin goes to the polls on the fifth, 95 more when New York votes about a month from now - you get the idea. Trump leads the race, but it's pretty much trench warfare out there. So we've gathered our young Republicans again to get a read on how they feel this election is evolving. Attorney Chelsi Henry is 27 years old, and she was the youngest woman elected to office in the history of Jacksonville, Fla. She joins us on the line again. Hi, Chelsi.
CHELSI HENRY: Hi, thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Happy to have you back. Thirty-two-year-old Will Estrada works as a home schooling advocate in Northern Virginia. He's here in the studio in D.C. with me. Hi, Will.
WILL ESTRADA: Great to be on, Rachel.
MARTIN: Political strategist Margaret Hoover, 38 years old, from New York City - hey, Margaret.
MARGARET HOOVER: Hi.
MARTIN: And we're welcoming another New Yorker to the conversation - Eugene Spector, 27-year-old software engineer. Welcome to the program, Eugene.
EUGENE SPECTOR: Thank you. Good to be here.
MARTIN: Chelsi, I want to start with you because when we all spoke weeks ago, you were supporting your candidate of choice, Jeb Bush. He's not in the race anymore. How are you feeling?
HENRY: I respect the decision that he made. And so now, you know, my vote is up for grabs.
MARTIN: And Will, when we last spoke, you said you were pretty keen on both of the Cubans. At the time, that was Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is the last man standing in that cohort. How are you feeling right now?
ESTRADA: I was surprised. I thought Marco Rubio would still be in the race. But as a Ted Cruz supporter, I am very happy. And I actually still think that Cruz is going to be our GOP nominee.
MARTIN: You do?
ESTRADA: I do.
MARTIN: All right, I want to dig into that a little more. But let me just take the temperature of everyone. Margaret, what I remember most from our conversation was that you were squarely in the stop Trump camp.
HOOVER: Yeah, I mean, I'll even put a finer point on it. I was certainly in the stop Trump camp, but not for anyone. I actually - I'm not a fan of Ted Cruz at all. So when it comes time for New York to primary on April 19, I'll primary for John Kasich because I think frankly that there's - in terms of the Venn diagram of where there are many overlaps, I think there is an extraordinary overlap between - sort of philosophically, and even in terms of their supporters - between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. And that is not a part of the Venn diagram that I relate to or identify with when it comes to being a Republican.
MARTIN: Eugene, Donald Trump has not, to my knowledge, been able to move the needle so much when it comes to attracting minority voters. Is that something that's of a concern to you in terms of his ability to win in a general election?
SPECTOR: I mean, I don't know if those numbers are accurate 'cause, like, Nevada he had a high minority or Latino vote turnout. You have a lot of prominent black supporters coming out to say they believe Trump is going to be a positive for the black community, especially with the way he wants to crack down on illegal immigration and create jobs for the inner cities. But my vote is about who can actually beat Hillary Clinton. And I believe that he has the best chance because he has cross-party positions that appeal to Republicans, Democrats and independents. And someone like Ted Cruz, I just don't think he has any legitimate shot at winning.
HOOVER: Hey Rachel, can I just push back on one element, though, of what Eugene just said?
MARTIN: Sure, this is Margaret.
HOOVER: Yes, it's Margaret, and it's just for the sake of accuracy - just so the listeners know. I mean, Donald Trump has said he has experienced doing very well with minorities, and he cites that Nevada example. But the truth is that in Nevada, while he did win Hispanics, Hispanics were only 8 percent of the vote in Nevada in the GOP primary - so no more than 2,500 voters.
HENRY: And then I would like to add something as well, you know, in terms of those who are African-Americans who have come out to support Trump. You know, I appreciate those who are standing up, who are coming out, yet I think a point that still can be made is that many of these people were originally not with Mr. Trump. So they may now see him as someone who can help the party. They may now see him as someone who can help our community, but it was not many of them their first thoughts or their first pick.
ESTRADA: And the example would be Ben Carson.
SPECTOR: Right - I agree.
MARTIN: Well, Eugene, let me just ask you - critics point out that they say that he doesn't have a conservative record - that he's changed his mind on abortion, that he's given to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton's former presidential campaign.
SPECTOR: Absolutely. And I think that's a representation of why he has crossover appeal because if Republicans are telling him he's not conservative enough for them, then that opens the door to all these independents and Democrats who feel isolated by the over-conservativism (ph) coming from the right always. And I think that that has a lot to do with him being a New Yorker and religion not playing as big of a role as some of the other Republican candidates. And I think people who agree with him on his economic positions are no longer isolated by policies that don't reflect their social beliefs.
MARTIN: Cultural differences.
MARTIN: Speaking of his policies, can you just get a little more specific?
MARTIN: What do you like about his policy positions because he hasn't been so detailed on a lot of policy?
SPECTOR: OK, well, from the social issues perspective, he's the only Republican that says that he supports funding Planned Parenthood and sees a benefit that it has for women's issues. That doesn't necessarily mean that he supports abortion, but he doesn't believe that, you know, what his ideology is needs to be the ideology for everyone. I think if you look at guns, for example, he's a big proponent of the Second Amendment. I'm a big proponent of the Second Amendment, but he's from New York City. And the culture in New York City is such that maybe guns are not as needed in this environment as opposed to someone living in rural Vermont. So I see opportunity for him to bring compromise on these issues that most Republicans that are really conservative don't want to budge on.
MARTIN: What about issues like immigration?
SPECTOR: I think that to get to a middle ground that's workable in a partisan and divided Congress, you need to have both proposals. So if you propose something like let's deport all illegal immigrants, it leaves room for people to be OK, with, OK, let's build a wall; let's allow people to register, and if they're not criminals, they can stay and never become citizens. A workable middle ground can start there.
MARTIN: So you think this is just a negotiating tactic?
SPECTOR: Absolutely, and he talks about this in "The Art Of The Deal," that it's a negotiating tactic for two reasons. One, it allows him to get to a workable middle, but two, it gets media attention and it uses the media for his benefit. And I think the numbers came out where he's gotten 2 billion dollars' worth of free coverage from the media. And it's been a hugely successful method.
ESTRADA: Our last two Republican candidates, McCain and Romney, were middle-ground candidates, and they both lost. It's time to go with a true conservative.
MARTIN: All right, I want to bring in Margaret. What do you think about that?
HOOVER: Rachel, thank you - thank you. Look, Eugene, I feel your pain, right? I run a gay rights organization from the Republican side of the aisle. I hear you loud and clear on the social issues. What Trump has done - and I agree with you, this is sort of the silver lining of Trump - is that he's blown the door off of this notion that you have to have this socially conservative litmus - pass this, like, socially conservative litmus test, this straitjacket of conservative issues, in order to win the Republican nomination. I mean, what you're saying, Will, while I appreciate, you know, is this argument out there in the conservative atmosphere - oh, you must - the reason Mitt Romney and the reason John McCain didn't win is because they weren't conservative enough. So this time, we're going to pick the guy who is absolutely the most conservative, and then we're going to win. But you know what, guys? This is larger than ideology. This is about demographics. And the problem with Mitt Romney and the problem with John McCain and the problem that Donald Trump will have is that none of them can get enough white male voters to the polls to make up for the fact that we are not getting enough Hispanic voters and enough women voters and enough African-American voters. And we need to be thinking, as young Republicans, about the future of the Republican Party and how we are going to broaden it and sustain it so that there is a coalition that can win not this year, not next year, but into the 21st century. And I know that was the tagline for Marco Rubio's campaign, and he wasn't able to actuate it. But we do really need to think about that and think about how to do it.
MARTIN: Well, that's the bottom line, right? Like, there's all this talk about potentially a contested convention. And Mitt Romney has just come out and said that he's going to caucus for Ted Cruz. But it wasn't really an endorsement. It was, I'm going to do this just to deny Donald Trump the delegates that he needs to win outright.
SPECTOR: OK, if people needed any more reason about the corrupt system that currently plagues Washington, you have it. Forget what you people voted in all these primaries. Forget about it. We're going to decide who's going to be the nominee. Really? I thought this was a democracy. I mean, people go for Donald Trump because they know that he's not part of this system that's bought and paid for that isn't representing the people. And if you go and you tell all these people, you know what? Your vote didn't matter. Our choice is what really matters; we know best. I agree with Donald Trump. I'm not saying there's going to be riots, but there will be a march on Cleveland with a bunch of people who no longer believe that this country is a democratic republic.
MARTIN: Chelsi, if Donald Trump is the nominee, would you vote for him?
HENRY: I haven't got to the answer of that question yet.
MARTIN: Margaret and Will, would you vote for Donald Trump if he's the Republican nominee? Margaret.
HOOVER: Absolutely not.
ESTRADA: Margaret, you should support Ted Cruz.
HOOVER: You're exactly right, Will, because at least if I were to support Ted Cruz, we would lose, I think, miserably in a general election. Let's be very clear. Ted Cruz does not have the formula that's going to broaden the base over the ten...
ESTRADA: But you think Donald Trump will lose too.
HOOVER: Yeah, exactly. So we're screwed either way, guys. Let's be very clear about what the reality is. We are not going to win this election either way. But in one - and this is the calculation that Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina made. He hates, despises, abhors, disrespects, cannot really abide Ted Cruz at all - the guy who shut down the government, who, you know, has derailed his plan (unintelligible). But he believes that at the end of the day, we lose 40 states, we still have a Republican Party that we can rebuild. And if you go with Donald Trump, it's destroyed.
MARTIN: We could talk for a very long time, you guys. But I'm going to leave it there with the promise of bringing you back because it's a conversation that we're going to keep having. Our Republican round table - Eugene Spector, Margaret Hoover, Will Estrada and Chelsi Henry - thanks, you guys, very much for talking with us.
HOOVER: Thank you so much, Rachel
HENRY: Thank you for having us.
SPECTOR: Thank you, Rachel.
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