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Breaking Down Donald Trump's Rise; Hillary Clinton's Edge


Let's take another look at the week in politics. We're joined now by NPR's lead political editor (laughter) lead political editor - I'll get it, OK - Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks so much for being with us.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: Big-name Republicans practically lined up to condemn Donald Trump this week - not just what he said, even just to condemn him personally. They pointed out King Abdullah of Jordan, Malala Yousafzi, the Nobel laureate, wouldn't be able to come into the country. And his numbers rose. What do you think we're seeing?

MONTANARO: Well, that is quite an esteemed elite group you mentioned there, Scott. And guess exactly who Trump supporters could care less about. You know, the elite is not where they're behind. You know, there's a solid quarter to a third of the Republican primary voter right now is firmly behind Donald Trump. Just this week, there was a focus group that was hosted by Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging guru. And they played attack after attack on Donald Trump and it only emboldened their support. They have tremendous distrust of traditional information sources of the mainstream media, but Trump has broken through with them, and they believe him. And that is making the GOP very worried and holding meetings and planning for the possibility now of a potentially contested convention and even the possibility of a Trump nomination, Scott.

SIMON: Hasn't been a contested convention where the nomination's in doubt in almost 40 years - in 40 - 'cause the rules have changed. People vote in primaries and they win delegates. Do you think a contested convention's a real possibility?

MONTANARO: Oh, we've had more professionalized primaries - Democrat with a little D, right? But it's getting more possible and, you know, I'll say brokered and contested conventions, you know, like you mentioned, is the stuff of bygone political eras. Today, they're more like wedding receptions. You know, you know the couple, but they haven't come down the stairs yet.


SIMON: Yeah.

MONTANARO: But with a field this large, with Trump's really strong core support, and the way, in particular, the RNC rewrote these rules after 2012 to ironically help a frontrunner and stop a potential insurgent candidate makes a contested convention at least more possible. And I think we're in for at least a protracted primary fight.

SIMON: There's a contest on the Democratic side, too. And although the polls show Hillary Clinton is far in the lead, she may be on a line to lose the first primary - New Hampshire - to Bernie Sanders. Has her operation just decided - near as you can tell - to kind of take a TKO and move on?

MONTANARO: I don't think they would put it that way. I think that, you know, they say that her campaign's always expected a tough nominating fight in a place like New Hampshire, which is a state next door to where Bernie Sanders is from. I think that it's a state that has helped Bill Clinton in the past where he was the comeback kid. Hillary Clinton, remember when she was trailing in the polls to Barack Obama, wound up doing well in New Hampshire anyway. But Sanders has particular strength there. He was up 10 points in a poll earlier this week. But Hillary Clinton in particular is looking at the South as a potential firewall. When most people think of the South and when they think of voters, they might think of white voters. But when you're talking about Democratic politics, that means black voters. And Hillary Clinton and the Clintons have strong ties to the black community and are banking on that to do well and are leading by a lot and hoping that that will be a firewall over Bernie Sanders as the race continues.

SIMON: Does Bernie Sanders have the resources and the support to turn a potentially strong showing in New Hampshire into some kind of springboard?

MONTANARO: Well, he's got a lot of grassroots support. He's raised a ton of money. He's struggled to have the kind of infrastructure on the ground to compete with the Clintons, but I think almost anybody probably would. And he's also noted that he's had problems reaching out to the African-American community. They don't know him very well. Voters we've talked to in places like South Carolina have said they just don't know him. They know the Clintons. They trust their message. He's trying now to reach out to them more. He was in Baltimore earlier this week. He was talking about what's happening in Chicago and other places and the Black Lives Matter movement. He's gotten a different kind a message on that and he's certainly hoping to at least winnow down some of Clinton's advantage with African-American support.

SIMON: But it's not a contest on the Democratic side the way it is on the Republic side.

MONTANARO: Well, you only have three candidates versus more than a dozen, so certainly not.

SIMON: OK. Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much for being with us.

MONTANARO: Always a pleasure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.