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Dealing With The Donald: GOP Considers How To Handle The Trump Effect


At this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, D.C., President Obama said this.


BARACK OBAMA: And Donald Trump is here...


OBAMA: ...Still.


BLOCK: It was a huge laugh line, but now, three months later, it's no joke to the Republican Party. Trump is not only a presidential candidate. He's a candidate doing very well in very early polling. And his eagerness to insult his fellow Republicans is creating problems for a GOP looking to recapture the White House. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's do a quick recap of the Donald-Trump-for-president campaign so far. There was this line that set the tone for what has followed. He said Mexico sends people with problems to the U.S.


DONALD TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

GONYEA: Outrage followed, including from the Republican Party establishment. Then came Trump's denigration of the military record of Senator John McCain. More criticism followed, but Trump kept it up, leveling very personal attacks against other candidates who've spoken out against him.


TRUMP: I see Rick Perry the other day, and he's so - you know, he's doing very poorly in the polls. He put glasses on so people will think he's smart.

GONYEA: And this...


TRUMP: You have this guy, Lindsey Graham - a total lightweight. Here's a guy - in the private sector, he couldn't get a job. Believe me.

GONYEA: And Trump dismissed Jeb Bush on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program today.


TRUMP: Bush isn't going to be able to negotiate with China. They'll roll him over like nothing.

GONYEA: It's a headache the Republican Party was hoping to avoid after a 2012 campaign full of distractions, heated rhetoric and more than 20 debates that sometimes felt like a reality show. The party this time wanted a more serious and civilized debate on the issues and on President Obama's record. Ari Fleischer is a former press secretary to President George W. Bush.

ARI FLEISCHER: We saw it in all kind of candidacies four years ago when, for a little while, Michele Bachmann was on top, Herman Cain was on top, Newt Gingrich was on top.

GONYEA: This year, there are many more serious candidates seeking the GOP nomination, including U.S. senators, current and former governors and others. But no one dominates the field which now totals 16. That, Fleischer says, creates an opening for someone like Trump who doesn't play by the usual rules.

FLEISCHER: Donald Trump is like watching a roadside wreck. Everybody's going to pull over to see. And he is designing it that way by the things he does, by the things he says.

GONYEA: So what can the Republican Party do about it?

FLEISCHER: There's nothing the party itself can do. The only thing that can happen is the voters.

GONYEA: There is something the other candidates can do about it, says Mary Kate Cary, a veteran Republican speechwriter.

MARY KATE CARY: Don't take the bait. But on the other hand, when it gets offensive, they feel like they have to denounce it and step forward. They've got to resist the temptation to extend the news cycle by feeding the story more.

GONYEA: Those cheering most loudly for Trump now are often from the Tea Party wing of the GOP. Sal Russo of the Tea Party Express says there's a reason for that.

SAL RUSSO: I think it's the same kind of frustration that a lot of voters feel - that things never change in Washington.

GONYEA: Russo also says, though, that Trump's message lacks the substance to win a national campaign. Ultimately, the GOP may be worrying about the potential damage to its brand among voters it'll need in the general election. But the party has to handle Trump with care. If it doesn't, Trump has threatened to run as an independent and take his bid all the way to November of 2016. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.