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Defiant Trump Exposes More Divisions Within Republican Ranks


Donald Trump - that's it. That's all I need to say. You know you're interested. We will nevertheless say just a bit more. Republicans debate tonight. Trump says he will not because of a feud with moderator Megyn Kelly and her employer, Fox News. We have some analysis this morning from Jonah Goldberg. He's a senior editor at the National Review and occasional guest here. His publication has openly denounced Donald Trump, by the way. Jonah, good morning.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Credit where credit is due - here, David Folkenflik, our media correspondent, pointed out the other day that both Donald Trump and Fox News leader Roger Ailes are master showmen. Aren't they putting on great show here?

GOLDBERG: Yes, in a certain way this is sort of a King Kong versus Godzilla. I mean, this is a big deal, so sure.

INSKEEP: OK, what does it mean, then, that Trump is capturing all the attention with this move by stepping away from the debate? What does it say?

GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, this is a continuation of a story that we've seen for a very long time now where Trump is a master of controlling the media cycle. He sucks up all the oxygen, and he's doing it again. So instead of people making their closing arguments and getting some airtime for it, everyone's talking about will Trump show up, will Trump not show up, why is Trump doing this? And so in that sense I think it is success on Trump's own terms. In terms of dominating the media cycle, of crowding out everybody else, of making him the center of attention, which is what he wants to be, it has been a success. His decision to do this has been a success. The question is whether it's a political success. It could do great for him in polls in 49 other states, but will it play well for him in Iowa? And that remains to be seen. And among what voters will it play well for him? He over performs with never before - people who have never before gone to a caucus. He underperforms - I mean, he's doing well, obviously, he's a front-runner in polls - but he underperforms among, you know, reliable many-time voters, among conservatives, among evangelicals. And so the question is whether or not his - first of all, the question has always been whether or not his biggest supporters will show up at all, but also whether or not the people that people know are going to show up - whether they're going to take offense.

INSKEEP: We better explain a bit of a complexity here that happens every four years. Iowa's the first thing out there. It's a little different from some states because it's a caucus state, which means people don't just have to vote, they have to show up in a room among other people and cast a vote.

GOLDBERG: Right, on a cold, cold night.

INSKEEP: And so you do have a different set of voters than you might have otherwise. Nevertheless, we have this situation where, according to polls, Trump is in position to possibly win Iowa, possibly win New Hampshire, possibly win South Carolina, Nevada. He could plausibly sweep the early states unless he's stopped by Ted Cruz or someone else. What does that say about where the Republican Party is right now?

GOLDBERG: The Republican Party is in a mess right now. The conservative movement - which is not the same thing, which comes as a surprise to some people - is in a bit of a mess right now. It's - if you were to trying to visualize it - I know we're on radio - it would be something like the fight scene in "Anchorman" where it's basically all against all in a hammer-and-tongs battle.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) And there are people who are considering switching sides, are there not? Conservatives and leading Republicans who are thinking about whether they can make their peace with Donald Trump.

GOLDBERG: Yes. I mean it, it's funny. At precisely the moment the magazine I work for, National Review, had this forthright declaration that Donald Trump isn't a conservative and shouldn't be a conservative standard bearer, you had a vast swath of the sort of K Street Republican Capitol Hill establishment sending signals - sort of as old-style criminology - sending signals that they thought Donald Trump was the man they could deal with, and the man they're really afraid of is Ted Cruz. And it's - you know, talk radio is very much - some of talk radio is very much pro - I mean conservative talk radio - is very pro-Donald Trump and Ted Cruz until Ted Cruz and Donald Trump started going after each other. And now it's some talk radio guys have broken with Cruz and some have broken and stayed with Trump, and people like me are caught in the middle. It's a mess. It's a real mess.

INSKEEP: You're caught in the middle, meaning you don't know where to go yourself, personally?

GOLDBERG: Well, you know, there were other people in the field I think - some of these guys are the best candidates we've seen in a very long time. And it's very difficult for them to get their message out in this environment. And so in some ways, some of us think that this debate without Double Trump there might be a good thing.

INSKEEP: OK, let's talk about that because the other candidates will be on stage - the other leading candidates, anyway. You'll see Marco Rubio, you'll see Ted Cruz, you'll see Jeb Bush, you'll see John Kasich, you'll see some others. Are you - when we set Trump aside, if it's even possible to do that - learning anything about where the Republican Party is headed and how it's shaping itself as this election approaches?

GOLDBERG: It's difficult to say. There is - among the other candidates, they've got a series of sort of reform-minded, serious policy proposals. People can agree or disagree with them. Donald Trump has been very light on policy. But at the same time, his presence is sort of like a magnet next to a compass. It's very difficult to sense the direction of the rest of these guys when all the attention's on him.

INSKEEP: OK, well Jonah, thanks very much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg is senior editor at the National Review. He is also, by the way, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.