Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

In GOP Primary, Former Pa. Gov. Ridge Picks Substance Over Celebrity

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If nothing else, this political season has taught Americans a lot about how their presidential nominees are really chosen. As we've heard so often by now, Donald Trump needs 1,237 delegates to win a majority at the Republican convention. That's the number that matters. That's how he would become his party's nominee.

But winning primaries, as Trump has done a lot of, is only part of that battle. Take the Republican primary in Pennsylvania today; 71 delegates are on the the table. Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who backs John Kasich, knows Trump is far ahead in opinion polls.

How are you going to deny delegates to Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, if at all?

TOM RIDGE: Well, I don't think it's a question of denying Donald Trump delegates. I think if he wins the beauty contest, he gets 17. And the rest are up for grabs.

INSKEEP: Did you hear that? If he wins the primary today, he only gets 17 of 71 delegates. The other 54 delegates are not required to support Pennsylvania's primary winner. Those rules mean that other candidates could end up gaining more delegates at the actual convention.

RIDGE: Frankly, you know, it comes down to organization, who's put forth the best organizational effort, who's got the grassroots campaign, who's been reaching out to those technically undecided delegates to get their - To get their quiet support before Cleveland.

INSKEEP: You've described the presidential preference voting as a beauty contest, which diminishes it some. But it is, of course, a vote of the people. Are you entirely comfortable if Trump were to win big in the vote of the people but not win it all in the delegate count for your state?

RIDGE: Well, the way things look right now, I think it's - Donald Trump has got such a margin between himself and Senator Cruz and John Kasich. But, you know, this is not - I mean, we're in the middle of the NBA playoffs. And there's a clock in the political world. And in the Republican primary, there's no shot clock. You keep going until you get 1,237 votes. It's been that way for decades. And we're not changing it now.

INSKEEP: Are you saying this is about delegates, not popular votes and you really don't care if the popular votes go another way?

RIDGE: Well, you know, I'm not sure it's quite - I mean, everybody uses the word popular vote. But if you go back and take a look at the number of Republican primary voters compared to the number of registered Republicans in the respective states and see the turnout, you will see that right now, Donald Trump, who has won so many states - You may say it's a popular vote.

But I daresay if you calculate it, he probably doesn't have any more than 15 or 16 percent of the registered Republicans nationwide. So while that is a good figure for him because he's won so many contests, it's hardly a reflection of broad-based support across Republicans in all 50 states. That's for sure.

INSKEEP: So what do you think, Governor, as a Kasich supporter, of John Kasich teaming up, in effect, with Ted Cruz, dividing the remaining states among themselves to challenge Trump in different states?

RIDGE: Well, I don't agree with the strategy. As I said to you earlier in this conversation, you work hard to get to 1,237. And frankly, that's not the way I would go about it. I would have preferred that he'd just focus in on why he is the best person situated to defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall and leave it at that.

So he's chosen that strategy. I don't agree with it. But I'll continue to support John in Pennsylvania.

INSKEEP: Why is that strategy wrong? Is it because it limits the choices of the people or of delegates?

RIDGE: Well, I just think it's depending on your point of view of how you go about prevailing as you try to get the 1,237 votes. And I think it plays into Trump's narrative, who keeps whining about the primary. And when he wins, it's fine. When he doesn't win, it's rigged.

But the fact of the matter is, the narrative says that they're trying to gang up against me. And it just kind of reflects that. And I just also don't believe that this is the way you go about promoting yourself. I prefer him to promoting John, rather than stopping Donald.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you about that because there have been people who have said - Critics of the Republican Party, particularly, who have said Republicans are dismayed about Donald Trump. But he's just really saying more boldly, more nakedly, what many Republicans believe anyway and what many Republican politicians have been pushing for.

That's a knock on Trump and the Republican Party. Can you draw a distinction for us? What is one substantive thing, something of substance, not of tone, that would be different in a Kasich presidency as opposed to a Trump presidency?

RIDGE: Well, first of all, I think the first major difference quite clearly is with Trump, there are some very vague promises. There's apparently - If you just take a listen to their positions on domestic and foreign policy issues, the major difference is that Donald Trump hasn't projected a substantive, meaningful, doable idea. His proposals have been somewhat ludicrous in my mind. And I'm not even talking about John.

But, I mean, Donald Trump as a president would be comfortable arming Japan with nuclear weapons and Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons. And Donald Trump has said his answer to immigration is to build a wall that the Mexicans would pay for. I mean, there's a - It's the theater of the absurd. And then you take a look at Senator Cruz. And you take a look at John Kasich. At least they're much more substantive and thoughtful in their approach to being president. So again, Donald has won because of tone and celebrity rather than substance. And frankly, I prefer performance over promise or over celebrity.

INSKEEP: Governor Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, former secretary of homeland security. Thanks very much.

RIDGE: Great talking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.