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Trump Wins Primaries; Have Republicans Learned 2012's Election Lessons?


Another round of presidential primaries has intensified the pressure on Republicans hoping to defeat Donald Trump. He won three primaries last night, including the big state of Michigan.


Ted Cruz won a single state - Idaho. John Kasich won nowhere but had a strong showing in Michigan.

INSKEEP: Marco Rubio had one of his worst nights yet. He finished nowhere better than third and sometimes didn't even get 10 percent of the vote.

GREENE: We're going to talk through the Republican results and the future of the party with Henry Barbour. He is a Republican strategist, part of an important political family. He was co-author of a report trying to point the party in a new direction. He endorsed Marco Rubio and he's on the line now from Yazoo City, Miss. Good morning.

HENRY BARBOUR: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Got to ask you, what's wrong with your candidate?

BARBOUR: Well, look, every campaign has its ups and downs. And certainly Marco decided and the campaign decided to make a shift to focus on Florida, the 99 delegates. It's winner-take-all in Florida, is a win that he has to have. And so he's taken his positive and inspiring message to Florida, where we are going to vote next week on Tuesday, and what will be a blockbuster day for the campaign and a really decisive day for the campaign next Tuesday. Between now and next Tuesday, 433 delegates up for grabs. And 165 of them, between Ohio and Florida, are winner-take-all. So those are huge states.

INSKEEP: And you're sure that your candidate, Marco Rubio, will stay in the race through Florida, through that Tuesday result?

BARBOUR: Yeah, Marco is actually going to win next Tuesday. And certainly - look, the map was not good for him last night. And such is life. But in Florida, Sen. Rubio has been told before, look, you can't win. When he decided to run for the U.S. Senate the first time, he was told, you can't run. There's a sitting governor running for the Senate. And he took on the establishment. He was successful, had tea party support and did very well. And, you know, one of the things that's really positions him well in Florida is you've got about 60 percent, 65 percent of Republican voters voting against Donald Trump. So the vote in Florida for Marco Rubio essentially is you're a vehicle if you want to stop Donald Trump. And he has a big early vote advantage.

GREENE: Well, if - we want to turn to talk about Florida and that - sort of where the race is going. But let's hear first, if we can, you said the campaign is full of ups and downs. It was certainly an up moment for Donald Trump yesterday. And let's listen to our colleague Don Gonyea, who's been following the whole Republican race.


DON GONYEA, BYLINE: There were some worrying signs for Donald Trump going into yesterday's primaries. His lead in national polls was narrowing. In primaries and caucuses over the weekend, he had not done as well as expected, especially among voters who decided late. But last night - well, last night looked a lot like Super Tuesday all over again. Here's how Trump described his challengers Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio.


DONALD TRUMP: They didn't do so well tonight, folks, OK. I'm not going to say anybody didn't do well. They didn't do well. There's only one person did well tonight - Donald Trump. I will tell you. It's true.


GONYEA: Trump was declared the easy winner in the two biggest states yesterday - Michigan and Mississippi. All this despite a well-funded anti-Trump movement launched not just by his opponents but also by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and super PACs that funded attack ads.


TRUMP: And I don't think I've ever had so many horrible, horrible things said about me in one week.


TRUMP: Thirty-eight million dollars worth of horrible lies, but that's OK. It shows you how brilliant the public is.

GONYEA: Trumps remarks, delivered at Trump National Golf Club, sometimes felt more like an ad for Trump-branded products stacked high on a table by the stage where Trump Wine, Trump Steaks, Trump Water, Trump Magazine. It was a rebuttal to Romney, who in a speech this past week listed some of these same products as Trump business failures. As for the other candidates, Ted Cruz spoke to his supporters at a rally in North Carolina even before he'd finished second in Michigan and Mississippi and before he scored a late win in the Idaho primary.


TED CRUZ: There is only one campaign that has beaten Donald Trump repeatedly and that can and will beat Donald Trump in this nomination.

GONYEA: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, meanwhile, speaking in Columbus, put an upbeat spin on a disappointing showing in Michigan, a state where he worked harder than any other candidate.


JOHN KASICH: Listen, we are very pleased with what's happened and when you think about where we've come.

GONYEA: A few weeks ago, Kasich was in single digits in Michigan. He rose to a very respectable 24 percent of the vote but still came in third just behind Cruz. For Kasich now, it's a last stand back home where Ohio holds a big winner-take-all primary next Tuesday.

KASICH: We're all familiar with March Madness. And now the home court advantage is coming North. And next week we are going to win the state of Ohio. It will be a...


GONYEA: Cruz and Kasich's goal now is to deny Trump the 1,237 delegate votes needed for nomination at this summer's GOP convention. That's the big hope for Sen. Marco Rubio, as well. But his once-promising campaign finished dead last in Michigan and Mississippi yesterday - stuck in single digits with no delegates won. He spoke to supporters before polls closed.


MARCO RUBIO: And in this election it is not just a choice between candidates. We are deciding the definition of what it means to be a conservative in the 21st century. And we are deciding our identity as a nation and as a people.

GONYEA: Rubio now needs a big win in his home state of Florida next Tuesday. But he'll have to score an upset to get it. Ultimately, the day belonged to Trump. As long as multiple opponents continue to split the opposing vote, he can continue to add to his triple-digit delegate lead.

GREENE: That is NPR's Don Gonyea. And we were listening to that story with Henry Barbour, who's on the line. And he's a Republican strategist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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.