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This Week In Politics: 5 States Hold Primaries On Tuesday

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Republican primary campaign is ugly enough that Charles Koch says he can't stand it. This leading Republican funder told ABC News yesterday that it's possible that Hillary Clinton would do better as president than her GOP opponents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS BROADCAST)

CHARLES KOCH: More of these personal attacks and pitting one person against the other - That's the message you're sending the country. That's the way you should - You're role models. And you're terrible role models. So how - I don't know how we could support them.

INSKEEP: Well, there's a conversation starter. So let's have a conversation. We're joined by columnist Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: And also reporter Robert Costa of The Washington Post. Robert, good morning to you.

ROBERT COSTA: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's that Koch brother doing?

COSTA: The Koch comments are indicative of a broader concern among the GOP donor class, that they don't really have a presidential horse to support this time around. And they're going to maybe leave their resources on the sidelines. And some of them are actually, especially in Wall Street, gravitating toward Secretary Clinton.

INSKEEP: Cokie, do believe that Koch was serious in his remark?

ROBERTS: Oh, I think he was serious in his upset at the GOP field. But I don't think that he's likely to support Hillary Clinton. And, Lord knows, it's the last thing on Earth she wants is support from one of the Koch brothers.

I mean, here is Bernie Sanders out saying she's tied to Wall Street and big money interests. And here is a big money interest saying she might not be so bad. That's not the best thing for her. And she quickly said she did not want his support.

INSKEEP: OK, awkward, awkward to say the least. Well, let's talk about the news here. Ted Cruz and John Kasich say they're going to divide up the chore of fighting Donald Trump. How exactly does that work?

COSTA: This is a significant moment in the Republican presidential race. These two candidates, who are really in the 11th hour of the contest, are trying to work together to stop Donald Trump. And they're divvying up their donations and their strategy and saying, you take Oregon for Kasich, and Cruz will focus on Indiana, a state he thinks he can do well in - Because unless they really start to pick up some momentum in the states, Trump could sweep.

INSKEEP: Did you say they're divvying up their donations as well? They're...

ROBERTS: They're trying to.

COSTA: Their trying to, at least their spending. And they're making signals to their super PACs to maybe work in those other states.

INSKEEP: Cokie?

ROBERTS: That's the problem they have, is that they can't really control what the outside groups are doing. And some outside groups had already prepared ads against Kasich in Indiana. Look, this is way too little, way too late. If these guys had gotten together or if they'd gotten together with Rubio earlier or any of that, maybe this campaign would be looking different from what it looks like now.

But as Donald Trump says, this is an act of desperation. And that's absolutely correct. Tomorrow, there are primaries in Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland. And Trump is ahead in all of those polls right now. And so these candidates are trying to figure out if there's anything they can do to stop him. I will say, Kasich issued a statement saying that Trump had benefited from the existing primary system, which is - Which is a way of getting at Trump, who keeps saying the primary system is rigged against him.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remind people but the basics are here. Trump needs 1,237 delegates on his side to be assured of the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. His opponents are trying to keep him below that, even though they seem to have little hope of actually overtaking him.

But if they can get to an open convention or a contested convention, they think they have a chance. Now, you mentioned Trump's response, Cokie. Let me ask about the tone of that because Trump's campaign has been saying he's going to campaign differently. Let's listen to his adviser, Paul Manafort, who spoke yesterday to Fox News Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

PAUL MANAFORT: Now, as people are looking at him as the Republican nominee and potentially the next president of the United States, there's another stage in the process. And that's what this is.

INSKEEP: A stage where I guess he's going to act presidential, but then he sends another tweet about lyin' Ted Cruz, with a little apostrophe on the end there. Robert Costa, what's - Has he really changed at all?

COSTA: I was with Paul Manafort down at the Republican National Committee meetings in Florida. And you got the sense from Manafort that he wants the campaign to seem more professional. At the same time, Trump is Trump. And he does not like to be over-managed. So as much as the operation is being professionalized, the candidate remains, well, a billionaire mogul and reality TV star.

ROBERTS: And he says - He says - He says it would be - I'm quoting him, "so much easier to be presidential because I don't have to use any energy."

(LAUGHTER)

COSTA: He actually started to act like a - What he thinks a president looks like, walking stiffly toward the podium...

ROBERTS: Right.

COSTA: ...And speaking in a very solemn tone. It was a strange scene.

ROBERTS: It also, though, he said - The words that Manafort used at one point was that he can - He's just been playing. And of course, that has - His opponents have seized on that. Who is the real Donald Trump? Is this all an act?

INSKEEP: Well, can you really run for president that way and say I'll act like I'm presidential when the time comes, but I don't actually need to act presidential while running for president?

ROBERTS: Well, he's been doing it. And he's been doing very well at it. So it seems to be working for him.

COSTA: But one thing to pay attention to on Tuesday is that Trump may well win all of these states. But he still has to accumulate delegates at the state conventions, and that's where Trump has struggled in recent weeks. And that's why he's brought in Paul Manafort - Because you can't just win a state. You have to go in and get those delegates at a state gathering.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember...

ROBERTS: And Ted Cruz picked up a bunch of those over this past weekend again.

INSKEEP: Which has continued to happen. Let's remember Pennsylvania, other states up for election on Tuesday. Let me ask one other question about the Republican Party here. We've got so much to discover - Discuss on the Republican side, we can say with them.

When you talk with Republicans, are they any closer to having a sense of how they intend to approach the fall election, how they intend to reach out to voters who seem dissatisfied with both Ted - Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (laughter) and how they think they're going to appeal to a broad mass of voters and avoid big losses in Congress?

COSTA: There's a sense among the party elite that they're just going to have to accept whatever happens. They may not like Senator Cruz, and they may not be friendly with Donald Trump. But they'd like to retain the Senate and the House.

And when it comes to the platform, they see Trump's populism, his nationalism, they don't see traditional Republican values. But they think it's something they can survive if not get enthused about.

INSKEEP: Cokie, you get the last word.

ROBERTS: But they don't feel that way about Ted Cruz. And so that's why you've seen all of this - this disruption inside the Republican Party. Their best hope, really, is Hillary Clinton. They think that's the way they're going to unify the party is to run against Hillary Clinton and scare Republicans so much about her that they will get to the polls and vote against her. It's not at all clear that that's going to work, but that's their best hope so far.

INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much, as always.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Cokie Roberts, commentator, also reporter Robert Costa of The Washington Post. Robert, thanks for coming by.

COSTA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Always a pleasure to hear your reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.