ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MR. HARWOOD: I’m John Harwood, in for Gwen, and I’m joined around the table by Margaret Talev of Bloomberg Politics, Michael Scherer of TIME Magazine, Robert Costa of The Washington Post, and Molly Ball of The Atlantic.
Now, Molly, you spent some time in Indiana ahead of the primary this week. Give us a little flavor of the final days of Cruz and Kasich before Donald Trump wrapped up the nomination and how voters responded.
MS. BALL: Well, Kasich obviously wasn’t there, because he made this pact with Cruz that they would divvy up the states, and so Kasich pulled out of Indiana.
MR. HARWOOD: Did the pact work? (Laughter.)
MS. BALL: I’ll have to get back to you when I see who wins the nomination. Oh, you know, that’s right, it didn’t.
You know, Ted Cruz in the final days employed a series of sort of desperate gambits. He named his hypothetical running mate. He did this pact with Kasich, which almost immediately sort of unraveled, right, because neither of them could seem to agree on its terms, and it didn’t seem to have much effect on voters. My main impression from traveling with Cruz was that all of – all the voters who were going to his events were Cruz voters from the start. He utterly failed to rally the party around him. All the people at his events are these strongly ideologically conservative, mostly Evangelical voters, and Cruz was their first choice. So you weren’t getting former Jeb Bush supporters, you weren’t getting former John Kasich supporters, you weren’t getting the kinds of establishment Republicans that Cruz needed to coalesce around him.
MR. HARWOOD: Does this mean Donald Trump was right when he criticized as “idiotic” the theories that when everybody dropped out, all their voters would go to the other guys, and –
MS. BALL: I think it depended what the alternative was. And in Ted Cruz, you had a very narrow factional candidate who could only appeal to one tiny swath of the party. And we saw over and over again Cruz trying to expand his appeal and failing, in part because he’s built his brand and spent his career running against the Republican Party. So when regular sort of rank-and-file I call them elephant-brooch Republicans don’t want to vote for that guy, you can’t be surprised. It’s sort of their revenge on him for how he became a big name in the first place.
The Trump rallies are interesting, too, because he does draw a very diverse crowd. But a lot of the people you meet at Trump rallies don’t consider themselves conservatives. A lot of them will tell you they’re moderates or they’re even independents. And so that’s what Trump’s talking about when he’s talking about expanding the party.
MR. HARWOOD: All right, let’s talk money for a second. Donald Trump was able to run his primary campaign largely by loaning his own campaign his own money. But come the general election, that dynamic’s probably going to have to change. So, Michael, where does he get his money in the general election, and how is that fundraising process going to go?
MR. SCHERER: It’s a quick startup at this point. And he’s trying to catch up with Hillary Clinton, who has been way ahead. I mean, she’s been planning the money game for two years now, and has commitments of about $100 million and probably will double that in the next few months, her super PAC.
What Trump has said is, I’m not going to start asking for money, I’m going to do fundraisers for the Republican Party. Implicit in that – and we don’t quite know yet – is that he could still raise primary money and pay back some of that loan, although I think it’s probably a hard sell to some donors – (laughs) – you know, pay me money at this point so I can pay back my own loan. But I think he will – he does have many wealthy friends. There are many people who’ve said they would spend a lot of money for him, and he will have a super PAC vehicle with which to do that. And I think he’s going to have to build a traditional bundling operation as well. He said he’s not incredibly liquid. I mean, there’s a debate over how much money he – you know, whether he’s worth 10 billion (dollars) or 5 billion (dollars). He’s a wealthy man, but most of it’s in buildings or brands. And you know, unless he’s going to start selling brands and buildings – and I don’t think he wants to do that – he’s going to have a real struggle.
MR. HARWOOD: Bob, there’s been continued talk among conservatives about a third party to get into the race and stand up for conservatism, the ideological principles that Donald Trump is flouting in many cases. You’ve got some news this afternoon on a development in that front. What is it?
MR. COSTA: Well, first of all, the effort to recruit or draft some kind of major political or military figure to run as a conservative independent candidate is a disorganized effort, and it doesn’t have money behind it or much thought. And it’s really two camps. Eric Erickson, the conservative activist, is in one area, trying to get someone to run. And then Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, he first tried to get Jim Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, to run. Mattis declined to run. And on Thursday, he and Romney were at a dinner together in Washington supporting a school in Jerusalem. But before that dinner, Thursday afternoon Romney was staying at the J.W. Marriott near the White House, and Kristol and Romney had a private meeting, according to Kristol. He went on the record with the Post and said he urged Romney to consider being an independent candidate, and if Romney was going to continue to resist that idea he would hope Romney would support an independent candidate politically and financially. So those are the kind of talks that are happening, but whether they –
MR. HARWOOD: What did Romney tell him?
MR. COSTA: According to Kristol, Romney said he’s still not going to run, but he’s open to the idea of supporting an independent bid. And Kristol said Romney didn’t fully rule out changing his mind. But again, this may be hopeful thinking for Bill Kristol.
MR. HARWOOD: I think he is very hopeful on that front – (laughter) – having talked to him about that some.
So, Margaret, I want to shift gears and ask you about a piece that came out in The New York Times Magazine – it’s coming out this weekend – that’s a profile of Ben Rhodes, who’s deputy national security adviser, national security spokesman, speechwriter for the president, that in the author’s depiction had Rhodes acknowledging that he had deceived reporters about the nature of the Iran deal, and therefore was able to sell it to the American people. What does that piece tell you? And, in fact, did the administration deceive the American people?
MS. TALEV: It’s a fascinating piece. For anyone who hasn’t read it yet, it’s good to dig into over the weekend. But on this specific question, this is creating quite a bit of controversy, and particularly in conservative publications accusations that the administration was lying to sell people a batch of goods. I don’t think that that’s what Ben Rhodes was trying to say, and I don’t think that that’s what the White House thinks that they did. I think that they did what the National Security Council has been doing for years and decades, which is putting their best spin on facts to sell the administration’s strategy and hoping that people bite on it and don’t do their own homework when it could counter their findings, and that they write what the administration wants them to write.
I mean, and part of this profile goes on to say Rhodes’ characterization of a bunch of young reporters who have covered political campaigns and don’t know anything about anything. I mean, look, the – ask any secretary of state or defense secretary who controls their policy, and they’ll wish it was them. It’s all controlled out of the White House, year after year since Richard Nixon, decade after decade, administration after administration more so. And that’s certainly true of the Obama administration as well. But the – when you get a briefing from the national security adviser or the deputy national security adviser, they’re telling you how they want you to see things. It doesn’t mean you have to report it that way, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t go do your own homework and counter those views.
MR. HARWOOD: Well, here’s the one thing we can agree on from that story. Ben Rhodes said that everybody covering politics is 27 years old – no, 27 years old.
MS. TALEV: Oh, right. (Laughs.)
MR. HARWOOD: And we’re all 27 years old, so it works.
MS. TALEV: Yeah, well, that’s right. (Laughs, laughter.)
MR. HARWOOD: All right, let’s turn to one final jump ball here, the veep stakes on both sides. First of all, let’s talk about Donald Trump. Who are potential running mates? Everybody give me a quick answer and let’s go around.
MR. COSTA: Based on my reporting, I think Trump’s going to go with an insider, someone who has – either is elected now or who has been in elected office. I think Newt Gingrich is one of the names at the top of that list. He and Trump have become very close. Chris Christie, Florida Governor Rick Scott are two others.
MR. HARWOOD: We’re going to play a little piece of sound before we go to the – down the line.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) I would want somebody that would help me from a legislative standpoint, getting things passed through Senate, through Congress. And to me, that’s why I think probably, in terms of vice president, I’m going to go the political route. I don’t need the business route. I’ve got that covered.
QUESTION: (From video.) Somebody who’s been a governor or a senator?
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) Somebody that – well, somebody – maybe even a senator.
MR. HARWOOD: Molly, who can help him pass his agenda?
MS. BALL: (Laughs.) There is a lot of hypotheticals between here and – here and there. But, no, I mean, I think Bob is absolutely right that – and based on Trump’s statements. You know, if he’s smart, he is going to seek to normalize his candidacy and make himself more acceptable to the establishment. And the best way to do that is for them to feel like there’s an adult in the room. So I don’t know if Newt Gingrich quite fits that bill, but for him to pick an – and part of the problem is going to be, who does he get that has that kind of gravitas who will agree to be on the ticket with him? And that could be an issue.
MR. HARWOOD: Well, I think that’s a big question. Who’s an adult in the room who would say yes to running with Donald Trump?
MR. SCHERER: Well, one that we haven’t put out yet is Jeff Sessions from Alabama, who’s been a close adviser to him. He’s not an incredibly popular guy in the Senate, so it’s not like he suddenly will win over a lot of leeway, but he knows how the building works and could help him there.
What’s interesting about Trump’s VP pick is it’s very different from Hillary’s. Whoever Hillary picks, the VP in her administration will be Bill Clinton. You know, the person in the room helping her will not be the VP. She’s going to pick somebody who’s going to have to be happy in their corner of the building. It’s not going to be a Joe Biden model. Trump, on the other hand, I don’t know if it will always be that person in the room. He’ll probably have his sons and daughters – (laughs) – in the room at the end of the day. But he needs someone in the mode of Dick Cheney, someone who actually can get stuff done, can be an operations guy, because he doesn’t know this town. And I think he’ll look for experience.
MR. HARWOOD: Margaret, you got a pick?
MS. TALEV: Were you – were you making the Ivanka Trump argument? Because I like that one, actually. (Laughter.)
But so if saying – if saying yes were no object, John Kasich, Marco Rubio. Mary Fallin has said she would like to do it. And if he ends up having a woman problem in the general election, Mary Fallin is a female governor who is appealing to a large swath of the Republican Party, probably some folks in the middle, and maybe could help him.
MR. HARWOOD: OK, I’m going to start with you for the Democratic names, too. Who’s Hillary Clinton going to pick?
MS. TALEV: Ohio’s going to be really important. I don’t know if Sherrod Brown gets that done, but he’s certainly talked about a lot. I think the idea of Cory Booker is very interesting. There’s a lot of problems with the notion of Cory Booker from a Wall Street perspective, and I’m not sure in polling what he brings on the electoral map. But in terms of energy, vibrancy, and the ability to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump rhetorically any day, possibly.
MR. HARWOOD: Michael?
MR. SCHERER: I’d say Tim Kaine, the senator from Virginia. It’s a swing state she would love to win, and Tim Kaine is someone who has played, you know, a dozen roles over the course of his career – head of the party, governor, now senator – very widely respected. Would be someone that she would trust to be able to do the job if something happened to her, and also would be somebody who fits what I just described as this – he’d have to be a vice president who would be happy in a box. He’s not a Joe Biden, and I think he’d be very happy with whatever role she –
MR. HARWOOD: Molly, I’ve heard some people make the argument that Hillary Clinton should do like Bill Clinton did in 1992, pick someone like her. He picked Al Gore, two moderate Southerners. So, Elizabeth Warren. Does that make any sense? Any possibility of that?
MS. BALL: It makes a little bit of political sense in terms of trying to bring in the progressives and obviously underscoring the woman argument. I have trouble seeing it. The names I hear most from Democrats are Tim Kaine and Julian Castro, who’s lobbying for it pretty hard behind the scenes. I think he really wants it. And the problem for him may be that, with Donald Trump as her opponent, Hillary doesn’t need a running mate to help her bring in Hispanics. So that may have hurt Castro’s chances.
MR. HARWOOD: Bob, I thought lobbying for the vice presidency is the one way to make sure that you don’t get it.
MR. COSTA: Well, I haven’t heard, actually, Democrats mention Castro, because I think a lot of them have been actually unhappy with the way Castro is perceived as lobbying. I’m not saying he is. The name I keep hearing is Tom Perez, the labor secretary, as someone who’s seen in a favorable light from the Clinton camp. But here – I don’t like to make a prediction, but if I was going to make one, if Senator Sanders wins the California primary, there will maybe be pressure to put him on the ticket. Everyone I talk to in the Democratic world says not happening. But if he wins California, well.
MR. HARWOOD: I will say it right now: not happening. (Laughter.)
Now, we’re going to break there. Thanks, everybody. Be sure to check out our Washington Week-ly Quiz and test your knowledge of the week’s events, and a bit of history too. That’s at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek, where you’ll also find our 90-second look back at Trump’s march to the nomination and the 16 rivals he left in his wake.
I’m John Harwood. Be sure to join us again next week on the Washington Week Webcast Extra. Good night.