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Bill Kristol on Democrats' hopes to win over Republicans reluctant to vote for Trump

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Poll after poll shows most Republicans are locked in on their once and likely future presidential nominee, former President Donald Trump, but Democrats hope there are enough disaffected Republicans out there to give President Biden a boost. Here's a new digital ad aimed at supporters of former South Carolina Governor and Republican candidate Nikki Haley.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "IF YOU VOTED FOR NIKKI HALEY...")

Sponsor Message

DONALD TRUMP: Birdbrain. I call her Birdbrain. Nikki Haley has made an unholy alliance with rhinos, Never Trumpers, Americans for No Prosperity.

MARTIN: But is that message getting through? We're going to ask conservative writer and editor Bill Kristol about this. He previously served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, both Republicans. Good morning, Mr. Kristol.

BILL KRISTOL: Hi, Michel. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm good. So, look, you know, it's interesting that so many high-profile Republicans have come out saying that they can never vote for Trump again - people who worked in the administration with him, including his own former vice president, for example, his former defense secretary. But on the grassroots level, how big do you think that Trump's skeptical vote really is?

KRISTOL: Well, it's maybe big enough to make a difference in the general election. There were almost 4 million Haley voters so far in the primaries, and obviously, many states never - haven't voted, didn't vote when it was still competitive. Some of some of those were just Democrats who crossed over to vote for Haley. Some of them will go back to Trump, but I don't know, a quarter of them must be in play. That's a million votes - probably a couple hundred, three hundred thousand in swing states. So that really would make a difference if those people - if the Haley voters, who clearly are resistant to Trump, came over to Biden.

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MARTIN: So what is the message that would appeal to them? I mean, you have to assume that many Republican voters who are very unhappy with Trump, who find him distasteful for whatever number of reasons, but they still support traditional Republican views such as, you know, a tough border policy or perhaps restrictions on reproductive rights. What is a credible Biden message that would work with these voters?

KRISTOL: I mean, a couple of things. I'd say, A, that they're welcomed in the Biden coalition, just a little symbolic gesture of Biden having Nikki Haley to lunch at the White House, you know, and also others, ranging from Mark Esper, the former defense secretary, to Mike Pence. You know, he's the former vice president. It would be interesting to talk to him. He's not going to support Biden, probably, but not supporting Trump is a big deal, and being more critical of Trump over the next 7 months is a big deal.

On substance, I think the Haley campaign found that the issue of Ukraine, NATO and Putin had more punch than they expected. Foreign policy, people say, doesn't matter to American voters, but I'm not so sure when it's something so fundamental as, you know, the largest ground war in Europe in 80 years and NATO as an alliance and Putin and his brutal invasion. So I think that issue could be - is one where Haley voters naturally can find it easy to support President Biden.

Biden is not going to change his views, to reach out, and he shouldn't - his policies - to reach out to any particular, you know, subset of voters. But this is one on NATO, Putin, foreign policy in general, I'd say, even, where there's a pretty close - pretty big overlap between the Haley voters and the Biden administration.

MARTIN: And here's where I put you on the spot. As a person who has made your distaste for the former president clear, for many, many, many reasons, are you going to vote for Joe Biden?

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KRISTOL: Oh, yeah, I am. I did last time, and I did some work for him, and I'll do that again this time. But the key is the former Trump supporters, I think, and Trump administration members who you mentioned, getting them out there. Look, I've been against Trump since 2015. I don't have that much credibility, perhaps, with those swing voters anymore. But I think the people who do are people who said, I voted for Trump twice, or, I worked for Trump, and I saw him up close, and that's where Mike Pence and Mark Esper and people like that are so important.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, do you still consider yourself a Republican?

KRISTOL: No, not really. An ex-Republican. What did Pete Buttigieg say in 2019? He wanted the votes of Democrats, independents and future former Republicans.

MARTIN: OK. And that's you.

KRISTOL: Can you be a future former Republican forever? I doubt it, but I'm a former Republican.

MARTIN: OK. That is conservative writer, former Republican Bill Kristol, who served in the George H.W. Bush and Reagan administrations. Mr. Kristol, thanks so much for joining us.

KRISTOL: Thanks. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.