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Politics In The News: Wisconsin Primary

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We begin today with politics and efforts by Donald Trump's campaign to right itself after a rough last few days. Among the fires they're trying to put out - the controversy sparked by Trump's comments on abortion. Last week, he said women who have illegal abortions - should it become illegal - should be punished. He soon revised that. Last night, Trump told Fox News host Greta van Susteren that his views on abortion are, quote, "well accepted."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I'm pro-life. Ronald Reagan was pro-life with the exceptions, OK? Life of the mother, as you know, rape, incest - with the three exceptions. That was Ronald Reagan, and that's been me. And it's been me for quite a period of time.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Joining us now to sort through those comments and the latest political news as she does most Mondays is columnist and commentator Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: And we're also joined by Robert Costa of The Washington Post. Hey there.

ROBERT COSTA: Good morning.

KELLY: Cokie, let me start with you and stay with the Trump campaign and this back and forth about his stance on abortion. We just heard there his attempt last night to put the matter to rest. Will it work?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that the people who are very strongly antiabortion are probably skeptical of Donald Trump anyway. He's not one of them. And I think that it will be a problem for him to get those true believers' votes. The bigger problem, of course, is with the women's vote in general. But look, it's very important to keep in mind the women's vote is not about abortion. That has never been the case. So - but he is polling very badly among women. And I think it has much more to do with his seemingly hostile or at least dismissive attitudes toward women and that whole business of retweeting the pictures side-by-side of his wife and Ted Cruz's wife seemed very - very sort of not nice to either woman, to put it mildly. And so I think that that's his bigger problem with women. And he does have an enormous problem with women with upwards of 77 percent in the most recent poll saying that they have an unfavorable view of him. But that said, I don't think we should be sitting around writing off Donald Trump right now. And Bob Costa, sitting right there with you, has gotten today a leaked memo from the Trump campaign that says exactly the same thing.

KELLY: Well, Robert Costa, weigh in here on this. You got hold of this leaked memo that gives a sense of just how all this is playing inside the campaign. Who wrote it? What's it say?

COSTA: Barry Bennett, a senior advisor to Trump, wrote the memo. And it reflects the mindset within Trump's command - high command - after this tumultuous week. And they really believe - even though they're behind in the polls in the upcoming Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, they still believe when they look at the calendar with the upcoming contests in New York and then in Pennsylvania, in other states that these are states Trump could win even if he doesn't win on Tuesday because of his base of populist Republicans who are unhappy with the establishment. And this memo also reflects what I see as the fury within Trump's inner circle about how they think the press is covering them and how the establishment of the GOP is treating them.

KELLY: Well, speaking of how the press is covering him, you and your colleague Bob Woodward at The Post just got the chance to interview Donald Trump. He had some noteworthy comments, particularly about the economy, predicting a huge recession to come, also vowing to eliminate the national debt in eight years. How did he square those things to you?

COSTA: It was startling to sit down with Bob Woodward and hear Trump make these kind of comments which are somewhat unprecedented for a major American political figure to actively talk down the American economy. And after we left the interview, we looked at each other and said - we wonder if the markets were open, how would they interpret this to have someone predict a massive recession and then talk about something most economists say is impossible, which is eliminating the national debt - 19 trillion - within two presidential terms? But this really reflects Trump's loner status within the party, within the country. He sees himself as someone who can come in and be a fix-it man. But at the same time, he really doesn't look for allies. And when asked about Wall Street, he said I don't need them.

KELLY: Cokie, give us a sense of how all this might shake out in Wisconsin. They vote there tomorrow. We'll, of course, get another notch in the delegate tally. What else are you watching for?

ROBERTS: Well, Wisconsin is important because it's a single state on a single day, and it's kind of winner-take-all on the Republican side. It's complicated rules, as most of them are. But today's polls show it tightening some with Trump within shouting distance of Ted Cruz, who's been running ahead. And, you know, one of the things we have to keep in mind here is that reasons people have been saying that Trump is in trouble is because he's showing badly in general election polls. But general election polls at this stage in a presidential cycle are virtually meaningless. I'd like to introduce you to President Dukakis, who was well ahead at this point.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: And as Donald Trump says - quite not nicely - I haven't even started in on Hillary Clinton yet. But where he's focusing himself in Wisconsin is on warning the party leaders not to try to take away the nomination from him. He's telling John Kasich to get out of the race, that he's stealing - quote, unquote, "stealing my delegates." And, you know, Wisconsin is an object lesson here. I was looking back to 1968 when Gene McCarthy won Wisconsin big, and the party leadership was eager for him to get out of the race. It was a very complex year, to put it mildly. And then, of course, Robert Kennedy was killed. But Gene McCarthy ended up with the most votes going in to that convention. And of course, the convention went to Hubert Humphrey. And the riots ensued - or were part of it - because the voters thought they had been taken away from - that could happen with the Republicans.

KELLY: All right, lots to watch there in Wisconsin and the weeks coming up. Cokie Roberts, Robert Costa of The Washington Post, thanks to you both.

COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.