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What Trump's Candidacy Means For The GOP

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Donald Trump tossed yet another rhetorical grenade yesterday when he remarked that Arizona Senator John McCain was a war hero, quote, "because he was captured." Trump went on to say, I like people who weren't captured. This was after any number of controversial statements. And this past week, The Huffington Post said it will not report on Trump's campaign as part of its political coverage - only as entertainment. And yet, Donald Trump continues to surge in polls. Jeremy Peters has been covering Trump for The New York Times. And what he found when he started talking to Trump's supporters was something different than he'd expected.

JEREMY PETERS: There is a caricature out there that these are all, to use John McCain's words, the crazies, when in fact, a lot of these people are the same disgruntled conservatives, independents, that you've had really disrupting Republican politics for the last five years now. And these are people who are very antiestablishment, are tired of things the way that they've always been run and want to shake things up.

MARTIN: These are the same people, though, as you write, who've been attracted to other kind of independent-minded, Tea Party candidates. What is it in particular about Trump and perhaps how he is shaping his message, the rhetoric he uses?

PETERS: One of the things I found surprising as I was talking to some of these voters is how, when I asked them what appeals to you about Donald Trump, they used the same kind of words that they've used to describe politicians like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman and Herman Cain. He tells it like it is. He's not politically correct. And he's not a conventional politician. And I think all of those qualities really resonate with these people who are looking for a - really a new direction for conservative politics.

MARTIN: Is he - I mean, you say he is tapping into this segment of the GOP that's long been there...

PETERS: Right.

MARTIN: This more populist kind of strain. Is he filling a void, then, in the party and in this moment?

PETERS: He is because there's always been a void in Tea Party politics, right? It's a movement that refuses to be led. It's kind of cycled through various - call them leaders. I really wouldn't do that (laughter) because it's not really a movement that's capable of being led. You've seen this - you know, as I said - with Palin, with other kind of larger-than-life figures like Cruz that Tea Party-identified voters flock to. And, you know, eventually, I think with Trump at least, this does have a shelf life. And it gets old. And he made some very outrageous comments - very offensive comments - about John McCain. And I think the public only has so much tolerance for stuff like that before they say, enough; let's move on to the next. And in this election, there are a lot of other alternatives.

MARTIN: If his polling continues to do well, if he gets a slot in the upcoming debates, what does that mean for, say, a Huffington Post, which has said that they're not going to cover him as a serious contender?

PETERS: Trump, at this point, is all but guaranteed a spot in the first debate. And that first debate will be a real moment for him. I think it will be a test of whether or not he is really going to be serious about this - because he could do what he's been doing for the last few weeks. And that's just take shots at fellow Republicans, say completely offensive and outrageous things and lose even more credibility. Or he could try to play it a little bit more seriously and see if he can get a little bit more ride out of this surge in the polls that he's had.

MARTIN: Jeremy Peters is a political reporter with The New York Times. He joined me here in our studios in Washington. Jeremy, thanks for coming in.

PETERS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.