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Should Congressional Republican Leaders Get Behind Donald Trump?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We've talked this election season more than a little bit about a rift within the Republican Party. Donald Trump has all but locked up the GOP presidential nomination. But on his way, he's made no bones about ripping into the GOP establishment and ignoring some long-standing Republican positions. Just a week ago, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said he was not ready to support Donald Trump. Yesterday, Ryan and Trump met, and Ryan sounded like someone who was hoping to bury the hatchet.

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PAUL RYAN: It was important that we discussed our differences that we have. But it was also important that we discussed the core principles that tie us all together. I was very encouraged with what I heard from Donald Trump today.

GREENE: And I'm joined on the line now by one of the fiercest Republican opponents to a Donald Trump presidency, Erick Erickson. He's founder of the conservative news blog The Resurgent, and he's also a radio host in Atlanta. Good morning, nice to have you back.

ERICK ERICKSON: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So how do you feel about Trump's meetings with Ryan and GOP leaders yesterday? It sounds like - I mean, it sounds like a party that was trying to come together.

ERICKSON: They sound like it. I thought it was very interesting that the RNC and Paul Ryan seem - all tweeted out basically the same talking point at about the same time of bridge building. I'm sure Paul Ryan will slowly walk into the Trump campaign. It's to be expected. He is a Republican leader. They all want to be team players.

GREENE: And are you ready to be a team player, to give up your opposition to a Trump presidency?

ERICKSON: No. You know, I still believe the Republican Party that back in the 1990s campaigned against the Clintons and said character counts. I still think character counts, and I haven't seen it from Trump.

GREENE: OK, so it's more your opposition to Trump is more about character and less about sort of issues, policies. Is that fair?

ERICKSON: It's a combination of all. But, you know, I disagreed with Mitt Romney and John McCain on a lot of policies, but I still thought they were good people. I have a real hard time considering Donald Trump fit for any office.

GREENE: Well, if Paul Ryan is coming out of a meeting with Trump and saying that, you know, he's ready for party unity, I mean, does that - is that encouraging to you in any way that maybe Trump could convince you that, you know, he's not a bad character as much as you think he might be?

ERICKSON: Listen, all of the major endorsements for Donald Trump from - I mean, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, you name it - they've all come with we think he's completely unfit for office, but he's not Hillary Clinton. That's not a selling point for a lot of people, including myself. They still all think he's unfit for office. If he was unfit for office last week according to them, then he is this week. And I'm not sure I want Donald Trump near the nuclear codes.

GREENE: Well, Donald Trump - I mean, he's all but locked up the nomination.

ERICKSON: Right.

GREENE: So - and you're saying, you know, that it's not a good argument to make that, you know, he's a better option than Hillary Clinton. So what is a group like yours do? Do you vote for a Democrat like Hillary Clinton?

ERICKSON: Well, you know, I'm not a Hillary Clinton either. And it puts a lot of conservatives - and it's not establishment guys so much as it is conservative activists, evangelicals around the country. When we look at Donald Trump attacking Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention leader or others, we do have to scratch our heads and say where do we go? Some are looking for a third-party alternative. Some are looking to still try to stop this at the Cleveland convention, trying to convince the delegates they don't have to enter suicide a pact with Donald Trump. But there will be a lot of conservatives probably who stay home, some polling suggests upwards of 20 percent of Republicans won't show up in November because of Trump. He's going to have a very tough sell to convince those Republicans to come out and vote for him.

GREENE: You're speaking sort of in general. I mean, there are some conservatives who won't turn out. There are some...

ERICKSON: Right.

GREENE: ...Who might think about a third-party candidate. There are some who might try to stop this at the convention. What about you yourself? What 's your plan?

ERICKSON: Two of the above - look for a third-party candidate, at least to is incentivize Republicans to come out in November and save the down-ballot races, the Senate and House. Looking at just current polling trajectories, the Republicans could lose both with Trump as the nominee, so try to get people to come out for a presidential candidate with a third-party. At the same time, make sure Republican delegates in Cleveland understand they can unbind themselves if Trump is a disaster over the next two months, then they'll have ample reason to unbind themselves.

GREENE: OK, we've been speaking to conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson. Mr. Erickson, thanks so much for coming back to the program. We appreciate it.

ERICKSON: Thanks very much.

GREENE: And later today on All Things Considered, we'll hear from Bernie Sanders supporters who are not giving up the fight despite long odds in the Democratic primary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.