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Trump Challengers Need To Put More Meat On The Table, Steve Forbes Says


Some awkward news for Donald Trump's presidential campaign yesterday. Police in Florida charged his campaign manager with battery for allegedly yanking a reporter's arm. It was another dramatic moment in this unorthodox campaign.


And we'll have more on that elsewhere in the show, but Trump is far from the first political novice to run for president. The wealthy media businessman Steve Forbes was a Republican presidential candidate back in 1996 and 2000.

MARTIN: We spoke to Forbes yesterday before the news broke about Trump's campaign manager. And we talked about what Forbes says has been a disappointing campaign on the GOP side. Too much personality, he says, not enough policy. Forbes hasn't endorsed anyone in this race yet. But he says he admires how Donald Trump has been able to connect with voters in a way the other candidates have not.

STEVE FORBES: What he tapped into - and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side has done so in a very different way - huge dissatisfaction with people with the political class, contempt, anger, real worry about the future, the stagnation as a killer. And so my criticism is not with so much Donald Trump getting in the race but the reaction of the others. I wrote an editorial. When they're complaining that Donald Trump was sucking the oxygen out of the room - well, if you don't like what Donald Trump is saying, the way you counter it is have something to say. When somebody is eating your lunch, you just don't complain about it and say, well, I'll try to do better. You change the rules of the game. You don't play in Donald Trump's sandbox. You create your own sandbox. They didn't do that. I think they're starting to do it now, awfully late in the game though.

MARTIN: Does it surprise you that there has been such a lack of enthusiasm from the so-called Republican establishment for Trump's candidacy - despite the fact that he keeps winning in primaries?

FORBES: Well, he has done so in a way that no one would have scripted. That's why I think all of us are a bit humbled by this whole cycle. Donald Trump has broken every rule in the book and seems to get stronger each time he does something that normally would sink another candidate. So I can understand the huge dissatisfaction and uncertainty. But again, you don't counter that by saying, oh, we don't like Donald Trump. You got to put something else on the table, and that's what Cruz has to do in the remaining weeks. He's got some good ideas, but you got to put them out there. Explain them in a way that people understood where you're coming from, and people will get on board.

MARTIN: What do you like about Donald Trump?

FORBES: I like the fact that he is an entrepreneur who's made things happen. And in terms of national security, he says things in a way that no other candidate would. But he's got to up his game. He gave a speech a few days ago to AIPAC in Washington. He's got to do several more substantive speeches, show that he's putting together a real team, that he realizes one person can't run the federal government and shouldn't even try, and flush out some of these things. He's gotten very far on what he's done. But I don't think it's going to be enough to get him over the finish line in either in Cleveland or in the general election if he wins in Cleveland.

MARTIN: But you say you appreciate some of the talk that he's put out there about national security, although some of those comments, I don't have to tell you, have been very controversial, talking about banning all Muslims into this country, saying that he's the only one who could actually defeat ISIS. Is that kind of talk...

FORBES: Well, you see this is where, for example, the two remaining candidates should have their own proposal on the table. Donald Trump, he hit on the fact that people are worried that our immigration procedures are not right. The FBI will testify to that, that we have a lot more to do. But when he goes off and says he wants to gut NATO or withdraw our troops from Asia, that really gives me pause because this is serious stuff. The world, people are feeling, is unraveling. And people want to know, are we going to have another dissent into the horrors of the '30s or near dissent that we had in the '70s? Or are we going to right the ship?

MARTIN: But it sounds like you're saying that the comments, in and of themselves, that he's making aren't turning you off. In other words, you could get over it. If he seems to be evolving, if he can deliver more nuanced opinions in coming weeks and months, you could get on board...

FORBES: Well, he has a way - Donald Trump has a way of putting something out there that has you - your head pops up. Your eyes pop out. You fall back in your seat...

MARTIN: Do you think he does it on purpose?

FORBES: But then that's not enough. That gets your attention. OK, take it from there. It's like saying, I want to build a big new building. Well, that's very nice, but what do you have in mind? He's moved into a vacuum, and the other candidates have let him pretty much occupy that ground. And that's why Cruz - and Kasich, if he stays in - has to start putting real meat on the table, especially on the economy.

MARTIN: You say that Donald Trump has locked himself away in a vacuum. So what would you tell him? Is he not getting the kind of advice he needs to be getting?

FORBES: Well, he's - this is where you have to make some real hard decisions. He's gone very far, very fast in a way that no one would have predicted. And so the tendency is, I've gotten this far against all expectations; why should I change? But sometimes, when you get - it's like business. You reach a certain level of success. You say, I know what I'm doing. But as my father liked to say, if you think you've arrived, you're ready to be shown to the door.

MARTIN: What about the tenor of the campaign? Last week we saw the two leading Republican candidates, Trump and Cruz, spending a lot of time debating whose wife is prettier.

FORBES: Well, if - there again, that would've been almost a weird side issue if they had been debating. What to do we do about trade? What do we do about the tax code? What do we do about the unraveling we see in Europe? What do we do about the increasingly dangerous situation in Asia? Then people would say, ah, sideshow. Let's get back to the real issues. Instead, it became the headlines because what else was there? Nothing.

MARTIN: Steve Forbes is the editor of Forbes Magazine. His most recent book is titled, "Reviving America: How Repealing Obamacare, Replacing The Tax Code And Reforming The Fed Will Restore Hope And Prosperity." He joined us from our studios in New York. Mr. Forbes, thanks for taking the time.

FORBES: Thank you, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.