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With Haley set to drop out, Trump becomes the presumptive Republican nominee

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Trump claimed victory last night in nearly all of the Super Tuesday presidential primaries and caucuses.

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DONALD TRUMP: We're going to win this election because we have no choice. If we lose the election, we're not going to have a country left.

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INSKEEP: The former president spoke last night in Florida. In South Carolina, Nikki Haley is suspending her campaign today, confirming that Trump is almost certainly his party's nominee. His former opponents include North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who now supports the Trump campaign and is on the line. Governor, welcome.

DOUG BURGUM: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thanks for joining us. I really appreciate it. Of course, this is a moment when a party would try to unify if it can. Although our understanding is that Nikki Haley is not endorsing former President Trump at this time. What are you saying to the slice of Republicans who have concerns about Trump?

BURGUM: Well, this is a stark choice for America, and I think it's going to be easy. And it's not just people that maybe were Haley's supporters during the primary, but lots of Americans don't vote during primaries and primaries, as you know, in both parties, historically can be, you know, very bitter and divisive. Each party has a challenge to bring people together. But when it comes to November, it's going to be very simple. People are going to say, am I better - was I better off under President Trump or better off under President Biden? America has never had this choice. Essentially, we've got two incumbents running at the same time. And unfortunately for Mr. Biden, the - Americans are going to say, I was better off under Trump. The world was not at war. America was more prosperous. Our cities were safer. And our border was more secure. And I think these are the issues that are going to really drive voter sentiment. I think it shows up. That's why President Trump is leading in the polls right now.

INSKEEP: It is. And there are some polls that show Trump ahead. I was just looking at a whole bunch of them yesterday. There's some that show Biden slightly ahead. There's some that are tied. And we'll see how things shake out in the days to come. You're correct, Governor, that Americans can look at four years of Trump and four years of Biden and make a comparison. There is something larger, though, going on that is part of that. And we heard about that from Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor, also a Republican presidential candidate at one time, who has various differences on issues with Mr. Trump but also has a larger concern. He thinks Trump is wrong on democracy. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.

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ASA HUTCHINSON: I think there's a high risk that he would assume more powers than our Constitution gives the executive branch. In other words, I think there are risks there. Last night was a good example in some ways that he just wanted an incredible election across multiple states. And his victory speech included attacking the election system, saying it's a third-world country that we have.

INSKEEP: Governor Burgum, it is true that former President Trump tried to overturn the election that he lost. And in more recent times, he made remarks about how he won't be a dictator except on the first day. He wants to change the amount of power the president would have over the executive branch. How do you answer those concerns for yourself as an American? How do you reassure yourself, if at all?

BURGUM: Oh, for me, it's fairly simple, Steve, because as a governor of North Dakota, which is a big agriculture, big energy and big national security state, is that I've had an opportunity to serve under President Trump and now under President Biden. And I think these - all this democracy stuff is completely overblown because with Congress at a complete gridlock, the executive branch has to go to executive orders to get it done. And President Biden, through rulemaking efforts that have never gone through Congress at all - I mean, we're under assault in North Dakota. We're fighting back on over 20 federal rule-making efforts. You know, any one of those could cause serious damage to national energy security, national security, our agriculture or food security. It is just red tape on top of red tape, which is driving inflation in America, raises the cost of every product. And of course, some of it is driven by ideology, because the Biden administration thinks that we have to have a rapid energy transition as opposed to a sensible energy transition.

INSKEEP: I get it. I want to push back on that a little bit. I first want to grant what you said, that President Biden at times has gone beyond what it seems he can get away with. The Supreme Court pushed him back on student loans and various other things. Those things are being argued out within the republican, small-R republican system that we have. Are you confident, though, that Donald Trump would stay within that system, even though he's pretty fairly explicitly said he would not?

BURGUM: Well, I think that what we have today, if people want to see, you know, a - stresses against democracy, all you have to do, as I say, look at the Biden administration. Because these executive orders mean - the Supreme Court told Joe Biden, you know, you can't erase 100 or $500,000,000 billion of student loan debt. And he erased 136 billion already. I mean, and that's inflationary. And that's just a - that's one of the largest pre-election political payoffs. It's just basically saying you don't owe us this money anymore. Somebody else will pick up the tab because the debt doesn't go away. It just transfers to the country. So the rest of us pick up somebody else's $136 billion of debt.

INSKEEP: Understood. Would Trump follow the Constitution? Understood. Would Trump follow the Constitution?

BURGUM: I believe so. He did when he was the president last time. And so I think, again, they're trying to use this as a wedge because they're concerned on the issues that matter to Americans - inflation, economy, border, national security. Joe Biden has been weak. He's been weak overseas. He's been appeasing our enemies. His energy policies have empowered Iran, Russia, Venezuela. They've all been able to turn into discount gas stations for China. And we're in a really serious situation worldwide. And I think that the Americans are saying, we've got to have someone who's going to be strong on the border, strong at home, strong on the economy, and strong on national security.

INSKEEP: One other point I want...

BURGUM: With Joe Biden, we don't have that.

INSKEEP: Understood. And I'll just be clear, I'm not trying to use anything as a wedge. I am asking questions as an American. I got a chance to talk earlier today with Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio host who's been an occasional guest on this program from time to time. And here's how he assessed Trump's electoral prospects this fall. Let's listen.

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HUGH HEWITT: He does need to work on suburban women, all right. The best way to do that is with the crime issue, which is real. And with the education issue, which is number 2 or 3 on those people's...

INSKEEP: Does abortion cost those suburban women for Republicans, kind of irrevocably in some cases?

HEWITT: He has lost some women irrevocably. I know some who he's lost irrevocably. On the other hand, people vote their self-interest, and they especially vote the interests of their children.

INSKEEP: Hewitt said Trump can emphasize other issues, like immigration and crime, where people may feel insecure. In about 20 seconds or so, how would you have former President Trump address that specific question about abortion?

BURGUM: Well, I think that Hugh Hewitt is right. I think that there is a set of issues here. I think the Republican Party is stepping back from this issue. They're saying that the issue of reproductive rights belongs at the states. And I think that the suburban women in those swing counties are going to be voting on public safety and on are they safe and on education. I think Hugh Hewitt's right. And I think Republicans are going to win on those issues.

INSKEEP: Governor, thanks very much for taking the questions. I really appreciate it. Hope we talk with you again.

BURGUM: Thank you, Steve, thanks for having me on.

INSKEEP: Doug Burgum is a former presidential candidate and governor of North Dakota. 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.

Corrected: March 5, 2024 at 10:00 PM MST
An earlier version referred to North Carolina Governor Doug Burgum. He is, in fact, the governor of North Dakota.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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