ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
Donald Trump's continued strength gives many establishment Republicans heartburn. To find out more about whether the Republican Party is prepared to stand behind a possible Trump nomination, we called former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. He's also former chairman of the Republican National Committee. When we got him on the phone, Barbour said this election campaign was one for the books.
HALEY BARBOUR: Nearly 50 years in presidential politics, and I never have seen anything like this.
WESTERVELT: Well, I wanted to get your take on why Trump is doing so well - I mean, with so many different kinds of voters, governor. In Nevada, entrance polls suggest he won women and male voters in every age group over 30. He won evangelicals and non-evangelicals. He was popular with very conservative voters and self-described moderate Republicans. What's going on here?
BARBOUR: Well, first of all, people are mad. People are disappointed, disgusted, unhappy - call it what you will, but there is a lot of anger with the federal government. This is not unique to Republicans. Bernie Sanders is - he has tapped into a vein in the Democratic Party as Donald Trump has in our party. But I think that's the biggest thing. I saw a writer say that Donald Trump is the way the American people are giving the middle finger to Washington.
WESTERVELT: Why did neither party see that middle finger coming?
BARBOUR: I think that people understood there was a lot of concern. And look, this is not people being irrational. This is the weakest recovery since the recession since World War II. I want - more than anything else, I want to elect a Republican president so that we won't have four more years of the failed policies of the Obama administration. So I intend to support the nominee of the party. And it's not my nomination to give, but you don't have to agree with me, and I trust the voters.
WESTERVELT: Governor, what do you say to GOP critics who say the Republican Party has helped create the Trump tiger by courting right-wing groups within the party winking at the Birther movement and regularly using strong anti-Obama rhetoric. Hasn't the GOP aided Trump's rise?
BARBOUR: I think what actually the GOP has done that aids Trump is that they let people's expectations get set too high. When they got a Republican Senate in '14, they thought OK, now the Republicans can run the government. Well, that's not the case. Republicans should have been more willing to say now look, y'all, it takes 60 votes. We're not making excuses, but we don't want you to expect things to happen that are not likely to happen that often.
WESTERVELT: If you were chair of the RNC right now, what would you do to try to unite this party that many say are on the edge of a civil war?
BARBOUR: Well, look - again, I don't want your listeners to have the impression that the Republicans have got all of these problems and the Democrats are just hunky dory. I can assure you there are millions of Democrats who are very concerned about the lurch to the left by Clinton and Sanders in seeking the nomination. I think that's a real concern for a lot of Democrats. So both parties are seeing electorates that are volatile, that are not doing exactly what would have normally been expected. And if I were party chairman, I would constantly try to get people to focus on how the country needs a change of policy, and the only way we can get it is to unite. And don't be about purity. Don't expect everybody to agree with you on everything. In the two-party system, purity is the enemy of victory.
WESTERVELT: Former Mississippi Governor and RNC Chair Haley Barbour, thanks so much for joining us.
BARBOUR: Thank you, Eric. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.