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Trump Pivots Toward A Presidential Image In Primary Results Speech

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In the wee hours of this morning, Bernie Sanders told a cheering crowd here in California, quote, "the American people will never support a candidate whose major theme is bigotry." We expect to hear that description of Donald Trump from Democrats. But listen to what Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said yesterday. He was talking about Trump's claim that the federal judge presiding over the Trump University case could not be fair because of his Mexican heritage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: Claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It's absolutely unacceptable.

MONTAGNE: That was Paul Ryan. And let's talk about all of this with Roger Simon. He's a screenwriter and novelist here in LA and a Trump supporter who joined us in our studio here at NPR West. Good Morning. Welcome to the studio.

ROGER SIMON: Thanks to be here.

MONTAGNE: And I gather you've also been traveling with Donald Trump on the stump.

SIMON: Yes.

MONTAGNE: So you're pretty familiar with what people are saying and responding to him.

SIMON: Oh, most definitely.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask you this. How big of a problem has Donald Trump got with leaders of his own party, but also the other side, who are calling his rhetoric these days racist?

SIMON: Well, it's a very interesting problem because - look, I'm an ex-civil rights worker, actually, from the '60s. And if Donald Trump were, in my view, a racist, I'd be running the other way like a madman. I don't think he's really a racist. What - how - Trump does have a problem, however. And it's a kind of a signal-to-ground problem. Everything he's ever done is of such importance to him that he responds automatically and rapidly and often hostilely. I don't think he's really so much a racist as he is this hot-flash person who's got to learn to cool down because part of being a president is staying calm.

MONTAGNE: Well, you could be speaking for Hillary Clinton. One of her charges - and I take it that she will be carrying through with this throughout the campaign - is he doesn't have the temperament to be a president. How is he going to handle that?

SIMON: He did pretty well yesterday at the end of the primary because he gave a speech that was pretty presidential and quite calm. He just has to stay that way.

MONTAGNE: We have a short clip of that. Why don't we take a listen to Donald Trump?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You've given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle.

MONTAGNE: So...

SIMON: Look, the truth of the matter is that we are in a terrible election right now. We have one man who's a hothead against a woman who's probably criminal. I mean, it's - it's a very bad - it's an awful situation for our country. It really is. However, I - what I would rather see is a real, serious discussion of the issues.

MONTAGNE: To the issue of getting to the issues, you're here - again, you're echoing Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, who said yesterday he'd like to see his party's nominee start talking about policy.

SIMON: Well, you know, Trump claims he wants to, too. And he did it in that speech. However, the problem is he has that signal-and-noise issue all the time. He's got to learn to conquer that. I mean, he's capable of doing it because he does it. But then, all of a sudden, he explodes.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about, though, if this is truly who he is and who many of his supporters love - when do voters get specifics?

SIMON: Well, I think he's given us some specifics, and we'll probably get more. He has a financial - a tax program that's quite specific. He worked with Arthur Laffer. And it's there. You can read online. I mean, people like to think he doesn't have it, but he does. I mean, on other things, he isn't specific enough.

MONTAGNE: Can he change, given that his off-the-cuff flavor, his outspokenness has been such an asset to him? And he's even addressed that. It's a point of pride for him it seems.

SIMON: Well, it's an interesting balance. It's a balance question, actually, what you're asking. And, you know, I think that people who like Trump want Trump to remain Trump to some degree. Maybe he has to compromise some of the time and be Trump some of the time. And it's a - it's a - it's a hard thing.

MONTAGNE: Roger Simon, you're a screenwriter as well as a conservative. Why are you personally interested in Donald Trump?

SIMON: Yes, well, I'm not a conventional conservative at all. First of all, I was almost fully on the left when I was young, so I just call it as I see it. And I thought that Trump, at his best, is the most interesting thing around and that he had the most potential to make real change in a country that's become somewhat moribund. And he has a chance to shake things up a bit. And I admit that that's the old bohemian in me, too, because I like to see things - like Jefferson famously said - what? - every 10 years there should be a revolution. Well, I think, you know, there should be. But I'd like a free-market revolution because I don't believe in socialism.

MONTAGNE: Roger Simon is the author of the forthcoming book, "I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn't Already." Thank you very much.

SIMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.