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Clinton Is 'More Conservative Choice': Longtime Republican Crosses Party Lines

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now two different responses to the Trump conundrum. What do you do if you've been active in Republican presidential campaigns and you've just witnessed what some call a hostile takeover of the GOP? Well, in a few minutes, we'll hear from a former campaign manager for Ronald Reagan who signed up with a pro-Trump super PAC.

But first, Mark Salter, who was a senior adviser to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. He worked with Sen. McCain for many years and collaborated with him on several books. He now says that he will vote for Hillary Clinton. Mark Salter, welcome to the program.

MARK SALTER: Thanks for having me, Robert.

SIEGEL: And in brief, why cross the aisle, figuratively, to support Clinton?

SALTER: I think she's the more conservative choice - not a conservative but a more conservative choice than Trump and the least irresponsible choice I could make. It's not just his politics because, frankly, I don't know what Trump's politics are. I don't think Trump has any politics. It strikes me this is just an ego trip for him and a score-settling experience.

And he says some things that he wants to do as president, most of which are alarming - you know, slapping a 45 percent tariff on imported goods, getting us out of NATO, encouraging other nations to acquire nuclear arsenal. All those things are alarming. I don't think he'd be able to do any of those things. But I think it reflects an ignorance that I think make him unfit for the office.

SIEGEL: I was going to ask you, is it about policies or about character? And what I'm hearing you - the answer is yes is what you're saying.

SALTER: Yeah, it's yes. The things he says he wants to do, I don't think he cares if he does them or not. He couldn't do most of them. I mean, a 45 percent tariff on imported goods would plunge most of the economies in the world into a depression, including ours. Nuclear proliferation is something that both parties have agreed to oppose. There's no dissenting view ever until Trump thought it would be a good idea if other people just got their own nukes and stopped depending on us.

That kind of stuff is just nonsensical, and I'm sure he would be dissuaded from it. It says something about him that he would want to do it. And I've likened it to his view of the world. And his view of domestic policy is like a - some drunk in a bar's rant, you know? It's just - it's nonsensical.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about the ease or difficulty of making your sentiments public here. You worked with Sen. McCain for almost 20 years. He was famously a maverick, but he also, after a pretty dirty fight, loyally support George W. Bush for president in 2000.

SALTER: Yeah, right.

SIEGEL: How hard is it to say, publicly, I'm voting for the Democrat?

SALTER: For me, you know, it's - I've never voted for a Democrat for president before. It's the first time. I've never had a cause to. The guy I worked for had a pretty spirited campaign against George W. Bush in 2000, but it wasn't a problem for me to vote for Bush in the general. But Trump is, I mean - I guess it comes down to I think he's unfit for the office.

He's psychologically, temperamentally unfit for the office and that he would be a danger to the country.

SIEGEL: You were quoted by Time Magazine speaking of Trump as saying he's an awful human being. He appeals to a sliver of the country that mystifies me.

SALTER: Well, Robert, I always - when people ask me why I said that, I said, OK, if you knew some jerk just in private life who made fun of a man's disability, would you want that guy for a neighbor or a friend or a coworker or a boss or in your church? No, you'd think he was a jerk and you'd want nothing to do with him. That's who Donald Trump is. That's what Donald Trump did.

SIEGEL: From what I'm hearing, I mean, your sense of Donald Trump is such that even if Hillary Clinton put Bernie Sanders on the ticket, you're not going to vote for Donald Trump?

SALTER: I'm not going to vote for Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: How about your vote for Hillary Clinton? Is that equally solid or could she do things...

SALTER: No, if I have a responsible third independent choice or something, I will vote for that person. As long as the practical effect of that vote would not redound to the benefit of Donald Trump. I think the most important thing to do is to exercise my franchise in the most effective way possible to stop this guy from being president.

SIEGEL: That's Mark Salter who was a senior adviser to John McCain, a strategist for his presidential campaign, who says he'll vote for Hillary Clinton this time. Mark Salter, thanks a lot for talking with us.

SALTER: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.