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'He's A Work In Progress': Former Reagan Adviser Joins Pro-Trump SuperPAC

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And now to another Republican who made another decision. Ed Rollins managed President Reagan's reelection campaign. He also worked on, among other campaigns, Ross Perot's third-party bid in 1992 and the Republican primary efforts of Mike Huckabee, Jack Kemp, Michele Bachmann. He's now signed on as a strategist for the pro-Trump super PAC Great America. Ed Rollins, welcome to the program.

ED ROLLINS: My pleasure, thank you.

SIEGEL: We've heard objections both to Donald Trump's politics and his character. Do you have any reservations on either score?

ROLLINS: You know, I think obviously that he's a work in progress. I think that he went out and took his case to the American public and did extremely well. I'm someone who believes in this party. I joined this party in 1972. I've seen good days and I've seen bad days with this party. And I think at the end of the day, what he does have is he's a very significant leader.

He's been very successful in whatever he's done. I think that he basically has gone on - pretty much expressed where he stands on foreign policy - a whole variety of issues - and people come out and voted for him. So I'm someone who believes in the process. I believe in the party. I think there's a clear differential between him and Hillary Clinton. And I can do it pretty easily.

You know, someone else would've ended up being the nominee, I probably would've supported them.

SIEGEL: Tell me about the super PAC. As of the end of March, you were $700,000 in debt. Do you find resistance among donors to funding a group that supports a candidate who's pretty unusual, unpredictable and has also largely self-funded his efforts so far?

ROLLINS: Well, it - up to this point, it's been self-funded. I think Mr. Trump and others have realized that it's a very, very expensive game today to run for president. You know, there's somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to $7 billion was spent on the two candidates the last time. And what a super PAC allows you to do is to raise money in more substantial sums than the $2,700, which is the FEC limit on the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump has not set up a fundraising apparatus.

He named a finance chairman today and obviously has a real catch up. And I have great confidence that he'll do that, and his campaign will be a very strong campaign. But at the end of the day, to compete and to do all the things that the Democrats will do against him, it's very important to have the ability to raise money quicker.

SIEGEL: You've said that Donald Trump has articulated his foreign policy views. One view that's disturbed his critics was suggesting that, say, Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear arsenals. That's worried some folks. I mean, do you regard that as a well thought out foreign policy? Or is this a man who, as detractors would say, is just totally inexperienced about these things?

ROLLINS: Obviously he's a man who's never held office before. He has great knowledge about a lot of things. And he will gain greater knowledge as he goes through here. He's not surrounded by a foreign-policy team, and he wasn't a United States senator or sitting someone in the White House getting (unintelligible) briefings. He'll get a lot of those now as the nominee of the party. And obviously, he's moderated those positions on the nuclear weapons.

And I think anybody that basically looks into it will. I don't speak for him in that sense. But my sense is that he'll have a very developed foreign policy in the very near future. I think what he's done, though, is he's gone out and he's captured the anger of the country. And this is a very unhappy country. And I think, to a certain extent, they're unhappy for a variety of reasons.

They don't think the government works, they don't think the presidency's been particularly effective. They don't think Mrs. Clinton will basically be any different than Mr. Obama. So my sense is he's captured that element. And I think he's going to be a very strong campaign in the fall.

SIEGEL: Trump's critics point to his mocking a man's physical disability, his insistence that thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated on 9/11 - something that no one's found any evidence of - his citing most recently a National Enquirer piece that linked Ted Cruz's father to JFK's assassin. People question the judgment of this man. You don't at all.

ROLLINS: I question the judgment of Mrs. Clinton, who's been around politics for a long period of time and would basically take classified documents and put them on a home computer. I question the policies of the Obama administration. So, I mean, it's a two-way street. You always make a choice between two people in the end of the day. And my choice is obviously Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: Ed Rollins, thanks for talking with us today.

ROLLINS: My pleasure, thank you.

SIEGEL: Ed Rollins, now with the pro-Donald Trump super PAC Great America, was Ronald Reagan's campaign manager. We earlier heard from Mark Salter, who was a top campaign strategist for John McCain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.