You can bump into a lot of people in the lobby at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire at the height of a frenzied primary season. Jim Braude and Margery Eagan would know. They've set up shop there to broadcast live primary coverage through Tuesday evening, and today, none other than famed Boston-based broadcaster Mike Barnicle—former Boston Globe columnist and contributor to "Morning Joe" on MSNBC—joined them on set to give his perspective on this year's colorful presidential race.
MARGERY EAGAN: Mike Barnicle, you were covering all over the place in Iowa. Anything surprise you out there? Surprised at the closeness between Hilary and Sanders? At Trump not coming in first?
MIKE BARNICLE: I was surprised Hillary managed to eke out a victory over Bernie Sanders. The first two or 3 days I was there, I thought Sanders was going to win by 5 or 6 points. I was not surprised at Trump losing because of the phrase he said he didn’t know what it means: ground game. He had very little, especially compared to Ted Cruz who is…he is a very scary guy, surrounded by scary people.
JIM BRAUDE: What do you mean by that?
[Ted Cruz] is so far out of the mainstream in terms of how people lead their ordinary lives. It has nothing to do with right or left. It has to do with intensity.
BARNICLE: He is so far out of the mainstream in terms of how people lead their ordinary lives. It has nothing to do with right or left. It has to do with intensity. This is just me. The intensity he bring to his belief in God—which is great, good for him—but the intensity, he levels it out there to you, is discomforting to a lot fo people. He’s also a fraud.
EAGAN: Why do you say he’s a fraud?
BARNICLE: No one can act like that, behave like that, speak like that, there's a level of fraudulence there, I think, above the typical level of fraudulence you see in candidates.
BRAUDE: You’re not quite ready to endorse him yet, then. Unlike two of us and the majority of us in America, we only know Donald trump from afar….[what’s your take?]
BARNICLE: I think he got in it with the intent of marketing himself. He’s a genius marketer. I think as soon as he got in, it or shortly after he got in it, he looked around and said, "whoa, I could do this. These guys are not up to what I am up to."
BRAUDE: How much of this does he believe? He is, more than anything else, the most brilliant opportunist of our time. Does he believe what he’s saying, or does he believe in the show and is it opportunism?
BARNICLE: I think a lot of it in the beginning—and still today—people are attracted to him because of what you just said: the show. He’s got the best show. You go see him, 5,000 to 10,000, to 15,000 people, and it's like a stand-up act for an hour. I’ve never encountered anyone, seen anyone, witnessed anyone in politics at that level who's able to pick up the signals and learn as quickly as he has. He can turn on a dime. Look at what he’s done in this campaign. In the first debate, he turned to Jeb Bush and said: "you know, you’re a low energy guy." Boom. Stuck right at him. Stuck right on Jeb Bush. Maybe in the same debate, he turned to Rand Paul and said, "Rand, you know, you’re having a bad night." Boom. Done. That wasn’t one of his Tweets, one of his insults, it was an observation. It’s been amazing to watch.
Donald [Trump] is always on. He's on at a couple of different levels. He is different when he doesn't have one of these things, a microphone, in front of him or a TV camera in front of him.
EAGAN: You have known him and had regular guy-to-guy conversations with him. When you talk with him, is he like: “it’s going to be great, gonna build a wall, they’re going to pay for it.” He talks like that one-on-one?
EAGAN: What you see is what you get?
BARNICLE: Absolutely. "You know the golf course I built out in Queens, you've gotta play, it’s the greatest golf course ever, I did it all by myself, city couldn’t do it, I saved the city lots of money, go out and play there for free. Go out there." No, I don’t want to play for free, Donald. I don’t want to go out and play.
EAGAN: Is it like any kind of real conversation with someone? Or is it just like 'sell, sell, sell?'
BARNICLE: Donald is always on. He’s on at a couple of different levels. He is different when he doesn’t have one of these things, a microphone, in front of him or a TV camera in front of him. He’s different. He changes quite a bit when you put a microphone or a TV camera in front of him. He is not nearly, I think, a lot of people think he’s meanspirited when they see him on TV. He’s not nearly like that in person. He’s like any other human being. He’s a complex guy.
EAGAN: You’re a good Catholic, Mike Barnicle. You think Donald Trump is a good big church guy that really knew anything about the Corinthians?
BARNICLE: No. No. Two Corinthians walk into a bar? No.
EAGAN: I’m suspicious about a lot of his claims in the GOP primary which is, of course, a lot more conservative.
I want to know where we're going. I know where we've been. If you drive looking in the rearview mirror, you're going to hit a bridge abutment.
BARNICLE: You should be suspicious of some of his claims. You should be suspicious of almost every candidate, both Republican and Democrat, who is running. The thing that’s amazed me about the campaign thus far is that it’s been so internecine warfare between the candidates. I want to know where we’re going. I know where we’ve been. If you drive looking in the rearview mirror, you’re going to hit a bridge abutment. I want to know where you want to take us. Hillary, Bernie, you know, Rubio, Bush, Donald. Where are we gonna go? Where are my kids going to go? We’re living in a fractured country.
BRAUDE: I think you take more of a sense of direction, whether you buy it or not, from the Democratic side than you get in the food fight of the Republican side. But in fairness the Republicans…are doing some variation on that.
BRAUDE: I would tell you this, Jim, and it’s only anecdotal, because everything I do is anecdotal—it’s not cut-and-paste and looking at volumes of research. For years and year and years, every four years, I have two or three places I go in New Hampshire to measure what might happen on Primary Day, the presidential primary. One of those places is in Nashua. I spent five or six hours yesterday in Nashua. You pick up a distinct vibe from people in Alec's Shoe Store in Nahua, that the battle, the word battle between Trump and Cruz has hurt them both. They’re both falling…I don’t know whether that will be borne out in any polls or on Election Day, but you do get the sense they’re both falling.
EAGAN: I want to know if, when you were down in Nashua for five hours, they knew you had called New Hampshire Arkansas with snow?
BARNICLE: Oh yes...I started that in 1976 during the primaries and every four years…once you get a hit, you keep playing that hit.
Mike Barnicle is a print and broadcast journalist. To hear more from Barnicle, tune into Boston Public Radio above. This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.