KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
All right, there, as Sarah Said, it was a strong day of words on the campaign trail. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us now to talk about what's been happening today. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: It seems as if the Republican establishment is waking up to the trashing that they've been taking from Donald Trump. Is that how you see it? Is that what's going on?
LIASSON: Well, I think what's going on is there's a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. And I think what we saw today in Mitt Romney's speech was finally, someone stood up and laid out, in a very comprehensive way, the case against Donald Trump. Why it took so long, why it wasn't one of the candidates is still a mystery, but that...
LIASSON: ...Is what's happening. And finally, you are seeing deep-pocketed Republican donors spending not just $1 million but many, many million dollars to run ads against Trump. And in some of the states on Super Tuesday where they did spend a lot of money, his margins did come down. So they're going to see if that will make a different over the next couple of week, and that's really all they have left.
What Romney is saying is something that is quite audacious - that the previous nominee of the Republican Party and the one before that, John McCain, are both telling Republicans not to support the current frontrunner for the Republican...
MCEVERS: In that party.
LIASSON: ...nomination who just recently called the previous Republican president a liar. We've never seen this before.
MCEVERS: OK, so Mitt Romney up there slamming Trump during his speech. There were also so guffaws about Trump from another prominent Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan. Tell us about that.
LIASSON: Well, Paul Ryan spoke at CPAC today, the big conservative meeting. And he was asked about Trumps' threatening remarks, saying that he expects to get along with Ryan. But if he doesn't get along with him, Ryan will, quote, "pay a big price." And he says, well, I don't really know Donald - the Donald. I guess that was a little bit of a poke at him. But he did say that he was worried that conservatism was being disfigured by some of Trump's ideas and statements. And he said I can only hope and assume that our nominee will want to enact our bold conservative agenda that we're going to be offering. That's almost a joke because Trump, of course, has come out with a series of positions that have nothing to do with conservatism or current Republican ideology.
MCEVERS: And we heard, you know, Trump's retorts today. I mean, he was basically dismissive of Romney's comments. I mean, does he really have anything to worry about here? I mean, he's been rolling to victory in nearly every state.
LIASSON: Well, I think he does have something to worry about. If the Republican establishment is going to come together with a strategy that will not so much give somebody else the 1,237 delegates you need to win but will stop him from getting that number of delegates on the first ballot - and what Romney really was arguing for was a contested convention. In other words, deny Trump...
LIASSON: ...The 1,237 he needs. Then you have to change some rules. And then somehow or other - the mechanisms are still a little mysterious - somebody else gets the nomination. Today, I'm even hearing that it wouldn't be Cruz or Kasich or Rubio but that Paul Ryan himself would be drafted. The Republican Party doesn't know what is going to happen.
MCEVERS: What do you think - I mean, quickly, is this a new low for discourse in American party politics?
LIASSON: But that's not new. It's been getting lower and lower. I think the big story today is what is going to happen to the Republican Party. It is now undergoing a hostile takeover of sorts, supported democratically, fair and square, by voters, by someone who disagrees with most of the basic tenants of modern Republicanism. Trump is going to remake the party in his own image. It's going to look like Donald Trump if he's the nominee. It's not going to look like what Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney want it to.
MCEVERS: Thanks so much, Mara. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.