Highlights from “The Elephant in the Room” discussion

Rob joined 570 KVI host John Carlson, U.S. Senate candidate Chris Vance, and CWU political science professor and state Rep. Matt Manweller on June 30 for a KUOW-hosted panel discussion with moderator Ross Reynolds on the state of the Republican Party and its future. You can listen to the entire broadcast here. Approximate time stamps for the answers are in parentheses.

Volatile year for both parties
John Carlson
: “I think this is maybe the most exciting, unpredictable and volatile year since at least 1968, for both parties…[For the GOP] two models of governing that have served three administrations are dead this year. Big government conservatism, epitomized by both Bush administrations, is gone. It’s history. New World Order, planting democracy in other countries, emphasis on globalization, solving problems from Washington, D.C. with conservative principles – that’s not working any more. That model no longer exists.

“As for the Democrats, the Bill Clinton model of triangulating between the left wing of his party and the Republicans, that’s gone. We heard Hillary Clinton, of all people, running far to the left of her own husband’s legacy. If you want to see what I’m talking about, compare the 1996 Democratic platform, midway through the Bill Clinton administration, with the 2016 draft Democratic platform. They are two different parties.” (1:20)

Weak Congress elevates the other branches
Rob McKenna
: “A dysfunctional Congress is the greatest threat to representative democracy that we have because when Congress gets nothing done, in that vacuum two things happen: more power shifts to the president, the executive branch, to regulators who work for him or her; and more power shifts to the Supreme Court. I think it’s disturbing that we put so much emphasis – overly much emphasis – on the Supreme Court and the presidency, but we do that because Congress has become so weak.” (27:25)

Ripping on the Republicans who have blocked Obama’s agenda hasn’t helped
Matt Manweller
: “If I could identify the most undeserving victim of the 2016 primary, it’s ‘the establishment,’ right? The establishment – by which we mean people who are successful, have won, who have actually done the work of governing – have been pilloried by both groups in this political system…

“I am so sick of hearing – whether it’s Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or anybody else go – ‘Oh the establishment let you down.’ That’s baloney, okay? ‘Oh Boehner didn’t stand up to Obama.’ Baloney! Barack Obama has been a lame duck president since the passage of Obamacare. He has accomplished nothing in six years because the Republicans in Congress stood up to him and wouldn’t pass that legislation.

“But, because you have this mob-like mentality that says, ‘Well John Boehner didn’t repeal Obamacare,’ well I would say to that mob, ‘Please tell me how you repeal Obamacare without the president’s signature?’” (28:00)

Could Trump be a better dealmaker than Obama?
Rob McKenna
: “I think, compared to President Obama, he could conceivably do better because he does know how to negotiate, and President Obama couldn’t bring himself to negotiate with Republicans in Congress. And they tried. Boehner tried, Ryan has tried. He wouldn’t do it.

“And we shouldn’t be surprised that he wouldn’t do it because he had no track record of success as a member of the Senate or as an Illinois state legislator. He never accomplished anything of substance in his prior positions. Why would we suddenly expect him to become a brilliant dealmaker with Congress, a la Reagan or even Clinton – who at least, you know, was willing to adopt the agenda of Gingrich for welfare reform and other items, to get them done. He got things done because he could work with Congress. But not Obama. So in contrast to Obama, he’ll probably do better, and we certainly need that.” (35:40)

Trump’s rise fueled by how we now disagree
Matt Manweller
: “Donald Trump is a reaction to the shaming of disagreement. So, political debate used to take place in, ‘I believe I’m right, you believe I’m wrong, let’s look at the data, let’s argue.’ But political debate has shifted into more of a Hester Prynne, ‘If I disagree with you I’m going to make you wear a scarlet A on your chest, and then I’m not going to simply disagree with you, I’m going to shame you. I’m going to shame you on Facebook, I’m going to shame you on Twitter, I’m going to silence you with that shame. I’m then going to go after your business, I’m going to convince people, the shaming shifts to shunning, and now that I’ve shamed you, I’m going to try to convince everybody not to go to your restaurant, not to hire you.’ And so the shaming leads to the silencing of dissent.” (36:30)

Political correctness as a cudgel
John Carlson
: “Part of the appeal of Donald Trump is that he is aggressively anti-political correctness, that he is taking on the culture of political correctness that I think really is cancerous. Particularly in higher education, on some of our most elite campuses…in terms of ‘shunning’ – to use your term, Matt – free speech, in stifling free expression, in flattening what college campuses are there for, which is free expression and debate…We have a serious problem in this country in how political correctness has been used as a cudgel, as a weapon against people expressing themselves, debating, and discussing issues.” (39:00)

Factors in Trump’s rise
Chris Vance
: “This phenomenon has happened, I think, for three reasons. One, Donald Trump is Donald Trump. One of the best ways to get elected to any office is, start out rich and famous, okay? Name I.D. is not a problem. He’s a known quantity and he’s really good at what he does. He has tremendous skills at what he does, which is just promotion, branding.

“Second is an incredibly crowded primary. Hillary Clinton would have lost the nomination if there had been 15 Democrats running, I think. I think Bernie Sanders would have carved out his same niche and would have won. Donald Trump won because we had 17 people running and…he was able to pile up victories winning bare pluralities. If a few people had gotten out of the race, I think Marco Rubio would have been our nominee. And I think if Marco Rubio hadn’t screwed up one debate answer in New Hampshire, he probably would have been the nominee…

“But the third thing is this entire atmosphere out there of political correctness. I agree with that one thousand percent. I’m an adjunct professor at the University of Washington and I have lived with that.”
(40:21)

Is Trump’s current appeal enough to win?
Rob McKenna
: “I’m not optimistic he’ll become president because I don’t see how he can win with his fairly limited appeal. I hear this from people who come up and talk to me about Trump, and they say – very frequently what they say to me is, ‘You know, I don’t really like him, I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, but you know what, he says things that I think. I can’t say them, he says them.’ I don’t think that’s a big enough base to win the presidency in 2016.” (42:02)

The intellectual underpinnings of Trump
Chris Vance
: “A lot of Republicans disagree with me when I – they like to say, ‘Well you know there’s no intellectual underpinnings to this Trump movement, it’s all just whatever comes out of Donald’s mouth at any given…’ – I disagree. You listen to the people who are around him, the people who speak at warm-up acts at his rallies, there is an intellectual underpinning there which is anti-trade, isolationist foreign policy, nativist-bordering-on-racist, and those folks are going to say ‘Okay this is now what the Republican Party is supposed to be about.’ And whether Trump is around are not, they’re going to push for changing our party, and that will, I think, be the end of the modern Reagan Republican Party.” (47:30)

The global market is changing the parties
Rob McKenna
: “On the Democratic side you’ve got people who are very unhappy about the impacts of globalization and the downward pressure on the middle class, failure of growth in real income. And they’re reacting by supporting Sanders, saying ‘Well we need more redistribution. Give me more stuff.’ And on the right it’s reaction against trade, it’s a reaction against the establishment, and those folks are saying ‘It’s not working for me either,’ but they’re coming up with a different prescription and they’re listening to a different messenger.

“But in both cases the parties are under tremendous pressure to figure out how to lead in a world where America’s role has changed, where we no longer enjoy the hegemonic position that we enjoyed in a post-World War II, post-Bretton Woods world. And other countries that we helped rebuild have come up, first Japan and Germany and Europe, more recently countries like China and Brazil and others, and that’s putting tremendous pressure on us as well…

“Both parties are struggling to come up with a formula – because this is a representative government – that will bring back growth and prosperity, which will bring back the American Dream. The American Dream really is that my children will be better off than I was, than I’ve been. And that, most Americans have figured out, is not the case right now, and neither party has figured out how to answer that question or come up with a solution to it.” (49:00)

Trump’s character
Chris Vance
: “We as a party were horrified at the behavior of Bill Clinton in office. Imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. And the things he’s done and said in this campaign? My wife is a special education paraeducator. She works with little autistic kids in the Auburn school district. When he mocked that man who had the disability – and he wants to lead the party of Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln? We haven’t talked about it but that’s disqualifying to me.” (52:14)

Clinton’s character
John Carlson
: “Do I think Donald Trump is a flawed guy? Yeah, I do…But look who he’s running against: the most ethically challenged person in public life…One of the things about Trump is, he’s a streetfighter and he tells it like it is and he calls her a crook. And you know what? She is. If you’re going to call Richard Nixon a crook, you can call Hillary Clinton a crook.” (52:50)

We know what an irrelevant party looks like
Chris Vance
: “If Trump is just temporarily the leader of the party, and Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte are our future, well then we’ll be fine. But I’m not so sanguine about that reality. And of course the Republican Party’s not going to completely vanish, it’ll always be a center-right party. But look at the Republican Party today in California, where it is completely irrelevant because California is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the United States and we’ve completely alienated not only African-Americans but Hispanic-Americans, to the point where we don’t have a candidate running in the United States Senate. An open-seat race in the United States Senate and we couldn’t get a candidate in the Top Two, in their Top Two primary. That’s disgraceful.” (1:04:15)

Congress needs to reassert its prerogatives against the executive and judicial branches
Rob McKenna
: “The other thing that needs to happen is, leadership in Congress needs to get together across the aisle and say, ‘As an institution we need to defend ourselves against overreaching executive power and an overemphasis on the courts…’

There’s a reason Congress is laid out in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. And it’s going to take some legal reforms but it’s also going to take leadership stepping up and saying ‘We have to look at this as Americans, not just as Republicans and Democrats.’”

John Carlson: “Looking beyond politics and policy to structure, I think we have a problem in this country – too much power in the executive, not enough in the legislative branch, too much power in agencies and departments, not enough in the legislative branch. What I would really love to see is a president who was committed to swinging the authority back to Congress when it came to a lot of the decisions that are now being made by bureaucrats in the Environmental Protection Agency or by the president via executive order when he can’t get a bill through.” (1:07:15)

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