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Watson panel debates ‘Future of the Republican Party’

Republican political analysts discuss party’s direction, division between party members

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Despite President Trump’s presidential victory and the Republican Party’s control of Congress, the future of the conservative movement and of the party itself remains uncertain. Republican political analysts discussed these uncertainties and the trajectory of American politics in Tuesday’s “The Future of the Republican Party” — part of the Watson Distinguished Speaker Series — sponsored by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy. The event was also co-sponsored by the Brown Democrats and the Brown College Republicans.

David Corn ’81, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, mediated the discussion between Mercedes Schlapp — Fox News contributor and political commentator for Spanish media — and John Weaver, a political consultant best known for his work on Sen. John McCain’s D-AZ 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns.

Throughout the discussion, the three panelists remarked on the current divide within the Republican Party. “There are two worlds,” Schlapp said. “There is a disconnect in America — the thinkers, the elites, are appalled by (Trump’s) actions,” Schlapp said. “Then there’s the guy working in a coal mine thinking, ‘Goodness, this guy’s fighting for me!’”

Supporters of Trump are pleased with his unconventional nature, Schlapp said, adding that attacks against the mainstream media and his opponents fuel his base. “They want him to step it up to go after Democrats and Republicans” alike, Schlapp said.

Though Republicans are currently conflicted over his policies and conduct, Trump’s connections to social conservatives and neoconservatives will mend divisions within the party, Schlapp said. Additionally, the president’s pro-life stance and nomination of conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court have been seen as attempts to reach out to the conservative movement, she added.

Weaver, however, was less confident in the future of the Republican Party based on Trump’s current approval ratings. “If his (approval) falls below 38 percent, Republicans are going to start separating,” Weaver said. “We are handcuffed to his success or failure at the moment.”

Weaver also voiced concern over the numerous controversies surrounding the six-week-old administration, particularly in regards to its controversial employment of “alternative facts.”

“If one of my clients asked me to go out and lie to the press or public, I would resign,” Weaver said. “The president owes it to all Americans — especially to those who voted for him — to tell the truth,” he added.

Schlapp juxtaposed what she considered bipartisan efforts on the part of Trump to former President Barack Obama’s inability to reach a middle ground in Congress. Weaver disagreed with her remarks and argued that former President George W. Bush acted more as a national unifier than either Obama or Trump.

Focusing on the 2018 elections, the panelists recognized the importance of the Hispanic vote in maintaining Republican control of national politics. Though the electoral map currently favors Republicans, future elections will depend on the success of Trump’s policies in Hispanic communities, Schlapp added.

Schlapp noted the impact Hispanics made in the most recent election, particularly in Florida, where over 50 percent of Cuban-Americans voted for Trump. Based on the strong Hispanic turnout in Florida, Weaver said the Republican Party needs to tailor its efforts to appeal to Hispanic voters in states like Texas.

Schlapp — herself a first-generation Cuban-American — emphasized that the future of the Republican Party hinges on expanding its Hispanic voter base, in addition to attracting other minorities to the party. “Trump cheered getting 35 percent of the Hispanic vote — that’s not good enough,” Schlapp said, adding that even Bush’s 45 percent was insufficient to guarantee the Party’s success in a country with shifting demographics. “The Republican Party shouldn’t be handing the Democrats these minority votes,” she said.