There are few who understand the havoc that Donald Trump has wreaked on the Republican Party better than Mike DuHaime, Sarah Isgur Flores, David Kochel and Terry Sullivan. All top operatives for Trump’s primary season opponents, the four of them watched from the front row as the real estate mogul tore through decades of Republican gospel to emerge as the party’s nominee in July.
With Election Day approaching, we convened these GOP gurus for a discussion—moderated by POLITICO’s chief political correspondent, Glenn Thrush—about the future of their party post-November 8. We asked them what everyone seems to be wondering: Does 2016 and the rise of Trump signal some massive paradigm shift for Republicans? What should the party do about the nominee’s anti-establishment base? And how can it regain the significant chunks of the electorate—women, minorities, immigrants—that the man at the top of the ticket has driven away?
While all agreed Trump is an aberration, rather than a new normal, they were divided as to how well the party would bounce back after what they presumed (at the time of the conversation) would be a significant Electoral College loss. The GOP can survive, they all said, and even thrive. But that is only if party leadership learns the right lessons from 2016: Reject the dog-whistlers, adapt to a younger and more diverse electorate, and find some way to work with Democrats—yes, even Hillary Clinton.
This conversation, which took place on October 21, has been condensed and edited.
Glenn Thrush: To what extent do you think that this election represents a real paradigm shift in the future of the party? Or do you think this is an aberrational moment precipitated by Trump?
David Kochel, former chief strategist for Jeb Bush: I think the party is always one nominee away from a major paradigm shift, to the positive or to the negative. The nominee of a party has a tremendous amount of sway over how the national conversation goes in this intense period of time in the midst of a general election. Trump shades and clouds what has really been going on in the party, where you have a lot of up-and-coming leadership and a very deep bench that is very diverse—from Susana Martinez to Marco Rubio to Nikki Haley. Across the board we’ve got a broad, diverse party running in all kinds of states, with positive conservative governance.
So, I think this is anomalistic. You can lay the blame a lot of different places. The Trump phenomenon will do damage to the party, certainly, and there is a lot of repair work that needs to be done. We can see it in all the crosspaths now: the view that women and Hispanics and African-Americans have of our party has taken a pretty strong hit. But I do think that there’s a tremendous amount of power in the ability of a nominee who runs an aspirational campaign to take a message of hope and opportunity and actually transform the party.
Sarah Isgur Flores, former deputy campaign manager for Carly Fiorina: I think what David said about any party is one nominee away from major changes is always true. I think that this time Trump’s legacy is tempered by the fact of what happens in the Senate. So, if Republicans have 49 seats on November 9th in the Senate and we head into Virginia, which will be a $50 million race [if Democrat Tim Kaine, the sitting senator, is elected vice president], that will be a second chance for the Republican Party to decide what it’s going to be moving forward.
I absolutely think Trump has changed the Republican Party in the sense that we will have to grapple with what just happened, and we will have a discussion as a party about where we’re going next. We’ve been having that discussion for eight years.
Mike DuHaime, chief strategist for Chris Christie: I think it’s fairly an anomaly. I certainly expect that Trump will lose, and I think he is probably going to be an anomaly. If he wins, actually, quite frankly, I think we have much more to grapple with in terms of what our party looks like going forward. [Laughter]
Assuming he doesn’t win, then I think what we’re going to see will be some challenges in 2018—some Trumplike challenges to incumbents, both in the House and the Senate. My guess would be most of the incumbents will win. I think it’s going to be very hard for people who aren’t Donald Trump to replicate Donald Trump’s victory. He was able to do it in a 17-way primary. He actually got a smaller percentage of the vote than Bernie Sanders did in the Democratic primary. But as we all learned the hard way, in a group of candidates that were, you know, all—many elected officials, he stood out. He was willing to say things that are costing him the general election in order to win the primary.
I think other people will try to do that and replicate that in 2018. That will be a moment in time for our party to decide what it’s going to be long term. And, at that time, I think you’ll see a little bit more order in the party as we look toward the future—and we’ll forget about this moment in our party’s past.
Terry Sullivan, former campaign manager for Marco Rubio: Donald Trump is an overcorrection by the base of our party from feeling misled by the elites of the party. We took back Congress—the base, the Tea Party, took back Congress in 2010, and John Boehner became speaker of the House. Not exactly a Tea Party movement conservative. Then the argument became to the base, look, we need to take back the Senate because then we really can repeal Obamacare. Look, we haven’t done anything to repeal Obamacare in the Senate.
And so finally it got to the point where the party elite, a lot of the, I guess, more thoughtful, big-picture movement conservatives, National Review, places like that, said, “Hey, watch out for this guy. This guy’s bad. He’s not one of us.” And the base of the party said, “Screw you. You’ve been lying to us for the last, you know, how many election cycles? We’re going to try something different, and this guy’s really different.”
I think the interesting thing on why he’ll be an outlier, an exception and not the rule, is from a very smart national operative based out of Minnesota. Going into the Minnesota caucuses, he said, “Look, you know, Trump’s not going to win there.” Why do you think that? And he said, “Hands down, because they’ve lived through Jesse Ventura. And living through Jesse Ventura is enough to know you can’t do this crap again.”
And so, I think that right now it’s a binary choice in a lot of the base’s mind. It is either “lyin’, cheatin’ Hillary” or Donald Trump. And it has understandably put a lot of Republicans, good Republicans, in a position to say, “I just can’t be for Hillary Clinton.” But once it’s no longer a binary choice, it becomes, wait, in a vacuum, “Yeah, that’s a bad guy. This is not who we want the face of our party to be.”
I mean, think about how four years ago, less than four years ago, there was an autopsy on how we needed to be the kinder, gentler, more inclusive Republican Party—and we end up with Donald Trump.
Thrush: How many times have we heard since 2010, or even before 2010, that there was going to be a “touch the stove” moment—where people were going to start behaving rationally? Isn’t it clear that there are irreconcilable poles in the Republican Party? We have the primal-scream Trump folks, and then we have people who are in all other kinds of categories—moderates, establishment types, Chamber of Commerce Republicans.
We’ve heard the term “civil war” bandied about a bit, but do you think these two poles can be reconciled?
Kochel: We have to be able to say the truth about certain parts of the party, people who have emerged in this campaign, and say, you know, we reject the dog whistle language—polarizing messaging isn’t welcome in the party. We have to be able to do that. If we don’t do that, then there’s really no ability for us to go forward and win elections.
You can disagree with the kind of focus-group-tested language that you use to try and position a party. But the fact is the most popular baby name in Texas over the last several years, I think probably six or seven years, is Jose. That’s a red state, by the way, and it’s starting to change, as you can see from the polls this week. If we don’t deal with the realities that the country is getting younger and more diverse while our party is getting older and whiter, we’re not going to have a party.
Thrush: But the problem is: The older, whiter people are not on board with making this transition, right?
DuHaime: I’ll disagree with the premise of that. I think that’s a broad generalization, and maybe you’re talking specifically about looking at some of the results of the primary. But as I said, the majority of primary voters didn’t go in this direction [voting for Trump], and certainly the majority of people who identify as Republican or even Republican-leaning Independents who vote in general elections I don’t think agree with that. I think the majority of folks are willing to make those changes, and that’s why we’ve had incredible success in governors’ races; we control the Senate; we control the House, more than 30 governors, more state legislatures than we’ve had in, I don’t know, 90 years.
Thrush: So, your guy—Chris Christie—is the guy who’s very good at sort of channeling anger and visceral emotion into policy. How do you capture that Trump element of the fighter? Isn’t that kind of what people want out of Trump? Don’t you need candidates who capture the anger more than a demographic?
DuHaime: I think [Republican voters] certainly want an element of a fighter. And I think when you go back, especially to a lot of the prominent Republicans now who were elected in 2009, 2010, there was a backlash, I think, to President Obama and kind of some one-party rule, the unwillingness of the Democrat Party to work with the Republican Party. As somebody who runs races predominantly in kind of blue states, to say that they could not get one Republican member of Congress or one senator even to sign onto Obamacare is a complete failure of leadership on their part, and it precipitated this—that set in motion this desire to have fighters. And then we got fighters, and there was a lot of Tea Party folks who got elected on the premise of, “We’re not going to work with them. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to not work with them.”
From there forward, you can find fault in both parties that led to frustration at the elite. We didn’t do anything. We couldn’t repeal it. We couldn’t actually work together on something that maybe we potentially could agree on, something we wanted to have happen, like the Keystone Pipeline. So, we couldn’t repeal any of the bad stuff. We couldn’t get any of the good stuff done. And that led to a tremendous amount of frustration, which I think is part of where Trump’s success came in during the primary, but I think only part of it.
And I do think going forward, depending on the election here, I think probably both parties are going to behave a lot differently than they did in the first few years of the Obama administration. I think you might actually see the party work together—the parties, plural—work together in a way that, quite frankly, we haven’t for eight years.
Sullivan: I disagree a little bit with Mike on this. Whether we like it or not, the beginning of the 2020 presidential Republican primary race, if it hasn’t begun—I think Ted Cruz began it already—will start the day after the election. And I think that opposition to Hillary is going to be—think about how polarizing of an individual she is that she’s making otherwise rational human beings defend Donald Trump. I don’t see there being anyone that I know that will reach out and work with her from a policy standpoint, an elected official, that would feel safe to do it.
Thrush: She was really able successfully as a senator in 2000—and I observed this—reaching across the aisle, she went to the prayer meetings and stuff. You don’t really think that she’s going to be able to work the Senate?
Sullivan: I just don’t think it; I just don’t see it. She may have some progress, some luck in the Senate. I don’t know where, but she may have some. She’ll have none in the House.
Kochel: I’m going to disagree a little bit with Terry on this. I think he is right that the typical reaction to Hillary Clinton among Republicans is one of absolute antipathy. But, I think we’re all wearing hats looking forward to what does the party do after 2016? How do we, you know, sort of reorient toward 2020? What kind of field are we going to have? And what sort of nominee will emerge to run against her? I mean, this is an election right now that we should have won. 2020 in no uncertain terms will be an election that we absolutely should be able to win and must win.
I think there are a lot of things that they could try to figure out how to do to just lower the temperature a little bit on Washington, because it’s not helping our parties to have the kind of boiling anger toward Washington, D.C.
And I get frustrated with this language about the elites versus the non-elites—I understand why it’s there, and I understand the establishment thing. Like I’m supposedly an establishment elite; you know, I’m born in a town of 2,000 people in Story City, Iowa. The truth is we’ve got to stop calling each other things that really aren’t important to our background and our character. You’ve got elected officials from all over the country with very diverse backgrounds. We’ve got all kinds of people that aren’t just Wall Street-tied bankers and monied elites and educated at the best institutions. But we’ve got to turn that temperature down. And I think, you know, if you look at people like Rob Portman, you look at people like Kelly Ayotte, even Marco, Nikki Haley—I mean, there are a lot of people who can find some agreement that will hopefully start solving a few of these problems, and going at immigration in a piecemeal way would be the best and first place to start, I think.
And if the Democrats want to quit using it as a cudgel to beat our candidates, I think you’d find some people willing to work with them. We’ll have to break the Hastert rule. We’ll have to abandon the Freedom Caucus in the House. But there is no doubt in my mind that there’s an appetite by a lot of people in the party, even some of the most conservative people in the party on immigration, who want to see some steps taken toward solving the problem. I mean, I gave Marco Rubio a ton of credit a few years ago, you know, the Gang of Eight. That’s clearly not the right answer now to go forward, but somebody’s going to have to have the courage to start addressing these things; otherwise, we’re going to be hogtied for a long time.
Thrush: Sarah, one of the things I wanted to talk to you about is we’re dealing with a historic gender gap here. We’re dealing with a candidate here who has a historically terrible relationship with women voters, particularly when you sort of climb up the educational ladder, right?
Flores: He has a historically terrible gap with a number of different groups of voters, but women are one of them. I think talking policy when you talk about Donald Trump misses the point a little bit, because Donald Trump is not a policy candidate. He’s a personality candidate. And I think at the same time he has highlighted cracks in the policy framework of the Republican Party that we’ve all been working under since the Reagan years.
Nancy French wrote this courageous piece in the Washington Post about how she as a woman in the evangelical movement feels betrayed by fellow evangelicals who are defending—not just voting for Trump but defending Donald Trump—with some of the problems he’s having with women. He’s made fractures on a lot of other issues as well—immigration, for instance.
I think he’s a reality television candidate in a generation that’s really used to that kind of access to the people that they watch on television. And I think that, moving forward, you’re going to need candidates that can speak more to them, that actually have the courage to say things that they believe that aren’t focus tested, that run their own social media. That act more like human beings and less like political candidates that have been perfectly, you know, the bow tied on them ready for prime time.
Thrush: Do you think—having worked for a very forceful, fairly successful female candidate in this cycle—do you think women candidates would be in any way dissuaded from jumping into a Republican primary considering how nasty things had gotten in 2016?
Flores: I actually think you may see the opposite. You may see—a lot of women see this and say, “You know what? These guys have no clue what they’re doing.” [Laughter]
There were a lot of “gimmes” in the last six months that just went flying by, and you see someone like Hillary Clinton on that debate stage—and, obviously, I worked for Carly Fiorina, so I hear people who supported Carly and are just banging their heads against the nearest wall that Carly Fiorina isn’t up there debating Hillary because there were so many easy moments that Donald Trump let go by, either due to lack of preparation or just a lack of understanding of how to speak like a conservative.
But I think a lot of women may step forward and see an opportunity in the Republican Party. And I think that’s a pitch that Republicans should actually make: Yes, our party’s having this conversation, we’ve highlighted fractures within our party, women in particular, but a whole lot of people who’ve been left out of these top-tier conversations within the conservative movement, come on board because you now have a seat at the table.
Thrush: One of the questions that everyone is asking is: Does Trump-ism, whatever the heck that is, outlive Trump? And what you hear Democrats saying—Democrats have been really shaken by the Trump phenomenon, obviously—but is there the possibility that a competent Trump emerges who has a lot of the same themes that Trump has?
Sullivan: That’s an oxymoron, “competent Trump.” [Laughter]
Look, Donald Trump stole Chris Christie’s oxygen because he came across as more of a straight shooter. That was Governor Christie’s angle. And so, for that personality politics—to your point, yes, I think there is room for that. I think there was that with Christie, the kind of Northeastern straight talk, “I’m going to yell at a reporter,” you know, “You’re going to get me on YouTube,” and Trump just put that on crack—and not like high-grade crack.
So I do think that there is an example of that without being necessarily a demagogue.
I knew that we had a real problem—I snuck away on a Sunday to Annapolis early in the campaign, not too long after Trump had offended—it might have been the John McCain thing or whatever else. And I was sitting at a bar that I like to sit at there, and a few older, affluent, educated men were at the bar arguing, and one of them apparently was a tax attorney. And he said he was pro-Trump, and the other two were giving him a hard time: “How can you be for that guy?” And he said, “Look, I don’t believe the crazy shit he says. I just like the fact that he’s got the balls to say it.”
I don’t think that anybody necessarily—if you line up all the ideas that Trump stands for, or stands for today, [his support] has nothing to do—it has everything to do with the fact that there’s a lot of anger out there.
I understand what Dave is saying when he says, look, you know, we have to get past this as a party—that’s great in a theoretical way, but the reality is there’s resentment, largely from the base of this party, that they have been sold a bad bill of goods. And they’ve been sold it not just, you know, to use this term again, not just by the establishment or the elites, but they’ve been sold it by talk radio.
You’ve got Glenn Beck saying we can impeach Barack Obama, and that’s not realistic, and it gets people jazzed up. And then you’ve got Republican leadership in the House and Senate saying, “We can’t do anything.” You know, there has to be some sort of outlet for this anger that the base feels, this hopelessness that isn’t just either jazzing it up or saying you’re not being responsible.
Thrush: But what issues do you think unite Republicans right now? What are some issues, one or two issues that you saw, you know, traveling through your campaign that you think can move the party forward in terms of uniting it?
Flores: I think incompetence and corruption in the government unite the Republican Party. For a long time, Republicans were talking about big government versus small government, and that’s kind of beside the point. I think moving forward, what we’re really talking about is incompetence. You don’t care whether the government’s big or small per se. You care whether it’s getting the job done. And the government right now isn’t getting the job done, but yet people are still getting paid. They’re not getting fired. And that’s why the VA became this rallying cry for Republicans, and the IRS targeting to some extent. So, I think that will become something that all Republicans can agree on.
I also think, though, that you have Republicans who have been rewarded for going along to get along over and over and over again. If you want to talk about what stokes that anger, it’s that we’ve been rewarding the wrong Republicans.
Thrush: I think we’re getting at a contradiction here. On the one hand—I sat with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona a couple of months ago, and he told me people are really angry that nothing is getting done in Washington. And then he tells me people are really angry because Washington is playing too big a role in their lives.
The question I have is: These two concepts, the notion that your politicians are lying to you and they’re going along to get along, and, by the way, we’re angry because Washington is gridlocked and getting nothing done—how do you reconcile that? It seems like people want two diametrically opposed things.
DuHaime: That’s correct. Voters have every right to be completely fickle about what they want and when they want it, I guess. You know, I think it’s up to leaders to put aside what’s being said on talk radio every single day when they have a four- or six- or even a two-year term to do what’s right. And I think, for the most part, you’ll be rewarded for that. Voters will be rewarded for that, and, quite frankly, it’s the right thing to do.
We have moved into a place now where it’s different than when Ronald Reagan worked with Tip O’Neill or, quite frankly, Bill Clinton could work with Newt Gingrich. You had people who worked together in ways that hasn’t happened.
The conservative-industrial complex as a business is part of that and part of the reason for it. And I’m not—from a business point of view, it’s brilliant. Fox News found, you know, a business model and a niche, and it works. It works really well, and MSNBC is trying to copy it, you know, for the left.
But, with the rise of Rush and Hannity and Fox—and it happens on the left, too—what we have right now—and you could go into a whole thing about redistricting and gerrymandering as well—are, for the most part a lot of purists who will call people out for ever working with the other side. And I think it’s a bad place to be, and, to Kochel’s point earlier, what it’s going to take are some people who are willing to take some of the slings and arrows, and then survive. That’s not easy. It’s not easy to put your political career on the line to do that.
I think in some states—where Christie did it—it’s a little easier, right? Because you’ve got a lot of Independents and Democrats who like it, so you’re rewarded for it. I think it’s harder to do in a more conservative state or a conservative district where you won’t be rewarded for that.
Thrush: We’re talking almost in nostalgic terms about Rush Limbaugh, right? And Fox News also is undergoing a transformation. It’s moving toward the middle a little bit. This new kind of alt-right phenomenon that we’re seeing and the Breitbart phenomenon—do you think that then becomes a spur even more to radicalize some Republican candidates?
Kochel: No, I think you’re going to see a giant flameout here on November 8th. I don’t think that there is enough broad-based constituency for Breitbart and the alt-right and all of the things that have been spawned by this campaign to be able to survive in a commercial environment or thrive in a commercial environment where it doesn’t have the megaphone of a major party nomination—and particularly one that has Donald Trump at the top of it, who is able to occupy an enormous amount of the social and political conversation going on in the country.
And, by the way, a lot of it is fueled by this antipathy to Hillary Clinton, which goes back a long ways. That’s why a lot of these people that are defending Trump now, they’re in a very difficult position. They’re going to oppose Hillary Clinton, and they’re sort of trafficking in the standard sort of binary choice that we’re facing. But this will contract when it doesn’t have the white-hot focal point of a presidential nomination and a candidate like Donald Trump.
Also, there is so much disruption going on in the media environment generally. You know, Rush will be around, and I’m sure Ann Coulter will be able to continue to sell some books to her crazy constituency, and I’m sure Laura Ingraham will be around. Fox will definitely be going through a lot of changes. I wonder if it’ll be recognizable in a couple of years.
But I just don’t think that this is going to be the standard going forward, and any candidate, by the way, who decides that they’re going to tie themselves to Breitbart as the vehicle for winning a party nomination is going to—even if they were able to be successful in a primary—suffer the same fate that Donald Trump is about to suffer, which is to go down to a humiliating comprehensive national loss for the party.
So, I mean, my guess is [this media faction] becomes more radioactive, they become more aggressive at attacking Republicans. That’s been [Trump campaign CEO Stephen] Bannon’s stock in trade all along. He doesn’t really want to advance the cause of conservatism. He wants to go after his enemies inside the party. And so, I don’t think it’s going to live in any form beyond this that people will want to associate with.
Sullivan: It’s Wrestlemania, and the media’s covering it.
But, I don’t know that I necessarily agree, because it’s going to be the blame game. The day the election’s over, the Breitbarts of the world are going to blame the rest of the party for, you know, “If they would have just stood by Donald Trump, we would have won.” The Glenn Becks and the Ted Cruzes of the world are going to say, “If you had just nominated a true conservative instead of a New York Republican, we would have won.”
DuHaime: I totally agree that that will happen, and the fact that it’s starting early tells you something. But the bottom line, all of us here have been on winning campaigns and losing ones as well. Losers blame and winners share credit. And when you go around trying to spend your life figuring out who you can blame for why you lose every election, you’re never going to win, and you’re never going to change your behavior, and you’re never going to do anything that either promotes your candidates or promotes the party.
And I agree with Kochel again on what could happen. It’s one thing when we lose elections close and someone says, “Oh, if only we nominated somebody a little more conservative,” because it was a couple points or a couple states or whatever. Then, we can have a healthy debate as to whether or not we should have been more centrist or more conservative. If it is an absolute drubbing against the least popular candidate we’ve ever run against as a party, there’s really not going to be much room for debate.
Flores: On your last point about Hillary, I think that deserves an exclamation point, which is, Trump may stay in the news—he will want to stay in the news forever. Trump may succeed in staying in the news in the short term, but you’re going to have a president with the lowest favorable rating in the history of American politics that we’ve been measuring on January 21st. And the Republicans who are credible, articulate voices against Hillary Clinton, when we all feel like in 2020 she will be a vulnerable incumbent, if she runs again, I think will unite the party in that sense. And if some outlets and some voices are continuing to rehash 2016, they will quickly be buried.
Thrush: I was just talking with somebody who said the investigation into Hillary Clinton is going to start before the inaugural parade passes the Justice Department. Do you think it is a wise idea for Hill Republicans to very aggressively, in the Trey Gowdy way, pursue investigation after investigation against her? A) do you think that’s going to happen? And, B) do you think it’s a wise idea?
Flores: The short answer to that is it depends on the issue. Hillary Clinton, though, never seems to enjoy playing by the rules that everyone else has to play by. If she continues to do that as president, then absolutely the American people will not tolerate that and I think be fine with, if not reward, politicians who hold her accountable for that.
Sullivan: I hope that I’m wrong and the three of you guys are right, but at the moment I just don’t have as much faith in our party, in our ability to do smart things honestly on a whole. I mean, be it on the investigation standpoint or be it on—you know, we are all on the same page on the smart thing to do. I’m just not sure that that’s what’s going to happen.
Thrush: What do you think will be dumb, constant investigations?
Sullivan: Well, you know, it’s a double-edged sword, because I know Trey, I ran his first campaign. He is a really good guy. He is not a demagogue. He is a prosecutor. He is doing what he thinks is the absolute obligated right thing to do. But it’s the next level of some people who then demagogue on it or ramp it up—you know, “We need to impeach.” The second she sets foot in that office, there will be people in the House on MSNBC, because they’re going to love to give them a platform for it, calling for impeachment of Hillary Clinton. And a lot of the media are going to love it—you know, not to kick the media here—and say, “OK, great. Now we’ve got a fight again. We’ve got Wrestlemania.” And they’re going to prop up the lowest common denominator of our party. They’re not going to pick the fast zebra to put on TV, OK?
Our party as a whole is filled with talented, articulate, innovative minds, and we nominated Donald Trump. So, at the end of the day, you know, is it all the Republican Party’s fault? No. Is it all the media’s fault? No. There’s plenty of blame to go around here. But I’m afraid that right now, given the environment, that it’s going to be tough for our party to do a lot of smart things all at once.
Thrush: We get caught up in the day-to-day. We cover this stuff. We’re all involved in campaigns. We tend to look at things at the 500-foot level. Let’s go up to 40,000 feet. Is there a possibility we’re just witnessing a realignment and a fundamental alteration of the Republican Party, either a split or a transformation, and that what we’re seeing with Trump is just a symptom of that?
Kochel: Yes, there is a possibility that we are staring down the barrel in the party. It depends on how we define November 8th on November 9th and forward. We’ve got a great case study that is actually playing out before us right now. You have the historical presidential battleground states of New Hampshire and Ohio and Florida and Pennsylvania and Iowa and Colorado, Nevada, Arizona—all of which have Senate candidates running in them at the same time the Senate majority is at stake. And I’ve been studying the Trump numbers and the Senate numbers in those battleground states, and the average right now is about 6 or 7 points of difference in margin between Trump at the bottom and the Republican Senate candidates at the top.
And so, you’ve got tangible, real-life examples of the kind of campaigns, the kind of message, and the kind of leaders that voters are going to choose. Is it Rob Portman or Donald Trump? Is it Marco Rubio or Donald Trump? Is it Kelly Ayotte or Donald Trump? Is it John McCain or Donald Trump? Joe Heck or Donald Trump? Every one of these races is a symbol of the kind of campaign and party and message that we need to have to be successful. And save maybe Colorado and maybe Wisconsin, in every single state where there is an active campaign going on at the presidential level and at the Senate level, there is a pretty wide and growing distance between the success that the Republican Senate nominee is having versus the failure that Donald Trump is looking at right now.
Now, does he drop low enough that he pulls everybody down with him? That’s an open question, and we’ll see what happens. But I think you’ll have a very good case study sitting right in front of us to teach us how to lift up leaders that know how to reach across and run in Democratic areas and talk to women and talk to Hispanics and have a message that’s more uplifting and, you know, taking out all of this divisive, harsh rhetoric.
Thrush: Mike, do you think there’s a possibility we’re going to see a crack-up of any kind?
DuHaime: I don’t. I think we’ll survive it. I don’t think it’ll be easy, and I think we’ll have some more pains in 2018 primaries, as I said earlier, and then we’re going to have a great general election in the midterms, and we’ll all learn the wrong lessons from it and go forward and then start beating each other up for the presidential primary. But I do think we’re going to be OK. We’re still going to have the House. Who knows what the Senate’s going to be, but it’s going to be close. And, by the way, it was probably going to be close no matter who the nominee was because 2010 was such a good year for us that we are defending some very tough states. We’re still going to be great when it comes to governors, when it comes to state legislatures, Congress and we’re going to have a great midterm in 2018, and then we’re going to be in a really good place for 2020. So, I think as long as we all look at the long big picture, I think we’re going to be OK as a party.
But I also think we have to be willing to stand up to elements of our party that we don’t think are OK. It is not OK for us to just kind of wink and nod at what we think might be like racist elements of the party because we think it’s part of our base. I know that’s easier said than done, but we have to do that.
Flores: I was out there saying that I absolutely thought that [a fundamental transformation] was one of the really possible outcomes, but here’s some stuff that has changed—or let me phrase it this way: Here’s an alternate reality that I think would have caused that that doesn’t look like it’s going to be the case, which is that Donald Trump wins. Obviously, I think that would cause a pure realignment, no question, and the parties would—a third party would grow up, the two parties would absorb whatever part of that they could, and you’d end up with a realignment like you’ve seen a few times in American history where you reach equilibrium of the two parties on a new set of issues. That’s why we don’t debate the gold standard that much anymore.
Assuming Donald Trump loses, I think there was also a scenario where he lost by a little and a lot of Senate candidates, Republican Senate candidates, lost. I think that also would have triggered a realignment similar to the first scenario.
However, here’s what it looks like is going to happen: We’re going to have every Senate candidate save one outperform Donald Trump, and Donald Trump will lose by more than a little. In that case, I think the Republican Party and the conservative movement come out with the stronger argument and it, therefore, doesn’t trigger that realignment.
That being said, there’s a few things that could still happen that would—namely, what Donald Trump chooses to do after this. A lot of people say that he’s starting a media company. We’ll see. If he were to start a political party, I’d be interested to see how that goes—not so interested that I want it to happen, mind you.
Sullivan: Look, you know, every election is a realignment, and every time a party does not control the White House, they’re a little bit rudderless. That’s how the system works. If you don’t all agree on the leader of your party, it’s going to be herding cats, and everybody’s going to be going in different directions. And everyone after an election, just like after 2012, just like after 2008, when you look back, when Republicans lose—or when Democrats lose—there’s a lot of self-analysis. It’s a healthy thing. But I’m hopeful that we learn from it and it’s not the blame game, or there’s at least some learning from it and it’s not all blame game, and that maybe we’ve cleared out some dead wood within the party.
This was a unique election. Since Eisenhower, only two Republican nominees have run and won that had not previously run and lost, and that’s Ford, who happened to be the sitting vice president at the time, and George W. Every other nominee from Ronald Reagan to Bob Dole to anybody else in between had run and lost. And this time, with the exception of Rick Perry, you had not a single one of the candidates who’d run for president before.
And so, it set up this environment where there was no heir apparent, there was no one who’d done a dry run. This next time I don’t think you’re going to have that be the case. I think you’re going to have a multitude of candidates who’ve either run a presidential campaign and/or run a vice presidential campaign. It makes for a more stable environment and makes for—instead of being 17 wide going into the first turn, it might be a little bit more of a tiered event. When none of them have done it before, it’s much more like a dirt track racing than it is NASCAR.
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