Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
Guest Host: Frank Sesno
This year’s Republican National Convention was marked by discord from the start. On day one: an explosive display of division, as groups opposing Donald Trump tried one last time to make a stand against him. Then on Wednesday, perhaps the most striking moment yet: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s defiant decision not to endorse Trump. Booing broke out from the audience as Cruz instead told Republicans to “vote their conscience,” with no mention of the nominee. Renewed worry over how party division could affect the election is accompanied by concerns that the GOP has not done enough to rally minority voters and women around their candidate. Images of a very white audience in Cleveland this week pushed that issue further into the spotlight. A conversation about cracks in the Republican party and the mounting need to broaden appeal.
- Ed O'Keefe Reporter, The Washington Post; covering the 2016 election and Latino voters
- Michael Gerson Syndicated columnist and author of "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era"; former speechwriter for President George W. Bush
- Barrett Holmes Pitner Columnist, The Daily Beast and The Guardian; covers politics, race and culture
- Lara Brown Political scientist and associate professor, Graduate School of Political Management, The George Washington University; author, “Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants”
- Bruce Levell Delegate from Georgia, heads Trump's National Diversity Coalition
MR. FRANK SESNOThanks for joining us. I'm Frank Senso of the George Washington University sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Of dramatic moments at this year's GOP convention, last night's just may have taken the cake. Ted Cruz refusal to endorse Donald Trump is the latest in a string of moments pointing to fissures in the party. The GOP already faces a unique set of challenges based on Donald Trump's historic campaign and candidacy and unpopularity with minority voters and women.
MR. FRANK SESNOSo where does the party go from here? Well, with me to discuss the latest from Cleveland, unity in the GOP, how the party might aim to broaden its appeal, Daily Beast columnist Barrett Holmes Pitner and political scientist Lara Brown. On the line from Cleveland is Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post. Also on the line from Cleveland is syndicated columnist and former Republican speech writer, Michael Gerson. Thank you all for being here.
MS. LARA BROWNThanks.
MR. BARRETT HOLMES PITNERThanks for having me.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGreat to be with you.
SESNOWell, great to have you. Ed, let me start with you. And, actually, even before I do that, I do want to start with the audience by telling you, with all that's going on, you probably are going to want to join the conversation. You can do so by calling us at 800-433-8850 with a question. We'll get to your questions in several minutes. Or send us an email at email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter.
SESNOEd, you were there. I have to think the Cruz moment was the moment. Having covered a lot of these conventions and watching last night certainly struck me that way. I’m interested in your reporting and your takeaway.
O'KEEFEOh, absolutely. I think it will rank as one of the most dramatic moments in the history of political conventions of either party. Just the fact that it began as quite a stirring speech, one of the more emotional, one of the more rapturous addresses by the Texas senator I think we've seen every, really, starting with the emotional story of a young girl in Dallas whose father was killed because he was one of those police officers shot and killed there in Dallas.
O'KEEFEThe hall fell silent in a way I had not seen it yet up to that point in the convention. Delivering a pretty good defense of conservatism and what it meant to be a member of the Republican party. And at the beginning, congratulating Donald Trump for winning the nomination. But as it drew to a close, it was evident that people were beginning to realize he wasn't going to explicitly endorse Trump. And what we don't quite yet know, Frank, is whether that booing was spontaneous or whether it was whipped up by the Trump campaign or folks that are running the convention.
O'KEEFEBut either way, Cruz was essentially booed offstage. And as he was drawing to a close, Mr. Trump, himself, stepped out into the VIP box in the back corner of the arena, drawing eyes away from Mr. Cruz causing people to start screaming, Trump, Trump, Trump, while others were booing at Cruz. It was, by far, one of the most colorful chaotic moments we've seen in recent convention history. And it just speaks, again, to the ongoing chaos and confusion of this party.
O'KEEFEWe've talked about it for years, really, since the Tea Party revolution. Last night was the chaos personified, I think, in that moment.
SESNOIt was an extraordinary thing. Let me turn over to Michael Gerson for a minute. Michael, you're there and you've been part of and now watching the Republican party for a long time. There was a little bit of a foreshadow at the beginning of the Cruz speech when he said, as Ed pointed out, I want to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night. And then, he hastened to say, and like each of you, I want to see the principles that our party believes prevail in November, as opposed to Trump.
SESNOWhat exactly does this mean, Michael, for the party coming out of this convention? Obviously, we're going to hear about Trump tonight and we'll talk about that. But what does it mean?
MR. MICHAEL GERSONYeah. I think a lot of Republicans across the country were looking for reassurance, maybe even desperate for reassurance that this is a capable campaign, that they can run a national campaign, that they're, you know, within the boundaries -- within the ideological boundaries. And so far, the convention has not been reassuring at all. They have -- the Trump campaign has failed to show that they can control the message and -- which was true of the plagiarism charge and now the Cruz drama.
MR. MICHAEL GERSONAnd they can't do damage control. You know, the plagiarism circumstance, that went on for far longer than it needed to, given the level of the offense. And so those are two actually pretty essential skills for a presidential campaign to control the message and to be able to respond to controversies and this campaign couldn't do either.
SESNOLara Brown, you're a political scientist here so let's plug this into a formula, if we can. What Michael Gerson just let out, damage control, control the message, that has been the traditional marker of a modern convention and even before that, to some extent. But now with instant media, it's much more important. But this year has broken all the rules. Donald Trump has broken -- everything that traditional observers said Donald Trump should do, he didn't do and he has won as a result of that. So, as a political scientist speaking here, does it matter? Are you rapidly rewriting the rule book?
BROWNWell, I do think there is some of both. I think what you really have to take a hold of is this notion that the party is re -- kind of -- configuring. It is including more of these Tea Party Trump voters. It is also shunning its traditional establishment. And so some of the conversation that all of us within Washington say about, oh, it's not a controlled message, those individuals actually see and sort of dismiss. They view those comments as being this is only those professional politicos that think this stuff matters.
BROWNThey're not focusing on Melania's plagiarism charge. Washington is.
SESNOSo what is the impact among those voters of what happens with Cruz, who's doubled down again, by the way, since this to say he has no apologies for what happened last night. Quite the contrary.
BROWNWell, this is where I think it's actually interesting because Trump's campaign did, obviously, see the speech in advance and they still let him give it. And they also looked at how to step on it at the end. And I think this is where what you're actually seeing is those delegates, those voters, those people who believe Trump is the future are rejecting Senator Ted Cruz. And he made a mistake.
SESNOEd O'Keefe, back to you for a minute for some of the reporting that you've done as you've talked to delegates from all different walks of life. How have they reacted to this? Do they see a divided Republican party or are they thinking that they are making some progress across these days at launching Donald Trump in a stronger, better way?
O'KEEFENo, I think there's still some consternation about that and whether or not he can prevail. This whole convention has been designed to unite the party in ways it has not been for more than a year now. The problem is, that should've happened by now. The problem is, that should've happened by now and this should be about explaining what Trump is going to do as president and, yes, why Hillary Clinton shouldn't be. But it's predominantly been why she shouldn't be and there's been very little, you know, regarding Trump himself.
O'KEEFEEven his children. They give fantastic speeches. They've been getting better. I talked to someone this morning who said, every night, the Trump portion, the Trump family portion gets stronger than the night before. And Eric Trump, last night, did a pretty effective job with explaining his father, his personality and his business record. But, you know, there's still concern. And I think we've seen it in the response of people in the hall and certainly, you know, what was done by Cruz last night.
O'KEEFEBut others have said that, you know, this may actually be -- Cruz's decision not to endorse may actually at least be a unifying force for people in the room who were upset. And remember, Frank, part of that is because all these Republican presidential candidates, at one point or another, signed that so-called pledged that said they would ultimately support the nominee. Trump did it.
SESNODoes that matter?
O'KEEFEWell, to these people, it does. And let me read you a quote from a woman named Cecilia Seravaca (sp?) who's a delegate from New Mexico. She talked to my colleague Phil Rucker last night. I think this sums up pretty well what a lot of the folks on the floor there thought almost immediately after this was done. She said, "I can't believe he didn't endorse Trump. I can't believe he didn't endorse him because he claims to be a Christian and maybe Donald Trump was right. Maybe he is Lyin' Ted. Maybe he picks the Bible up and maybe he puts it down and then he lies because any Christian would forgive because the Bible says you know them by their fruits.
O'KEEFETonight," this woman said, "Ted Cruz has not fruits. Tonight, he was not a Christian man." And so that was the raw response of one delegate in the room and I think that's the belief of many Republicans this morning that if you have signed that pledge, which was essentially done to keep Trump in line, and you're not willing to keep it, then you're not good to at least the people inside the Quicken Loans Arena this week.
SESNOBarrett Pitner, you write about race and politics for Daily Beast. What is your take on what took place last night, in particular in this larger context of what conventions are supposed to do, which is to build coalitions, build unity, build support?
PITNERWell, this convention, as a whole, you can tell that the Republicans have been quite divided throughout the entirety of the whole convention where the big wigs within in the party were not even -- they didn't even want to attend. And so there's been a lot of division within the Republican party and then when you try to build upon that to reach out to African Americans, you know, this instability to then reach out to an electorate that's normally voting for your party in large numbers makes it incredibly difficult.
SESNOTed Cruz made some efforts in his speech last night to reach out to African Americans or at least to reference Martin Luther King and others.
PITNERRight. And this speaks to the difficulty and almost the impossibility of African Americans voting for the GOP in large numbers.
PITNERBecause Ted Cruz reached out to Africa Americans, but at the same time, he didn't tell them a person to vote for. He just showed a -- you know, there's an instability, but there's not an institution or a structure that is here that actually collectively understands what you need, what your concerns are, your identity, you American identity. He might be a lone voice and he definitely looks to be a lone voice within the GOP right now.
PITNERAnd if there's just one guy who's being shunned by the entire party, he's the one that makes the biggest expression of understanding the issues that African Americans face, that kind of leaves, you know, black Americans in no-man's land concerning the GOP.
SESNOMichael Gerson, back to you briefly. Was this a political or personal response from Ted Cruz last night?
GERSONWell, he actually made it fairly personal this morning. He talked about, you know, I'm not going to endorse someone who attacked my wife and attacked my father. And so it's unusual that you would have that element, but I think that's motivating him.
SESNOIt's motivating him and there will be more on this and what it says for how Donald Trump must respond. So coming up, more of our conversation on the Republican National Convention and what it means for American politics. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOWelcome back. I'm Frank Sesno of the George Washington University, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. We're talking about the Republican National Convention and what's going on there. And there is lots going on there, with Barrel -- Barrett Pitner, he's columnist for The Daily Beast, Lara Brown, political scientist and directs the program on political management at George Washington University.
SESNOOn the phone from Cleveland, Ed O'Keefe, with The Washington Post, Michael Gerson, syndicated columnist. And Lara, I want to address this to you, and then others can jump in. All right. Let's take a moment and do the in defense of Ted Cruz, for just a moment to go through this. And I'm gonna propel this with a reference to a column today in The Weekly Standard by John McCormack. And he says there are three reasons his speech -- Cruz's speech was important.
SESNOFirst, it was important he says for Cruz and his future ambitions as a presidential candidate, if and when recriminations begin over the Trump nominations. So there he was standing tall and standing defiant. Secondly, he says, it was important because there are Republican Congressional candidates. And he says not enough people at the convention have been arming those in the state and local races who might be facing trouble because Trump is out there, to get out the vote.
SESNOAnd he said vote for candidates up and down the ticket. Don't stay home, Cruz said. Third, finally here, most important of all, the future of conservatism, that he laid out a rationale, a philosophical base for conservatism, which he believes Trump does not support. Lara Brown, your reaction to that? Was Cruz the hero, despite all the screaming this morning?
BROWNWell, I think what we have is we have a senator who is deeply concerned about where things are gonna be after November. And really what he's looking at is his own sort of future. And while many delegates there, many people from Texas said they were upset with him, he understands that he is not gonna be on the ballot again 'til 2018.
BROWNAnd he knows that should Donald Trump lose this presidential election, he will likely be essentially seen as one of the principled holdouts. So this is really about Ted Cruz sort of betting on the future and trying to align himself with being able to say I told you so.
SESNOMichael Gerson, your take on this?
GERSONNo, I agree with that. He'll be able to say I told you so as a kind of Tea Party firm, strong conservative. There may be someone from the establishment weighing him, like a Marco Rubio, who can also say I told you so from a different perspective that the party needs to do outreach and it needs to be more inclusive. That'll be an argument, assuming that Donald Trump loses.
SESNOIf he -- and if he wins, what's the argument if he wins?
GERSONWell, it's completely unexplored territory, the way he would staff, the way he would govern.
SESNONo, but I -- no, I mean for Ted Cruz.
GERSONOh, well, he would, you know, at that point, anyone who's not the president is on the sidelines.
SESNOIt would seem to be a rather lonely life for Ted Cruz after this…
GERSONNo, I agree with that.
SESNO…if Donald Trump wins.
GERSONYeah, but the likely -- the more likely outcome is, I think, that Trump loses. And then you'll have a further fight in the Republican Party between purists. Because Cruz is not a moderate. He's very strong conservative who's run against the Republican establishment again and again. And you might have more establishment response as well.
GERSONI think the biggest thing, though, is that Ted Cruz could probably sleep well last night. You know, he -- I think this was probably a matter of conscious for him. I think this is something where he can look back and tell his children and grandchildren that he did the right thing.
SESNONo. Go ahead. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.
GERSONNo, no, no. It's just I think that this is not just personal for Cruz. I think there are a lot of people with fundamental concerns about Donald Trump's views and values.
SESNOOkay. Ed, so bring us back to the present moment and what it means for Donald Trump. Because this is clearly not a unified convention that launches him. He speaks tonight. And then he actually has to run a campaign.
O'KEEFEYeah, this is, you know, for a man who's had big nights, this is the biggest of all. And really for him, you know in the back of his mind, given his showbiz sensibilities, he's probably thinking to himself can I beat the big number from last August when Republicans held their first convention. What was that? Nearly 49 million people, I believe. Correct me if I'm wrong. I think his goal tonight is to get a massive audience that just makes very clear that the interest remains so high.
O'KEEFEGet it big enough that, you know, the Clinton convention next week just can't surpass it. And then deliver a speech that clearly lays out what he would do as president, as clearly as Trump is willing to lay things out. And maybe talk a little bit about himself and his character, beyond the success of his business and the fact that he's a winner and everyone seems to like him in the party, as he'll claim. But really who is he as a man. And Mike Pence did a great job of that last night delivering a fantastic vice presidential speech. Let's see if Trump can do that.
O'KEEFEBut the interest will be high. I think this Cruz thing -- look, my understanding is the convention organizers and the campaign were handed his speech probably about 6:30 last night. They were aware of what was gonna happen. I don't think Trump walking out there was any mistake, the way he did it. It was very much like a WWF wrestling match. The guy who has participated in those productions before. He knows what he's doing. And I think all of this was just designed to build more interest in tonight.
SESNOWell, as they say in television, right, stay tuned. Barrett Pitner, let me come over to you because I want to switch a little bit and talk now about the larger objective and track record, really, in trying to build not just unity, but build coalitions. Let's talk a little bit about -- you wrote before the convention, "You can't help but conclude that he," Trump, "has essentially thrown in the towel concerning the black vote."
SESNOAnd yet, there have been plenty of African-Americans on the stage speaking during this. It's been a subject of a great amount of discussion. What is your take on where this now stands, in terms of building support and trying to court the African-American voter?
PITNERWell, I think Trump and the rest of the GOP is gonna try to court the African-American vote, but the Republican ideology and the message and the African-American spokespeople that they've brought out are not adequate enough to get a lot of black voters.
PITNERWell, it kind of goes down to the core difference between liberty and equality. Like, Republicans champion the notion of liberty with an individual kind of aspect to it. And the Democrats are -- we -- they champion equality. And as a minority, you don't have the opportunity to get -- to be seen purely as an individual. Like, when you're out on the street or, you know, you're driving your car, you represent your minority group.
PITNERAnd so you have a greater focus on striving for equality. And once you get some parity, equality, then you could focus on individual liberty. And a lot of the, like, Ben Carson and other African-Americans that spoke at the convention, they are those anomalies. They're like the -- there's some successful African-American who says if everyone just behaves how I behaved and worked as hard as I worked then we all could individually get brought up. And at the same time, that's just not a tangible aspiration.
SESNOJoining us now on the phone from Cleveland is Bruce Levell. He's a delegate from Georgia who heads Trump's National Diversity Coalition. Thanks for being with us, Bruce.
MR. BRUCE LEVELLHey, how you guys doing? Sorry about the voice. Been a lot of screaming down on the floor.
SESNOOh, one can only imagine. You probably should tell us what you've been screaming about, but I'll get to that in a moment. I would like to follow up though on what Barrett was talking about and on this theme. And, Bruce, how do you respond to those who say this convention has been dominated by white men and was a missed opportunity for the GOP? How do you respond to what Barrett says, that this has been more about liberty than equality?
LEVELLWell, you know, I don't see it as just looking around and being, you know, a bunch of white men or whatever. And, you know, you got to remember one thing about this, too, is that, you know, in the delegate process Donald Trump has brought a tremendous amount of people of color from -- that have never, ever came over to the Republican Party. As, you know, for example, you know, Omarosa and Patrick Scott and a lot of these folks you've seen were -- voted for Barack Obama, that has brought -- that Donald Trump has brought over to this party.
LEVELLSo when you're caucusing in your local state or county, trying to become a delegate, you know, you do have to have some level of longevity. WE all know that. I don't know if you guys are members of your caucus back home and from where your states are, but it is a process. There's also, you know, it's some level of vetting process, per se, that determines how much participation that you're gonna be in. And, you know, where you volunteer and you pay your membership dues and a lot of them do have that, you know, to participate.
SESNOBruce, Reince Priebus, the party chair, has suggested that Trump really understands the need to grow the party when it comes to minorities, that he plans a Hispanic engagement tour and all this kind of stuff. But have you seen evidence about Trump -- that Trump, A, appreciates that and that he's going to do something specific about it?
LEVELLWell, you know, it's like I was trying to say before to answer that last question. The reason you don't see as many brown faces because there's thousands that have come over but did not become a delegate because they don't have that time in the party. But I will tell you this, in 2020 you're gonna see -- we won't even have this discussion. Number two, the National Diversity Coalition for Trump has several hundred thousand members all over the country.
LEVELLIf you go to NDCTrump.com and click on who we are, we have an advisor to represent every ethnic group across the United States. There hasn't been this many surrogate speakers in the RNC. Sajid Tarar was a Muslim American that did the benediction. He's part of our coalition. There's never been anything like that before. So in terms of the lineup and how many -- Pastor Burns, Pastor Scott, the gentleman from Colorado, the senator. You know, we've got a tremendous presence that Donald Trump has brought to the forefront that no other Republican president has ever done that.
BROWNWell, I just want to say something as an empirical fact, which I don't think most people really understand. It is true that the national party rules within the Democratic Party actually require the delegates to…
SESNOWithin the Democratic Party?
BROWNWithin the Democratic Party, require delegates to actually reflect the state's population. So there is a requirement that every delegation must be split on gender 50/50. There are requirements for each essentially demographic group to be reflected. The Republicans do not have that. And it is true that as a result of that, it -- you also see a Republican Party delegation that is always much more white than is the Democrats.
SESNOAlthough, I will say this, and Bruce I'd like your response, for example, that New York Times -- The New York Times today, Bruce, the New York…
LEVELLOnce again, the Republican Party doesn't want to put mandate rules and tell what gender or color. We want the process to rise from itself as the people by the people. Not worrying about what color or who they are or where they're from. We just want the Republican thinking mind, not a color or quota system. So I'm -- that's another reason why I like the Republican Party.
PITNERYeah, and I think that explanation right there shows why Republicans are gonna struggle to get black voters and minority voters. Like the idea of having regulations that champion individual liberty and don't have -- make checks to make sure that there's an equal representation of all the people in a group, viewing that as oppressive means that you have the end result where there's an overwhelming amount of white participants. And that's clearly gonna be alienating for a lot of minorities.
SESNOBruce, let me ask you the question this way. The New York Times today has a -- and The New York Times is no friend to Donald Trump. That is well established.
LEVELLI don't think any of you (unintelligible).
SESNOBut they have an editorial where they refer to the unrelenting whiteness of the Republican National Convention. Perhaps the whitest in 100 years. And they cite another -- some other work that's been done, counting up the number of delegates and sort of observing what we've observed earlier. And you say it's gonna be very different in 2020. How does the Republican Party then get from here to there so that it's much more diverse in 2020?
LEVELLWell, it's very easy. You know, Donald Trump's message putting a tremendous amount of accountability as it relates to the trade, illegal immigration, you know, the ability to have his background in creating jobs, his connections in jobs. You know, when you take that kind of talent and you put it into the forefront of this type of leadership, you know, regardless of what people think about Mr. Trump's personality or whatever. You can't deny the ability of him being able to be a job creator.
LEVELLAnd that is very appealing to people who are jobless. You know, that's an inspiration that someone in leadership would have that. So, you know, people can get the sides where they like or dislike a man's personality or how he talks, whatever, but if they can, you know, when we get past -- towards, you know, closer to November, you're gonna see a tremendous amount of people of color from all over the country that's gonna be supporting Donald Trump.
SESNOBruce Levell, I want to thank you for joining us by phone from Cleveland. We appreciate your time very much. I'm Frank Sesno. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you would like to join us, please call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, find us on Facebook, send us a tweet. We're talking with Barrett Pitner, columnist for The Daily Beast, Lara Brown, political scientist, Ed O'Keefe, reporter with The Washington Post, Michael Gerson, syndicated columnist and author of "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era."
SESNOMichael Gerson, I'd like to ask you what you've thought of this conversation we've had over the last several minutes. And the efforts of the Republican Party to diversify. Since I went to my first Republican convention -- and I'm not gonna date myself too much, except to say that it was in the Reagan era -- the Republican Party has talked about trying to create a bigger tent. It really has. And yet, we continue to hear these efforts and now see that there are new challenges this year.
GERSONWell, it sounded a little bit like an alternative reality to me. You know, the multi-cultural faces of the Republican Party right now did not feel welcome or were not welcome at the party. Senator Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Governor Martinez of New Hampshire, they couldn't feature some of the most exciting future prospects of the Republican Party because they didn't either feel welcome or they were not welcome.
GERSONThis is, you know, we have -- the Republican Party now has a candidate who has placed nativism at the center of American politics in a way that no one has since George Wallace. His first day of the campaign he warned that Mexican migrants were coming to rape American women. He's proposed to export -- I mean to throw out of the country 11 million people. He's proposed a ban on people from a whole religion. There's nothing here that would do outreach to people of color.
SESNOAll right. Let me go -- let's go to the phones now and take our first call, from Rick. He joins us from Texas. Hi, Rick.
RICKHi, how are you?
SESNOVery well. Thanks for calling. Go ahead with your question, please.
RICKI have more of a comment than a question. And I think that it seems like a lot of people are missing the picture. That, like myself, a lot of people are trying -- tired of the tried and true professional politicians. And one of the reasons that Trump is appealing because I believe that as a businessman he could do much better. I'm sure he'll surround himself with the right people and make it happen.
SESNOAll right. Thanks for that. Michael Gerson, let me throw that back at you. I mean, you just heard -- and we were talking about this with Lara Brown earlier -- that the sentiment, the very strong sentiment out there this year is break the rules because the rules haven't worked.
GERSONWell, I have to say that, you know, a lot of us who have commented on these issues, the rules have changed somewhat. This is a candidate who ran in a fundamentally different way, by essentially dominating the 24-hour news cycle with Twitter for a year. That, you know, I think that there's a problem, I think, with a campaign, you know, run with 140 characters. There's very little depth so far when it comes to identifying policy.
GERSONIf you go to the website, there's very little information about what he would actually do. And there's a reason for that. Because he proposes himself as the solution to all problems. You know, that's his ideology. And if you buy that…
SESNOLara Brown, give us some historical context here, briefly, if you would. Has there been a Donald Trump in the past?
BROWNWell, I think what's interesting is that we've actually been infatuated with this notion of an outsider really since 1976, since we had the back-to-back failures of Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam and Richard Nixon in Watergate. And what you saw was a country be disillusioned by insiders. We started looking to governors. And the reality is now we just don't want anyone from politics.
SESNOComing up, your calls and questions on "The Diane Rehm Show." Stay tuned.
SESNOWelcome back. I'm Frank Sesno of the George Washington University, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. We're talking about the Republican National Committee and the extraordinary developments over the last 24 hours and what lies ahead. We're putting it in the context, too, where we can, of how the Republican Party can broaden its base and whether and how it's using the Republican national convention this week to do that.
SESNOLet me invite you to call us in if -- call in, if you'd like, 1-800-433-8850. Email us at email@example.com. A number of people have emailed. Let me share some of what they're sharing with us and saying to us. This is an email from Michael. Paul Ryan, he says, the speaker, gave lukewarm support to Mr. Trump. Ryan is in trouble in Wisconsin. Maybe the Beltway perspective that Mr. Trump is an impediment to other candidates is wrong? Or an email from Mike in Raleigh, the -- referring to Ted Cruz's speech last night. This is brilliant on the part of Cruz, he writes. Now every time that Trump does something that is quote-unquote immoral, Cruz can say I told you so.
SESNOAn email from Jay in Washington, D.C. There are always people of color who vote for the Republican candidate. However, let's not fool ourselves. African-Americans, Hispanics and Muslim-Americans will not be supporting Trump in large numbers. Ed O'Keefe, to you. Tonight, the candidate speaks. Tonight we hear from Donald Trump. What is forecast, or what do you expect to -- that he will do to broaden his appeal in front of a huge potential electorate?
O'KEEFEWell, we're still waiting to see if the campaign will share some of the excerpts in advance, but, you know, we're expecting him to deliver an address that will be on teleprompter, that he's been working on over the last several weeks with various aides, including some former Reagan speechwriters, I'm told. His daughter Ivanka, arguably the most famous of the Trump children, is expected to introduce him to the crowd. She's quite well-liked by Republicans and, I think frankly, quite well-liked by a lot of -- or at least admired or, you know, causes a lot of intrigue for most Americans. So who better than her to introduce her father?
O'KEEFEYou know, given that the networks devote usually about an hour to this, at night, at 10:00 pm Eastern, 7:00 in the West, it's expected he'll eat up most of that hour. So you should expect a real crescendo in the drama if you're tuning in earlier in the evening that rises to that moment.
SESNOYeah, Michael -- yeah, Michael Gerson, you were a presidential speechwriter. If you were writing for Donald Trump, which is not a likely scenario, but if you were, what would you have him say tonight against this backdrop to broaden this appeal?
GERSONI do actually think he has an advantage. Because he hasn't given teleprompter speeches well, because he hasn't done set-piece speeches particularly well, I think there's pretty low expectations. If he came in and did a speech that had -- that introduced and humanized himself in some self-effacing fashion, that had a little humor, that had a little poetry, he would become a more imaginable president of the United States, and that really is the main goal of a convention speech.
GERSONYou want people to watch it and think I'm comfortable with this guy in the office, I can imagine him as president. And so, you know, he could have a good evening if he comes up with a good speech.
SESNOWell Lara Brown, I mean, some of that is an echo, actually, from the Reagan years. When Reagan was a candidate in 1980, a lot of people thought a Grade B actor, cowboy, but in the debates and the convention, he became approachable, and there you go again and that kind of thing, and suddenly he did no damage. Expectations were low among some people, and it was a very different outcome. History repeats itself with Donald Trump or a different time?
BROWNI don't know that history can repeat itself. I think Ronald Reagan was unique. He was somebody who did focus a lot more on actually issues and ideology than Donald Trump. But that being said, I think why people and his advisors keep trying to bring up Ronald Reagan is because Ronald Reagan did change the way the Republican Party looked. He did reach out to the Rust Belt, to those people in the Midwest who had really traditionally voted Democratic, and that's really what Trump is trying to do.
BROWNHe's not trying to build a coalition of minority voters. He's trying to build a coalition of former Democrats or at least Democrats who voted for Barack Obama, who voted for Bill Clinton, and they now are disappointed with the Democratic Party.
SESNOBarrett Pitner, you've talked a lot about the African-Americans who are there or not there and listening and watching. What could Donald Trump say tonight, do you think, that would resonate?
PITNERI'm not sure what he could say that would resonate with African-American voters except maybe showing humility or empathy and understanding like the slight -- the different plight that African-Americans face in the United States. But that would run counter to how he's presented himself throughout the entire campaign and how this convention has -- you know, it would go completely against the grain. It would probably harm him more with the voters that have been championing him this entire time.
PITNERSo I don't -- he's going to struggle to find something that's going to relate to minority voters, and reaching out to Latino voters, you know, he has far more work to do to appeal to those voters, and I don't think one speech will come even remotely close to energizing these.
SESNOHe could connect. Michael Gerson, again back to you as our presidential speechwriter, what could he do?
GERSONWell, you know, the strategy of the campaign is not to do outreach. The strategy of the campaign is to turn out the white vote. I think there's -- that's a morally problematic enterprise, but I think that that's honestly what they're attempting to do. And, you know, there is a significant amount of resentment of politics as usual out there, like we heard from one of the callers. That's very real. He needs, in order to win this election, he needs it to be a wave, anti-establishment election where people turn out we don't expect to turn out in our models.
GERSONAnd so he needs to appeal to that without looking angry or nasty, and that's a tough set of issues.
SESNOBack to the phones, Amy joins us now from Tampa, Florida. Hi, Amy.
AMYHi there, thanks for taking my call.
SESNOThanks for calling in.
AMYI was curious, so earlier Bruce from the RNC talked about setting aside Trump's personality and his way of doing this and parsing that out from his business ethic. I'm curious as to why we're expected to do that for Trump and yet not for Hillary Clinton, why we can separate policy and personality on one hand but not for the other.
SESNOEd O'Keefe, your observations on that?
O'KEEFEWell, I agree that it was an interesting argument to make. I also found Bruce's comment about four years from now, we won't have an issue with minorities telling because that was the same thing they said four years ago, and they're even worse shape now. You know, this entire week has been primarily an attempt by the Republican Party to really attack Mrs. Clinton in ways that we've never seen a presidential nominee attacked by the opposing party.
O'KEEFENight after night we've heard the crowd chanting lock her up, lock her up, to his -- notably last night. Mike Pence heard that but didn't goad it like other speakers had from the rostrum.
O'KEEFEBut it's become -- it's become a rallying cry here that I think we're going to hear a lot from diehard Republicans and the most fervent Trump supporters in the coming months. It's -- you know, it's clear here they don't like her at all, in any -- in any realm and are just going to continue doing that because frankly at this point that is probably the only thing that really unifies this party at all.
SESNOEd, you touch on something that has prompted Nancy, from Altamonte Springs, Florida, to email us with, and she wrote, I hope the panel will touch upon those at the convention holding signs and shouting lock her up, as you just mentioned. She says it struck her as more, and I'm using her words here, more like a mob than a crowd, and the hatred in their faces reminded me of those protestors when Little Rock and other places integrated schools. Michael Gerson, that's -- that's a very harsh judgment. I'm wondering if those optics are widely shared.
GERSONWell, I've been to a bunch of conventions, and there's always an element of fear and an element of anger in the political convention. These are hardcore people, for the most part. The question is whether you have more than fear and anger. What do you offer beyond this? That I think has been one of the challenges. But I would not underestimate the ability of a really good speech tonight to have a serious effect.
GERSONYou know, all these days of the convention going into this, with all of those images of anger, could be changed very, very quickly with a very successful speech. So, you know, I -- I think that's the main event.
SESNOThe question is, is it a speech, is it Donald Trump the fighter, Donald Trump the unifier, Donald Trump the nontraditional, blow-it-all-up candidate? Can it be all of those things?
GERSONMaybe it needs to be. You know, some of this is really just giving a human image or a human face to the candidate himself, that you trust him, you trust his values, you trust his views, and that -- you know, a good convention speech can do that. Richard Nixon had a really good convention speech in 1968, and George H.W. Bush had a really good one in 1988, and it had a real effect on the shape of their campaigns going from the convention to the election and was -- they were effective speeches.
SESNOBack to the phones and Bradley from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hi Bradley, you're on the air with us.
BRADLEYHello, I love the Diane Rehm Show, appreciate you having me on.
SESNOWell thanks for calling in, go ahead.
BRADLEYWell, one of your callers earlier made a point, and I've had this argument with some of my peers, who are Trump supporters, and they seem to think that when he gets into office that he'll put together this brilliant Cabinet and that he will listen to their advice. What evidence does a Trump supporter have to tell us that Trump would listen to anyone's advice?
SESNOOkay, great question. Lara Brown, you want to take a shot at this?
BROWNWell, I think that's...
SESNOI'm sorry, Bradley, did you have more that you wanted to throw in? Oh, we lost you. Go ahead.
BROWNI think that's actually a fantastic question, and it does suggest that there are problems with this kind of thinking, that Donald Trump would be a different person once he were in the White House than who he is today. If you study presidential politics, you'll know that character doesn't change just because you take the oath of office.
BROWNI would also say, though, that most Trump supporters do see the choice of Governor Mike Pence as being really the best, reassuring thing that Donald Trump has done and that it is to them evidence that he can make good choices. So I think that's where we are.
SESNOEd O'Keefe, what is the campaign saying, what is the candidate saying about the people who would surround it?
O'KEEFEWell, they've said that he will rely on, you know, some members of the party and other business leaders. He's always cited Carl Icahn, one of his longtime rivals or sort of frenemy, if you will, as someone he'd like to bring in. We've seen some of the speakers in the last few days, I believe the guy's name is Harold Hamm, who works for one of the larger oil companies, who spoke last night. There were reports that said that Trump is -- thought of him as a possible energy secretary.
O'KEEFEI think you would see guys like Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions play roles, certainly they would like to, and possibly Chris Christie, who we know is actually involved in the presidential transition planning right now. So that gives you some sense of it. There had been talk earlier in the week that he might actually sort of sketch out who he would appoint in his Cabinet. That hasn't happened. Maybe it'll happen later today. We'll see. But I think the caller touches on a point that others have raised and certainly Democrats continue to raise.
O'KEEFEIf he's been this divisive, if he's been this devoid of specifics, and it's worked, what's to say he will actually do anything to change those concerns once he's president?
SESNOHowever, what -- one thing that Donald Trump did do early on was to put out the list of judges and justices that he might consider. And so he does have names, and is there any reason to expect he wouldn't do that with a Cabinet, as well?
O'KEEFENo, there isn't, and...
SESNOIs there any reason to expect that as he becomes a serious -- as he becomes the candidate, which he is now, that when he calls and wants to talk to people about serving their country they will listen and respond?
O'KEEFEI would think so, and I think the judge release was designed specifically to address the concerns of sort of ideological or orthodoxical conservatives, you know, the folks that really worry about the legal basis of conservatism in this country, and it worked to great effect during the primary. So you're right, that was a very specific list of people, it was well-received by the base. Were he to do it again during the general election, we'll see. I think he would be eager to demonstrate that he would rely on Republicans, maybe some more unorthodox folks, as well, in an attempt to appeal to those who are still very upset and concerned about the lack of outsiders in Washington.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Lara Brown, we've talked about broadening the appeal, and we've talked about Latino voters, we've talked about African-American voters. We haven't talked about women. And I'm not calling on you just because you're a woman. I'm calling on you because you're our political scientist. And first of all, take apart what Trump's polls look like with women right now, very briefly, and then what gets done about it?
BROWNWell, the first thing we have to understand about women, which most people really don't assume, but we do have to take this into account, is that women vote their party before they vote their gender. And it should be no surprise women make up more than half the country and registered voters, and so as a result they fall along the entire ideological spectrum. That being said, it is true that typically speaking women are more aligned with the Democratic Party than they are with the Republican Party, and you do see that there are good 24-percent-point gender gaps, essentially, between how men are supporting Donald Trump versus how women are supporting Donald Trump.
BROWNSo Trump has a big hurdle, but what he really needs to do is make sure that white women Republicans are actually turning out for him, and they are not staying home or voting their conscience, as Ted Cruz suggested.
PITNERYeah, and to go back to the comments from our listeners, I think the reason people are projecting this idea that Trump will get into the office and change everything is that his campaign, which is largely just Trump himself, has projected him to be some sort of divine winner, well, he will figure out some way to win no matter what, and that has no logical consistency, you can't predict it, it's just all over the place, but the end result, well, he will win, and that allows people to project their idea of what winning looks like and say that Donald Trump will do that.
PITNERAnd they don't have -- you know, people's imagination will project this idea of what he will do regardless of what he actually does. But to go to the previous, the email, as to how the scenes at the convention kind of are reminiscent of Little Rock in the '60s and school integration, it's Trump started his campaign with a very negativist angle, and his nativist perspective is excluding African-Americans and Latinos, and so therefore when you see people who are angry, and they're angry for whatever reason, there's a racial undertone that's just been placed in there due to the candidate, and so it makes sense for people to draw these conclusions because Donald Trump has painted the picture that there is a room full of white people, I am a candidate, and I have demonized Latinos, and I have had African-Americans get assaulted at my rallies, so yes, you should think this, these are concerns that you should have because I've created and painted this picture, and you -- you know, ignoring it would be -- almost be dangerous to...
SESNOBut let me push back on that for just a minute, and Michael Gerson, feel free to jump in here or Barrett, Donald Trump can also say I've employed all kinds of people, and he is saying that. His son spoke from the podium the other day and basically said he's a blue-collar billionaire, he's been down there in the tractor. We all know that the reason Trump is where he is is because people are sick and tired of politics as usual. So isn't there an opportunity for him to pivot and say don't listen to all this background noise, look at what I've done, look at what I've built. Isn't the promise of his message that if I bring jobs, and I make this transformation in America, everybody benefits, Michael?
GERSONYeah, well, you're urging people, essentially, to forget the primaries. I mean, there is a way that he won in this case. And now he wants to make a change, and Republicans for months now have been waiting for the pivot, where Trump gets more disciplined, where he comes up with a better message. It has never come. There's just no proof that he, as the caller said, there's no proof that he takes advice, serious advice.
SESNOBarrett, you get the last -- Barrett, you get the last word.
PITNEREssentially Trump has been very transactional. All of his relationships with minorities are I've employed these people. They're not my friends, they're not these people that I know intimately. These are people who I've paid money to do things. That does not win over minority voters. You have to be -- have a greater connection than that.
SESNOThat's the stakes and that'll be the test tonight at Donald Trump steps to the podium and delivers a speech against a very dramatic backdrop. There are some who suggest this is what he wanted all along. It's the ultimate reality show, and Donald Trump, as we know, is the star. I'm Frank Sesno, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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