House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican Party of Wisconsin Fall Fest on October 8, 2016 in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was scheduled to attend with Ryan, who said he was "sickened" by lewd and misogynistic comments Trump made in a 2005 video, disinviting him from the political event in Wisconsin.

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican Party of Wisconsin Fall Fest on October 8, 2016 in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was scheduled to attend with Ryan, who said he was "sickened" by lewd and misogynistic comments Trump made in a 2005 video, disinviting him from the political event in Wisconsin.

On Monday, the highest-ranking Republican in the nation said something extraordinary: He would not defend or campaign for his party’s nominee for president, Donald Trump. This came amidst a kind of mass panic within the GOP, after a tape revealed Trump making offensive comments about women and bragging about sexual assault. The Republican National Committee said yesterday that it stands with Trump, but many Congressional Republicans are distancing themselves. Chief among their concerns is the effect of all this on down-ballot races. Can Republicans hold on to control of Congress? We look at the GOP as it weighs its next steps following a crisis for the Trump campaign.

Guests

  • David Winston President, Winston Group; Republican strategist; CBS News consultant; adviser to the House and Senate Republican leadership for more than a decade
  • Mercedes Schlapp Republican strategist and columnist for the Washington Times; co-founder and principal, Cove Strategies, a governmental and public affairs firm based in Alexandria, Virginia; contributor, Fox News; former media liaison, President George W. Bush Administration
  • Perry Bacon Senior political reporter, NBC News
  • Amanda Terkel Senior political reporter and politics managing editor, The Huffington Post

Transcript

  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republicans are still trying to assess the extent of potential damage to their party at the polls. Many members of the GOP are scrambling to distance themselves from Trump following the biggest crisis for his campaign thus far. But the candidate himself remains defiant and Republicans are looking for a way forward.

  • 10:07:20

    MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about divisions in the GOP and what's next for Trump and the party, David Winston, Republican strategist and long time advisor to House and Senate Republican leadership, Amanda Terkel of The Huffington Post and Perry Bacon of NBC News. On with us by phone from Alexandria, Virginia, Republican strategist Mercedes Schlapp.

  • 10:07:50

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd, of course, we'll welcome your questions, comments. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for joining us.

  • 10:08:09

    MR. DAVID WINSTONThanks for having us. Good morning.

  • 10:08:10

    MR. PERRY BACONThanks for having us.

  • 10:08:10

    MS. AMANDA TERKELThanks for having us here.

  • 10:08:11

    MS. MERCEDES SCHLAPPGood morning.

  • 10:08:12

    REHMAmanda Terkel, I'll start with you. Paul Ryan, yesterday, delivered a message on Trump to House Republicans that really was astonishing. What did he have to say?

  • 10:08:28

    TERKELWell, he essentially said that he is not going to unendorse Trump. He is going to stick by him, but he is no longer going to defend him and he's no longer going to campaign with him. And he essentially said that if it were up to him and he were just an individual member, he probably wouldn't stand by his endorsement. But he is Speaker of the House. He wants to maintain a House majority and there are members out there who still support Trump and he doesn't want to upset the base.

  • 10:09:00

    TERKELHe doesn't want the base to get mad at him and other Republicans who are running away from Trump. So he's keeping his endorsement, but he's also keeping his distance. And so he's trying to sort of thread the needle and sort of walk a fine line.

  • 10:09:13

    REHMGood reasons for him to make that decision and take that stance, Perry?

  • 10:09:20

    BACONI think there are a lot of reasons. I mean, Paul Ryan's job is to make sure the Republicans stay in the majority so there are about -- there are 247 Republicans in the House right now and most of them are in pretty safe districts where they're going to win reelection no matter what. But for the 60 or 70 who are in closer races, most of those are in areas where Trump is not that popular among -- particular among swing and moderate voters.

  • 10:09:45

    BACONSo those Republicans are going to need some number of people who maybe are not going to vote for Trump to vote for them. So in that sense, you're already seeing that people like John McCain, who yesterday said he's going to write in Lindsey Graham so -- because he's not going to vote for Hillary or Trump. So people like that. He's a senator, but you have Senate and House candidates who really need to not be in line with Trump if they want to win their races.

  • 10:10:08

    REHMDavid Winston, how rare is a situation like this?

  • 10:10:14

    WINSTONWell, this is sort of unprecedented. I mean, let's just go to the basic dynamic of this campaign. You have both presidential nominees have unfavorable above 50 percent. Let's just start there. That's never happened. So I mean, this is sort of like brand new stuff for everybody. But let me go back, actually, in terms of Ryan because he's actually been remarkable consistent here. And that is when he came on as Speaker, his whole focus was I want to keep this on policies, establish task forces just in case the presidential nomination process dragged out too long.

  • 10:10:45

    WINSTONAnd he was concerned that his members wouldn't have issues and policies to discuss. My sense of where he's at at this point is here we are, it's about Donald Trump and the personal stuff and he wants to make sure that his members are talking about policies and direction for the country and that's why he said what he did yesterday. That's been his focus for the last year and so I think he's actually been relatively consistent here in terms of his approach in terms of how to sustain Republican conference.

  • 10:11:08

    REHMSo Mercedes, Donald Trump has remained defiant. Says he's staying in the race. What do you make of his strategy?

  • 10:11:22

    SCHLAPPWell, it's complicated, Diane. I think that, obviously, to see the party in such chaos in a moment where the goal should have been to defeat Hillary Clinton, it's very difficult to watch. I also feel a sense that Donald Trump came into this campaign running as an outsider, running against these establishment Republicans and it works to a certain percentage of the Republican electorate, but it's not enough to broaden that support. And I think that's his biggest challenge.

  • 10:11:59

    SCHLAPPWith that being said, I think for Ryan, you know, his goal right now is he doesn't need to defend Donald Trump's comments, despite the fact that Donald Trump apologized, but at the same time, he's thinking how can he save Congress. This is pretty much everyone save themselves. It's a very individualistic strategy, but at the same time, at this point, Ryan has to do what he needs to do to protect Congress, to protect the majority in the House and I think Donald Trump is just going to keep energizing his base, which is that as running as an outsider.

  • 10:12:35

    REHMSo how much division do you really see in your party? Do you believe it's falling apart?

  • 10:12:43

    SCHLAPPI do feel that there is -- that we are in a crisis mode right now in the Republican party. I think that, you know, it's actually very painful to watch because of the fact that Hillary Clinton is, as a candidate, is so beatable. She has so many flaws. She has so many scandals associated with her. And the fact is, is that watching what I would say a lot of these Republican women in particular who are the college-educated, have supported Republicans time and time again, coming out against Donald Trump, I think, has -- and more so because of the last revelation of the audio tape.

  • 10:13:24

    SCHLAPPI think they were willing to give him a chance to a certain degree, many of these women, but now they're pushing -- they said they've had it. And I think that that's why you're seeing such a shift in terms of momentum in favor of Hillary Clinton right now.

  • 10:13:36

    REHMPerry, do you agree?

  • 10:13:38

    BACONI do. I think the most interesting divide is not between sort of Trump and Ryan, but between the -- Trump won a lot of the primaries. He won a huge number of the votes in the primaries so the gap between where you have the elite Republicans, you have the Condy Rices and so on, you have a lot of people in the leadership saying, we cannot vote for him. And he's getting probably 80 to 90 percent of the Republican vote in most of the polls. So it's not as if -- most Republican voters are voting for him in the same way they voted for Mitt Romney.

  • 10:14:05

    BACONBut you had this huge gap on the elite end where, you know, you have a large block -- I think one-their of the senators now are -- Republican senators are not for Trump. That's a really big number. Every senator in 2012 was for Mitt Romney who was a Republican. So that's a huge gap between the elites and that's where I think, you know, even moving forward after the election, how do you bring a party together where the grass roots feels differently than the party leadership does?

  • 10:14:28

    REHMThat's a great question, Amanda.

  • 10:14:30

    TERKELWell, and I think Mercedes touched on another block that feels especially alienated, which is women and women who have traditionally have voted with the Republican party. I mean, these last revelations were very, very, very bad and Donald Trump's, you know, desire to attract women to his campaign. And there was an interesting tweet storm yesterday, I thought, by a woman on Twitter named MB Glenn. And she said she's a lifelong Republican. She has defended the Republican party over the years when Democrats said that the party was waging a war on women.

  • 10:15:00

    TERKELBut she said she just can't do that now with Donald Trump and everything coming out after the tape. And she's actually disappointed by a lot of Republicans who she's really respected over the years not coming out and distancing themselves more. You know, this is a party that has had trouble attracting female voters. In 2012, after the stuff with Todd Akin and the legitimate rape comment, the party, you know, said we're going to train our members. We're not going to focus on these issues.

  • 10:15:25

    TERKELWe're going to stick to the economy and we're going to move on from this so that we can attract more female voters. And Donald Trump has just completely upended all of that.

  • 10:15:33

    REHMDavid.

  • 10:15:34

    WINSTONWell, actually, Mercedes said something interesting that I think the Republican party needs to think through. And let me start off with one comment. Basically, if any other Republican was running, they would likely winning. Inverse, if anybody besides Hillary Clinton was running on the Democratic side, they would probably win at this point. So we managed to find the two people who couldn't beat anybody else except maybe each other. But Mercedes said one interesting thing that I think is the challenge of the party. She said, the whole purpose here is to defeat Hillary Clinton.

  • 10:16:03

    WINSTONAnd why I find that frustrating is what the purpose should be is to elect a Republican to the presidency who we want to see take over and, in fact, put policies into place. And I think that's the problem that both parties are having. The inverse is true for a lot of Democrats. They're not voting for Hillary. They're voting to defeat Donald Trump. And what we have now is a political dynamic of it's not who would be the best president, but who would be the worst and that's -- why is the country frustrated? Because that's their choice.

  • 10:16:30

    SCHLAPPI think that's a great point. And this the way I view it. I feel like there's moral deficiencies on both sides of these presidential candidates and so I think for voters, talking about the agenda, what policies are they pushing forward makes more sense for America. And that's where I think we've gotten lost. We're not talking necessarily about policy anymore. We're talking about these two personalities. And I think that that's what's driving it. If you think about -- I think about, for example, in the case of women that I know here in Virginia that Republican now saying they're not going to vote for Donald Trump.

  • 10:17:02

    SCHLAPPIt's because of the tape. It wasn't because of the policies. So it's an interesting change in terms of saying how much do I -- can I deal with this presidential candidate as opposed to what we need to be talking about, which is economic policy, national security policy, keeping our communities safe, those are the issues that are getting missed because of the fact that we're focusing on primarily wikileaks and an audio tape from 11 years ago.

  • 10:17:29

    REHMHaven't there been discussions of policy on the part of Hillary Clinton?

  • 10:17:36

    BACONI would disagree in both instances. I think actually Trump has talked a lot about -- if you think about the border wall, the Muslim ban, his law and order talk, I actually think Trump has had a lot of -- he doesn't talk about policy the way Paul Ryan does, but Trump actually talks about policy in a very precise way and no candidate has ever had more policy plans that Hillary.

  • 10:17:57

    REHMPerry Bacon, he's senior political reporter for NBC News. Short break here, and more when we come back.

  • 10:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back, as we talk about Republican strategy now and going forward. We were talking in our first segment about Paul Ryan, his decision yesterday announced that he will not defend or campaign for Donald Trump and that Republicans need not do so either. Here's an email from Kim, who says, I don't understand Paul Ryan's strategy at all. By refusing to defend Donald Trump, he angers Trump supporters. By saying he's not going to pull his endorsement, he angers many moderate voters. It seems as though it doesn't satisfy anyone. How is his, I won't defend Trump but I will still endorse him stance helping his goal of keeping the House for Republicans? Amanda.

  • 10:21:11

    TERKELI think he isn't making many people happy. And this is very, very hard for Republicans. You saw this in Nevada with Congressman Joe Heck. He decided to distance himself by Trump -- from Trump and pull his endorsement. And he's been booed at his public events. And there have been callers into talk radio saying that they were going to vote for him, but they consider him a coward now so they're not going to anymore. But at the same time, if he didn't do what he did, he'd have all these people saying why aren't you distancing yourself from Trump? You would have Democrats running ads saying, Trump said this and Joe Heck isn't pulling his endorsement so he clearly agrees with him.

  • 10:21:46

    TERKELRight now, Trump is putting these Republicans, who may want to talk about policy and talk about local issues, in a very, very difficult place.

  • 10:21:53

    REHMPerry.

  • 10:21:55

    BACONI think Ryan shows he makes a lot of sense. The reality is, if you're a really anti-Hillary, very strong conservative Republican, you're going to end up voting for the Republican House member or the Republican senator no matter what. You may be mad about it. You know, the natural thing for you to do is to vote for the person in the party you agree with. If you're the -- the voters that Paul Ryan has to worry about are the people who are more moderate and more swing. And I think a strategy appealing to them makes a lot of sense from where I sit.

  • 10:22:21

    REHMMercedes.

  • 10:22:23

    SCHLAPPYou know, I think Amanda is completely right. I think that the down-ballot scenario is where the focus is, right? Speaker Ryan is looking at the poll numbers. If, for example, you start seeing a 10 percent gap between a Clinton and a Trump in the ticket, it impacts the congressional race, it impacts the Senate race. It puts them in greater risk of losing that seat. So I think he's making that calculation based on what he's seeing in terms of poll numbers. And I do think that it does anger the grassroots. I think the grassroots are upset because, when you look at it, 74 percent of Republicans think that Republicans should stick with Donald Trump and we should support Donald Trump.

  • 10:23:04

    SCHLAPPAnd I think that by the mere fact that they're willing to -- that Ryan is willing to create what I call a safe zone between himself and Donald Trump, I think partly it is because he wants to protect those vulnerable members, first and foremost, despite the fact that it might upset the grassroots.

  • 10:23:21

    REHMDavid.

  • 10:23:23

    WINSTONWell, Ryan is trying to create a dynamic, at least in terms for his conferences. He's the person who's got to be out in front and he's trying to set up -- he's going to take all the arrows, basically, so his members can have the flexibility to do what they need to do to succeed. Given what happened, it's now reached a point where he's made the call -- I'm sure sitting down with Greg Walden, who's the chair of the campaign committee for the Republicans in the House -- and they've looked at this situation and they've seen there's enough volatility here that they've got to give their members flexibility. That's what he's simply doing here.

  • 10:23:55

    WINSTONLet me go back to one other thing, too, in terms of the numbers, in terms of people -- Republicans wanting Trump to run and that 74 percent number, which has been used pretty consistently, that 74 percent of Republicans want him to stay in the race. Understand that that's not a good number. And what I mean by that is he needs to have that number at 90 to 95 percent. If he ends up coming in at 74 percent of the Republican vote, the Republican Party is completely blown out in this election. And I think that's part of also what Paul Ryan is looking at is, how do you build some support around all his candidates? And the way he believes is through policy and getting them back on topic in terms of let's talk about issues that matter to the American people.

  • 10:24:34

    REHMAnd here's an email from Paul on that very issue. He says, as a Democratic supporter, I'm alarmed that the Republican Party is melting down. Right and left need moderation and reason. If the Republican Party splits hard with a brutal, unreasonable, mini-party, what kind of future does that bode? Mercedes.

  • 10:25:06

    SCHLAPPMaybe that -- the caller should be running for president for (word?). It is. It's so sad, Diane. I think we're ending up in a state where there's such polarization, where I -- and it's one of the reasons why we see such gridlock in Washington. You know, Democrats are, you know, they're grounded in their positions. Republicans are in their positions. You don't see that bipartisanship, Diane, that you have seen through Washington throughout many decades...

  • 10:25:32

    REHMExactly.

  • 10:25:33

    SCHLAPP...where you would see a Bill Clinton work with a Newt Gingrich, or you would see a George Bush work with a Senator Kennedy. And that's what I think is missing in Washington. And whether it is bringing in an outsider or not, that's a different story. But I find that the moderation, those moderate positions are sometimes washed out by both extreme sides of the parties.

  • 10:25:58

    REHMAll right. Let's move on. David Winston, Donald Trump has repeatedly accused the American elections of being rigged. And as an American, hearing him say that, it frightens me. Because that message permeates what people think about their own country.

  • 10:26:33

    WINSTONYou know, there are two elements. I mean, what he's trying to tap into is this idea that there are a lot of Americans that believe their voice isn't being heard. But he's taking it this step, I would argue, too far. And that is this idea that in fact the elections are rigged. That somehow the conclusion of this election is in fact not going to be valid. Look, one of the, you know, one of the great moments in terms of thinking about how this democracy works is when you see two -- a president and an incoming president of different parties very calmly transfer power. That's an amazing thing that reflects who we are as a country and what democracy works.

  • 10:27:12

    WINSTONEven when you get into very difficult situations, going back to the 2000 election, where you had Supreme Court cases. Yet, on that day, there was a very solemn and non-combative transfer of power that represents who we are as a country. And so to challenge that basic premise, I think, is really irresponsible.

  • 10:27:33

    REHMWell, is that what he's doing? Is he urging his supporters, if he loses, to go in to the streets and protest? Amanda.

  • 10:27:45

    TERKELThat's what it sounds like. And I don't know if that will materialize, but that is one of the biggest fears of what he's saying. And it also sets up -- it ties a little bit back to what he's done with President Obama, too, and saying that if he loses and if Hillary Clinton wins, she will not be the legitimate president because the election was rigged and she just didn't win fairly. And this is what he's done with President Obama all along. He is not the legitimate president because, according to Donald Trump and this conspiracy theory, he was not born in the country and therefore is not constitutionally eligible to be president.

  • 10:28:17

    TERKELAnd so he is doing the exact same thing. He's feeding into this paranoia and these conspiracy theories that then creates this system where people don't trust the president.

  • 10:28:27

    REHMPerry.

  • 10:28:28

    BACONThe legitimacy point is so important, because he also suggested on Sunday that if Hillary Clinton wins, she should not only not be president but she should be in jail. This is a very important comment, if you think about it. It's going to be really hard for Hillary Clinton to unite the country if she wins, when the other candidate says that she should not -- just not win, but he would have imprisoned her if he had won the -- that comment was problematic. In terms of rigging the election, I -- there is something I am concerned about, which is that if, you know, the Russian hacking is actually very serious, and that that actually might be a situation…

  • 10:28:58

    REHMNo question.

  • 10:29:00

    BACON...where the election is -- the results are -- if they can...

  • 10:29:01

    REHMAffected.

  • 10:29:02

    BACON...hacking into elected -- the election systems actually is a possibility that I think is remote but still very scary in terms of, you know, if they can change one county's voting results, that would change a lot of things. One thing to keep in mind, of course, is right now Hillary is winning by enough to where, even if Hillary wins a lot of states, if she's on, you know, would win if the election were today. If Trump loses by 11 percent, I don't think even his supporters would believe the election was that rigged. You know, right now, she's winning by 11 percent in some polls, 7 percent in other polls. If she wins 350 electoral votes, it's hard to say the election was rigged.

  • 10:29:36

    REHMSo, Mercedes, what happens if indeed Hillary does win, Donald Trump says the election was rigged, where are the majority of Republicans in the hierarchy of the Republican Party, how are they going to stand with or against a new president?

  • 10:30:04

    SCHLAPPOh, I think that the majority of Republicans will stand with the election results and if it's a Hillary Clinton win, it's a Hillary Clinton win, I mean, that is what is the amazing part of America. It is the people transfer of power. I do not expect to see riots all over the streets. I think that there would be this acceptance from the majority -- by far the majority of Republicans. I think then the Republican Party will need to -- not only will there be an autopsy, but it would definitely need to really figure out a way to rebuild the party and bring together the frustrations of the grassroots along with where the vision of the leadership is in the Republican Party.

  • 10:30:47

    REHMAll right. It's time to open the phones. 800-433-8850. Let's go to Prentiss in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.

  • 10:31:02

    PRENTISSHi. Thank you for having me.

  • 10:31:04

    REHMSure.

  • 10:31:04

    PRENTISSI just wanted to make a quick point about the beginning. I don't understand hypocrisy and cynicism of the Republican Party, all of a sudden saying, oh, my goodness, there's gambling and racism in the towns. This has been a strategy for decades -- the Southern strategy, right, Nixon's deal, Willie Horton, you know, all of these things that lead, you know, politically and through policy through discrimination and all these things. And now, I mean, the Tea Party, and then magically look up and say, well, we don't know where this came from. And that's very insulting for people that have actually been paying attention. So I'm just -- how do they square that with people that have actually been watching?

  • 10:31:47

    REHMPerry.

  • 10:31:50

    BACONWell, there's a lot embedded in that question. I mean, I -- yes. If you think about Trump's campaign, some of the elements of it have elements you could argue of the -- there's some debate about this. You could argue that the -- some of the comments he's made about Muslims and Mexicans and the birther comments have a racial tinge to them. I think we can say that pretty safely. And there has been a history of that in the Republican Party to some extent. I would say, if you think about Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan and folks like that, they have tried to move away from that.

  • 10:32:19

    BACONAnd I would say, actually, we're saying Paul Ryan is moving away from Trump for political reasons. That is certainly true. I would actually suggest Paul Ryan, throughout the campaign, remember he wouldn't endorse Trump for a long time. He was criticizing Trump for a while. My guess is Paul Ryan is -- sees the writing on the wall that November 8, Trump is going to lose. And Paul Ryan also wants to start thinking about what does the new Republican Party look like immediately after that? And I think he has some view that he does not want it to look like Donald Trump's agenda and Donald Trump's comments about race and about culture.

  • 10:32:50

    BACONSo I do think there are Republicans who are not on the side of running the way Trump has with this kind of racial elements of the campaign.

  • 10:32:57

    REHMOn the other hand, if one accepts the premise that Republicans have been pushing forward these racist ideas for many, many years, how does the party then repair itself after an election like this? Amanda.

  • 10:33:18

    TERKELWell, even if, you know, not everyone in the party has been pushing these ideas. But I do feel like there's a sense that there has maybe been too much looking the other way, that you saw this in the Tea Party, you know, Donald Trump coming up in the primary. There was a lot of hope of, you know, that's not really what the Republican Party is, so let's ignore them and hope that the better person comes out ahead, you know, the candidate we want to see. And that doesn't happen.

  • 10:33:43

    TERKELAnd so, all along, the Republican Party has gone along, just hoping it will get better, hoping common sense will take over. But now they're left with Donald Trump, who may be the next president. And if he wins, he will fundamentally change the party. So the party, I think, perhaps needs to take a stronger stance and shift some of these frustrations into a more constructive way.

  • 10:34:01

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's take a caller in Cornelius, N.C. Marilyn, you're on the air.

  • 10:34:15

    MARILYNOh, thank you so much. I grew up a Republican but have been a Democrat for many years and do support Hillary Clinton. Since Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, I understand for the very first time how a nation could choose a dictator. I'm not drawn to Trump, but I do fear him. If he was the only voice, I'd be much more worried about speaking up. But fortunately there is a strong leader like Hillary Clinton speaking for the majority. And not one Republican candidate was able to do what she is able to do.

  • 10:34:53

    REHMMercedes, how do you respond?

  • 10:34:55

    SCHLAPPWell, I mean, my father fled a dictatorship of Cuba. So I think to compare Donald Trump to a dictator I think is a bit far reaching. So, you know, I think, again, Americans are going to pick in November. And I find that, you know, Donald Trump is not the way a politician talks is where he comes from. He's a businessman. To a certain extent, he's not your policy wonk, like a Hillary Clinton. And so -- but he's tapped into the frustration of so many Americans who have felt that they've been left behind in Obama's economy. They felt, you know, they feel that they want to ensure that we are protected from a national security level. And I -- and they feel that the Democrats have failed to do that.

  • 10:35:43

    SCHLAPPAnd so I think that that's one of the reasons why Donald Trump and his economic message of putting America first has resonated with so many voters.

  • 10:35:52

    REHMAt the same time, regarding Donald Trump as a dictator, his repeated statement that he would make sure Hillary Clinton goes to jail sort of bypasses the democratic legal system in a way that we don't normally think of happening in this country. Amanda.

  • 10:36:17

    TERKELRight. Even Michael Mukasey, who was George W. Bush's attorney general and who is a Trump supporter, he said that you can't do this. That's something that would happen in a banana republic. He doesn't support it at all. You had, you know, Obama's former attorney general, Eric Holder, come out and essentially the same thing. You can't say that if you win, you are going to jail your political opponent for political reasons. This is not done in America. And I know that Donald Trump doesn't always, you know, the Trump campaign doesn't always like comparisons to Vladimir Putin in Russia, but it seems like something that you would hear out of him and hear in Russia more than in a U.S. election.

  • 10:36:54

    REHMPerry.

  • 10:36:55

    BACONThe comparison, like, the dictator comparison is hard, so I'm going to avoid that. But I mean I do think part of what Mercedes says is right, is that Trump is running a different kind of campaign. If you remember the debate on Sunday, Trump at some point blamed Hillary for not having taxes raised on the wealthy, and Hillary sort of explaining, well, I was one senator of 100 and that's not how things work. And Trump sort of blew past there. He does have a different view of the government that he singly can fix it in a way that Hillary does not.

  • 10:37:27

    REHMA different view, meaning he would reshape.

  • 10:37:31

    BACONHe would tell -- he thinks he has more power than the average president does.

  • 10:37:34

    REHMPerry Bacon of NBC News. Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about how Republicans have responded to Donald Trump, his actions, his statements and how they will respond going forward. Here's an email from Sandra in Manchester, New York, who says, I keep hearing discussion of Trump's sexual assault brags being described as a distraction and not a policy issue. Given the prevalence of sexual assault and rape in the workplace, on college campuses and on our streets and in our homes, it is, or should be, a policy issue. Amanda?

  • 10:40:57

    TERKELYes, I don't think it's a distraction at all. I mean, you have this candidate who's trying to appeal to women voters who has put himself out there as he'll be a great president for women, he'll have these family leave policies, these childcare policies, and, you know, he will be the president of all people, not just men but also women. And he is out there talking about women in this incredibly derogatory way, boasting about sexual assault, which he said he'd never actually followed through on those actions, this was just words, locker room talk, even though he wasn't in a locker room, he was in a professional setting, on a bus.

  • 10:41:33

    TERKELSo I don't think these are a distraction at all. I think these are a very, very important part of the campaign.

  • 10:41:38

    REHMDavid Winston?

  • 10:41:41

    WINSTONI want to put this in context in the sense of he has gone through a series of statements that has truly just simply outraged people, starting with John McCain in terms of being a POW, then the disabled person in terms of sort of mocking that individual. I mean, there's a sequence, and every time we keep thinking he can't go any farther or go beyond the pale, he manages to find some way to go beyond the pale, and I think this was just another example.

  • 10:42:07

    WINSTONI mean, it built on who people thought he was, and I have to say that right now all the incoming that he's getting is deserved. I mean, he needs to think through, and he's got to start thinking about I've got these huge unfavorables, and there's a reason, and I need to start addressing them if I'm in fact willing to somehow build a majority coalition, and at least this point it doesn't like he's focused on it. He wants to keep his 38 to 40 percent in place, and that's not going to be what's needed for the Republican Party.

  • 10:42:36

    REHMMercedes, have you forgiven Donald Trump for his comments?

  • 10:42:43

    SCHLAPPLook, I was completely offended by what I heard. I was -- it's indefensible. I don't go out there and defend Trump on this, and I expect more from my candidates. But I also feel that there's a bit of a double standard. I think you look at Bill Clinton's history, I think you look at Hillary Clinton and how she called certain women bimbos and looney narcissists, and I don't think that's something that is -- that you just can keep out of the discussion, as well. If we're going to go down this route, you know, it really is very disappointing that both of these candidates from a moral character standpoint are deficient.

  • 10:43:18

    SCHLAPPAnd I -- and I think that that's an issue that needs to be brought out.

  • 10:43:25

    REHMAt the same time, Bill Clinton is not the candidate for the presidency.

  • 10:43:31

    SCHLAPPTrue, but he is her key advisor. Bill Clinton is her number one campaign person out there, spokesperson, on the trail, and he would be the first gentlemen. So they're a team, they're together, and I just think that it's a bit inexcusable to say that Bill Clinton is irrelevant in this. I mean she has -- Hillary Clinton herself has said that he would be one of her top advisors in the White House.

  • 10:43:55

    REHMAmanda?

  • 10:43:55

    SCHLAPPIs she promoting sexual assault in the White House?

  • 10:43:57

    REHMAmanda?

  • 10:43:57

    TERKELBeing an advisor or being a family member of a candidate is very different than being the candidate, the candidate him- or herself. And I, you know, find it backwards to blame Hillary Clinton for the infidelities of her husband. I mean, I know a lot has been said about, well, she stood by him, she, you know, defended him, she even said some bad things about the women who were accusing him, but, you know, I give a -- I give a significant pass to the wives or husbands of, you know, significant others who are cheating on them. You know, you don't know what goes on in a marriage.

  • 10:44:33

    TERKELI think it's understandable that a spouse would want to stand by their spouse. And, you know, all indications show that Bill Clinton repeatedly lied to her about what he was doing. She wrote about this in her autobiography, that Bill Clinton told her, for example, about Monica Lewinsky and said that she was an intern, she mistook some of his, you know, attention as affection, and there was nothing to worry about.

  • 10:44:53

    TERKELSo I find it hard to believe that Hillary Clinton was a willing participant in covering up these affairs that she knew about, supposedly, and I think it's wrong to blame her for what her husband did. She needs to be judged on her own merits.

  • 10:45:06

    REHMPerry?

  • 10:45:07

    BACONI think I agree with Amanda, the main factor being Hillary is the candidate, not Bill. I don't -- I guess what I would say I wouldn't mind more investigations of what Bill did. There's an accusation of sexual assault against Bill Clinton. I don't think -- I think reporters have looked into that, right, I mean, it's not as if -- I don't think there's -- I guess I wouldn't say there's an equivalence necessarily, but I do think -- there's not an equivalence, but I don't think I would mind investigations of both.

  • 10:45:29

    BACONI think there have been. There's been plenty of people who looked into Bill Clinton's conduct. That's how he was impeached in the first place. I don't think that's been lacking. I don't think people are lacking knowledge in that. So I think that's where I may focus. But I do think particularly, like, we have Trump on video speaking and sort of bragging about grabbing someone the way he did is a totally unique and sui generis event that I think is a huge story.

  • 10:45:53

    BACONAnd to be fair, the caller suggested this being called as a distraction. Beyond Trump and Kellyanne Conway, I think everyone else is treating it like it's an issue, not a distraction. So I don't think it's been treated that way by the press. I mean, Anderson Cooper really pressed on that in the debate, and Trump said in the debate that he has not groped anyone, but there was a New York Times story by Nick Kristof that day who quoted a woman who said she had been groped directly by Donald Trump.

  • 10:46:17

    REHMTo Rebecca in Evansville, Indiana, you're on the air.

  • 10:46:23

    REBECCAGood morning.

  • 10:46:26

    REHMHi.

  • 10:46:27

    REBECCAGo ahead, ask me.

  • 10:46:29

    REHMAsk you what?

  • 10:46:32

    REBECCAWell, I did a brief summary with the young lady who took the call.

  • 10:46:38

    REHMJust please go ahead and state your point.

  • 10:46:41

    REBECCAOkay, my comment is to find out from the women who protested yesterday in Virginia, in front of the GOP headquarters, for not backing Donald Trump. I am interested in what got these women in their minds to the point of protesting for Donald Trump. Where do they come from? What is their income? Have they worked outside the home? What is their education? And basically that's what I want to know.

  • 10:47:28

    REHMAll right, and any comment, Mercedes?

  • 10:47:31

    SCHLAPPWell, I think it's the grassroots versus the -- versus those individuals in the RNC or in the Republican Party who are not backing Donald Trump. I think you saw, you know, Reince Priebus, the RNC chair, has been in a very difficult position. Obviously he's trying to keep the party together. I think it's probably the toughest job in America right now. And there was a sense and this feeling, because of what Speaker Ryan had decided, that he didn't want, obviously telling his members to, you know, do what you need to do, that there was this sense that, from the grassroots, a bit of a panic in terms of are they going to back away and not support the nominee despite, you know, 45 percent of Republicans who voted for him in the primary.

  • 10:48:14

    SCHLAPPSo I think that that's where you find that dynamic between the grass roots and the -- and what's happening in terms of the RNC party dynamics and the Republican leadership.

  • 10:48:26

    REHMAll right, so considering Ryan's statement, how big a problem is this now for Republicans in Congress, Amanda?

  • 10:48:40

    TERKELIt's a very, very big problem. Right now so far there hasn't been a lot of polling showing how much this is hurting them, but if nothing else it's a distraction. They have to answer this. You know, Republicans who didn't immediately put out a statement commenting on Donald Trump's, you know, 2005 comments were just badgered constantly, what position are you going to take, when are you going to talk about this, do you agree with Donald Trump.

  • 10:49:04

    TERKELSenator Jeff Sessions, who is one of Trump's biggest supporters, was asked, do you believe that what Trump described is sexual assault, and he said I don't know, I don't think so, but -- and so the reporter followed up and said specifically do you think grabbing a woman like that is sexual assault. I don't know. And that's frustrating to many, I think, Republican women, even, based on the responses I was seeing on Twitter, because, you know, they know that's sexual assault, and the fact that even if the party feels like it wants to parse words and say I don't know if that's a legal definition, that is not good enough when you're trying to appeal to women.

  • 10:49:41

    TERKELWomen know that that is sexual assault, and if the party leaders can't just say that, I think that is very frustrating.

  • 10:49:47

    REHMPerry?

  • 10:49:48

    BACONThere are two big issues the Republicans face. I guess the first -- in terms of the down-ballots. Like I have the assumption right now that Hillary is very likely to win. The president's race is over in a lot of ways, you know, Hillary is very likely to win. So if you look down-ballot, there's two issues. The first is that most Americans today vote for the same ticket for president and for down-ballot. So now you basically have a lot of Republicans who are saying you don't have to vote for Trump, but vote for me for Congress. That's not usually how voters behave.

  • 10:50:16

    BACONIt may be different this year because Trump is so unusual, but there -- that's a test. And the second thing is I'm curious, we've had so much attention around this election, I'm curious if turnout is actually really high this year. You know, we had turnout that was really high in '08, came down a little bit in '12. I feel like the amount of people who are paying attention to this race may be high, and a higher turnout election is a problem for the Republicans because that tends to drag -- has more people who are lower income tend to vote in big turnout elections, people who are people of color might vote more, and that becomes -- an election in which more sort of people of color particularly vote is an election in which the Republicans are really in trouble because those people are not going to vote for Republican candidates for Cong or for Trump.

  • 10:50:55

    REHMHow much impact do you think Paul Ryan's statement will have on ordinary voters? Obviously he was talking to members of Congress, but what about voters, David?

  • 10:51:07

    WINSTONWell, what he was trying to do is give these members the flexibility to take the positions they need to take. And let me give you two examples of people in very competitive situations who in fact have excelled to extraordinary levels, and the two people are Rob Portman in Ohio, who everybody thought this was going to be an incredibly tight race, and he has managed to open up a double-digit lead, all right. Why? Because he focused on policy, the opioid issue, the way he just approached the electorate. It was completely different.

  • 10:51:36

    WINSTONThe other one is Kelly Ayotte, right. She's got a sizable lead in New Hampshire, particularly in contrast to Trump. And so what you've seen in those two sort of reflecting is you can have a lot of people who are potentially voting for Hillary Clinton and the Republican senator in that case. What Paul Ryan was simply doing was opening that door to all his members in his conference who need that ability to be able to do that, and, by the way, again providing that agenda and those policy positions that in fact can let them engage in that way.

  • 10:52:05

    WINSTONHaving said that, look, one of the things that people need to realize in terms of what Trump needs, particularly on the Republican side but also at a national level, and I want to go back to this concept of voice not being heard, right. The discourse that political campaigns have had and the media have had with these individuals has been such that it's put them into a situation where they're willing to play political 52-card pickup, right, and to some degree it's going to be the responsibility of the party leadership, it's going to be a responsibility of everybody involved with political discourse to begin to re-engage those people in a way that they feel like they're a part of that process because right now they don't, and we've seen the outcome.

  • 10:52:42

    WINSTONSo this isn't just something that's Donald Trump. This is a reflection of the quality of political discourse that's occurring in the country right now.

  • 10:52:51

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Dallas, Texas, hi there, Tim, you're on the air.

  • 10:53:01

    TIMHi Diane, thanks. I'll be really brief. I don't think I've heard anyone either on the phone or on the panel say what it sounds like it sounds like Paul Ryan's current strategy is, and that is a de facto concession of the presidential election. And if that is in fact what is going on, then I think he's left with only two options at this particular point as it pertains to trying to maintain control of Congress.

  • 10:53:24

    TIMHe either has to basically reformulate what the Republican Party is under a presidency if Donald Trump were to win, but more importantly I think since he says he has essentially conceded this presidential election, I'd love to hear what we can look forward to, if he's able to maintain control of the Congress, other than at least four more years of nothing but obstructionism. Thanks.

  • 10:53:46

    REHMThat's a really good question, Mercedes.

  • 10:53:49

    SCHLAPPIt's such a great -- such a great question because I do -- I do feel, and I'll tell you on the grassroots level, that is the sense. The sense is that Speaker Ryan is -- it feels like he's willing to protect the Congress, protect the House majority and concede the White House. And I think that's a very -- you know, that's very troublesome for Republicans, who have invested, especially those Republicans, many who have -- for the first time are supporting -- you know, supported -- came out and supported Donald Trump to say we're just going to simply give up, is that it, and again not pushing forward on the united goal of defeating Hillary Clinton.

  • 10:54:29

    WINSTONOne of the -- there's actually sort of a semi-precedent here in terms of House Republicans looking out for themselves in a very difficult presidential year, and that goes back to 1996, when congressional Republicans working with Bill Clinton passed welfare reform. Understand the Dole campaign thought that was going to be one of their key issues to be able to take on Bill Clinton, but House Republicans decided they needed points on the board, and they were willing to do that to ensure that we sustained a House majority. And the Dole campaign, I still think there are a lot of people who probably thought that was a critical moment for the Dole campaign, where basically they were begin written off.

  • 10:55:04

    REHMAll right, but here's the second part of this question. If Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States, and Paul Ryan does manage to keep control of the Congress, do we have four more years of gridlock?

  • 10:55:23

    WINSTONI think it's six more technically, right?

  • 10:55:25

    REHMSix. Go ahead.

  • 10:55:28

    SCHLAPPI mean, I think if it were up to Paul Ryan, no, I don't think Paul Ryan wants that. Paul Ryan is a policy guy. I think, you know, you've seen him work across the aisle, and I think, you know, but he is not just a member, he is not chairman of a committee, he is speaker of the House. And what he wants is not necessarily what the rest of his caucus wants.

  • 10:55:46

    SCHLAPPAnd so I think some of it will depend on how big of a majority he keeps, what his caucus looks like, how strong for example the Freedom Caucus is, which tends to be more obstructionist, and what lessons are taken away from the election. I think, you know, we've talked a lot about Paul Ryan, by the way, but Mitch McConnell, who is trying to retain his Senate majority, we haven't talked about him, and he has been very quiet.

  • 10:56:09

    SCHLAPPHe was asked at an event the other day, he said if you're here to hear my thoughts on the presidential election, you should just go home. I have no thoughts on the presidential election. So while Paul Ryan is out there trying his best to address this, Mitch McConnell is just staying out of it.

  • 10:56:23

    REHMPerry?

  • 10:56:24

    BACONYeah, I think gridlock is likely and not just because of personalities, because of real difference on public policy views. I mean, Hillary Clinton wants to create immigration reform with a path to citizenship. She wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. These are things Paul Ryan disagrees with, these are things that most Republicans disagree with. I just think that the parties are really far apart.

  • 10:56:43

    BACONI mean, we haven't talked about this too much, but we also have -- there's really four parties in America right now. There's Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren's party, there's Barack Obama and Hillary's, there's the Tea Party and Donald Trump, and there's the Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney group. So the four of those institutions agreeing on much of anything is actually hard to imagine.

  • 10:57:01

    REHMSo the only way that this country is moving forward after the election, is this what you're saying, that Democrats have to win the White House, the Senate and the House?

  • 10:57:16

    BACONAll the legislation passed in 2001 and 2002, so yes.

  • 10:57:19

    REHMWow, what a challenge. All right, Perry Bacon of NBC News, David Winston of the Winston Group, Amanda Terkel of The Huffington Post, Mercedes Schlapp, Republican strategist, thank you all so much.

  • 10:57:37

    WINSTONThank you.

  • 10:57:38

    SCHLAPPThank you.

  • 10:57:39

    BACONThank you.

  • 10:57:40

    TERKELThank you.

  • 10:57:41

    REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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