Are the days of the old GOP over? What does the future hold for the GOP? Which Republican presidential candidate has the best chance to defeat incumbent President Biden next year? On September 7th, the Miller Center hosted a panel discussion attempting to answer those questions.
The discussion featured former Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, and UVa Professor Mary Kate Cary, former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. It was moderated by Miller Center Fellow and CEO of Christie Strategies, Ron Christie. Here are a few of the questions and the panelists’ takes on them:
What does the future look like for the GOP?
Comstock believes the future of the Republican party is with governors and state legislatures, highlighting the success of moderate Republicans like Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Gov. Brian Kemp, and Gov. Spencer Cox. Later on, Cary would also agree with Comstock’s analysis of GOP success at the state level and the potential it holds for the future. Comstock’s main point was that a successful GOP needs to move away from Trump. She even likened the relationship some Republicans have with the former president to that of an abusive spousal relationship, saying, “He keeps beating you. Why are you doing this?”
Cary is optimistic about the party’s future. She believes the GOP has an opening to satisfy Americans’ hunger for a sense of purpose with a positive, forward-looking agenda that can be tied to the founding principles of the United States. In terms of whom to target, Cary argued that the anti-elite population in America – one that Trump so well captured – should remain the target for Republicans with a non-Trump candidate because “the anti-elitism in this country is exponential right now and a lot of it is because of Biden and Hollywood and Big Tech and Big Government.”
Do you see a candidate on the current stage who can beat Donald Trump?
Comstock first argued that in order to combat Trump, a candidate needs to attack his “faux populism.” She doesn’t think former Vice President Mike Pence is the messenger to do so, as he was “a part of it,” but did appreciate Pence’s attacks on Vivek Ramaswamy, someone she considers a stand-in for Trump. Comstock then attacked Trump’s “phony populism.” She likened his rise in popularity through the use of “phony populism” to that of the K.K.K., further stating he “very much allowed people to let out their inner racism.” In the current day, she said, “his racism is full on out there now. I mean he doesn’t hide it anymore and he won’t.” Comstock was appreciative of Nikki Haley’s jabs at Trump and believes she’ll see success if she attacks him more. In her conclusion, Comstock resentfully predicted that Trump would once again be the 2024 Republican nominee.
Cary pointed out that Trump’s weakness in this cycle is where his time and money will be spent: in courtrooms and on legal fees, not rallies and ads. Cary believes the best argument to be made to Trump-voting Republicans is one of turnout in the general: Trump will rally Democrats to vote more than Biden will rally Republicans.
Of the candidates on stage, Cary likes the two out of South Carolina; former Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott. She sees potential for Haley because she is on her own path – one that promotes a positive agenda – and because of her strong ability to campaign and work a room. She likes how Scott’s campaign also sticks to a positive agenda, but she wasn’t satisfied with his debate performance and held a seemingly dolesome worry that he is “too much of a nice guy.” She could see Scott appearing on the ticket, but not at the top of it.
One area of potential Cary sees with Haley is on the topic of abortion. She agreed with Haley’s points that the 60 votes required in the Senate to pass a national ban would never happen, but pushed for a ban on late-term abortions and support for the widespread availability of contraception. Cary pointed to polling from Gallup which showed that 55% of Americans and 52% of women said abortion should be illegal in the second trimester; additionally, only 37% believe it should be legal up until birth. Cary pointed to the slogan popularized by former President Bill Clinton – “Safe, Legal, and Rare” – as something everyone could agree on and said this is essentially what Haley is calling for.
Moderator Ron Christie shared his thoughts on an aspect of the future of the GOP important to him: race. He praised his former boss, former Ohio Congressman John Kasich, stating, “he never talked to black people like they were black people.” He went on to say the GOP’s messaging to people of color shouldn’t be narrowed down to just crime and housing – as this tends to alienate people. Christie’s advice was simple and punchy: “We can expand our base and we can get more people of color to join our team, but you can’t talk to them like they’re a color or ethnicity. You’ve got to talk to them like they’re people.”
What do Republicans need to offer in order to give a counterbalance to the corporate power and tech elites?
Cary argued that “Democrats have now become the party of Wall Street and that Republicans are the party of Main Street.” She pointed to Governor Youngkin’s success in Virginia and attributed it to his messaging, saying, “He was very loud about the fact that more people identify themselves as parents than as Democrats or Republicans.”
Question from the audience: “What about Glenn Youngkin when we talk about the presidency and we talk about who else is out there? Do y’all think that Glenn Youngkin has a chance – if not this cycle then the next – to be president?”
Cary: “I would say the answer is yes. I think personally he would be terrific.” She thinks in the short gap between the November elections in Virginia and the start of the primaries across the nation, “he’s going to be under tremendous pressure to jump in the race.”
Comstock: “I think in the age of Trump anything is possible.”