The Republican Party After Trump
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Just a few months ago, the Republican Party had lost the presidency but won millions of votes, including gains among Black and Latino voters, gained seats in Congress and controlled more state legislatures. Now the president they promoted and assisted is widely unpopular for lying and inciting insurrection. The identity of the Republican Party is tied up with white supremacists.
What is the Republican Party now? Well, we'll ask Ryan Costello, former conservative Republican and congressman who represented Pennsylvania's 6th District, who joins us now. Mr. Costello, thanks so much for being with us.
RYAN COSTELLO: Great to be with you.
SIMON: I feel like I have to put it this bluntly. Has the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and Ed Brooke become the party of the Proud Boys and Confederate flags and racism?
COSTELLO: Well, you know, I certainly don't want that. And I think the predominantly overwhelming majority of Republicans don't believe that sort of hateful ideology, don't subscribe to it, don't want anything to do with it and certainly don't want the party of Lincoln to be branded that way.
SIMON: But before you go on, Washington Post/ABC poll says nearly 6 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they want to follow Trump's lead.
COSTELLO: Sure. And in fairness, I saw a poll today that - where those numbers may have gone down a little bit, but your point is a good one, and that is notwithstanding just how absolutely horrible and how much of a stain last week was on the history of our country and the president's role in it. And I think that it's one thing to speak about tax cuts and regulatory reform and speak to the ideological pillars that the party has been known for. It's another thing when the rhetoric and sort of, frankly, you know, the offensiveness of things that he would say from time to time points in such a manner that it leads to violence.
SIMON: From your point of view, Mr. Costello, does the Republican Party need to renounce Donald Trump?
COSTELLO: Well, if you don't renounce, if you don't point out where he was wrong in very clear and explicit terms, you are destined to be a minority party, and people that were voters who would ordinarily support your legislative agenda or, even more broadly speaking, your governing philosophy are going to say, if you can't do the most basic and commonsense thing, then I can't support you.
And some things in this country are even more fundamental than one's governing philosophy. They relate to the rule of law. They relate to the separation of power. It relates to the peaceful and orderly transition of power. And if you can't get those basic building blocks of our democracy and the notion of being self-governed in a republic, then voters are really not going to have time to hear the nitty-gritty on your policy details. And that's - I think that that's where we are at this moment, to be totally frank with you.
SIMON: And - well, I have to ask, Mr. Costello, and I know polls can go up and down, but if more than half of the people who identify themselves as Republicans say the party ought to support Donald Trump, after all that's happened, he's still a Republican. Can you ask people to vote for the Republican label?
COSTELLO: Interestingly - you know, I'm sure listeners have heard the term RINO - right? - Republican in name only. Well, a RINO used to be somebody who would be registered Republican but often vote with Democrats or vote not aligned with the majority of Republicans. In the past four years, RINO has essentially meant not doing whatever Donald Trump wants you to do or saying something critical of Donald Trump - has nothing to do with ideology - right? - which is totally ridiculous to me.
But to your question, I am a Republican, but I'm not a Republican - and I don't think we want Republicans, just like we don't want Democrats who are unwilling to be critical of those in their party who have done or said things that are wrong, nor do we want a Republican or Democrat just to vote the party line.
SIMON: I think the word reckoning is much overused, but as far as you're concerned, does the Republican Party need to go through a reckoning with its soul and ask, how could this happen?
COSTELLO: Yes, it does. And the part that bothers me so much is that when somebody says something offensive, whether it's the president or someone else, you know, not saying that's wrong, not cleaning it up allows those who are offended by it to think that that's what the party stands for.
To me, every American is entitled to certain inalienable rights. And if we are judging folks by things other than just them being a human being, then that's a problem. And I think the flip side for Republicans that gets Democrats in trouble is when we just focus on identity politics, which, to me, is very cancerous in our society. But we're not able to have that debate if we have people storming the Capitol with Confederate flags and saying and doing things on social media that are just outright hateful. It disgusts me. And you can't play to that. You have to outright reject it. And you have to say, I'm not interested in your support. I don't want your support. And if you can't say that clearly and quickly, then people are going to assume the worst.
And so it is normally the case that a political party has a reckoning when a president loses after their first term. You know, the party has to look inward. They have to decide what they're going to be based on moving forward. And that's where I think we'll be.
SIMON: Ryan Costello is a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. Thanks so much, sir.
COSTELLO: Thank you very much. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.