The Future of the Republican Party
The Republican Party has seen its share of fractures, factions, and disruption of late: some in the party openly suggest that rifts within are caused by "right-wing religious nuts" and other extremists; others, especially the young in the party, complain that conservative platforms have become closed minded, racist, inflexible, and old-fashioned. How will the GOP build internal consensus on what it stands for? And who is poised to lead the charge?
The Future of the Republican Party
Aspen Ideas Festival transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for the Aspen Institute, and the accuracy may vary. This text may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Aspen Institute programming is the video or audio.
THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2013
FUTURE OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
1000 N, Third Street
Thursday, June 27, 2013
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Republican Strategist and Former Congressman
Former Secretary of Labor
Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
Columnist, The Washington Post
Political strategist and commentator
* * * * *
FUTURE OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
MR. GERSON: Good morning, everyone. I'm Elliot Gerson from the Aspen Institute. Welcome to our first plenary of the 2013 Ideas Festival. Beautiful morning, delighted to see all of you here. And we have a fabulous panel to kick things off today and it's my pleasure to introduce Vin Weber, who will introduce the panel and moderate the discussion.
Vin is cochair and partner of Mercury/Clark & Weinstock in Washington D.C. and, of course, served extraordinarily well in the House of Representatives as a Republican for a dozen years for Minnesota and he is one of the most respected members, was one of the most respected members of Congress, is still enormously respected from both sides of the aisle and is one of the leading strategists of the Republican Party today.
And he is going to be leading this discussion on the future of the Republican Party, which is obviously a topic of enormous importance to all Americans whichever party they're in or no party. So Vin, it's my pleasure to turn over the audience to you and I should also say that he's not only respected as a Republican strategist, he's also hugely respected as a trustee of the Aspen Institute.
MR. WEBER: Thank you.
MR. WEBER: Trustee of the Aspen Institute and the chairman of the Audit Committee, so I think we're spending a little too much on these banners.
MR. WEBER: Other than that, Elliot, everything's going well this week. Anyway, it's a delight to be with everybody here and talk about the future of the Republican Party. A friend of mine before the last panel said, well, that ought to be a short discussion.
MR. WEBER: That is not our view and to kind of prove it -- but there are serious challenges I do want to explore and it's -- I couldn't be more delighted than to have three friends of mine who represent some of the best thinking in the Republican Party or the right-of-center movement in the country on the panel today. I think you know all of them, but I'll do a brief set of introductions.
Elaine Chao is the former secretary of Labor and currently a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Mike Gerson was a speechwriter among other things for former President Bush and currently writes column for the Washington Post and occasionally appears on the NewHour, Face the Nation, other television programs. And your name was --
MR. ROVE: Vin Weber, Junior.
MR. WEBER: To be introduced as a strategist for the Republican Party when Karl Rove is on the platform is a little daunting. We all, I think, know Karl and I just listen to him, Mike and I listen to Karl for about 50 minutes talking about the last election mainly, at least that's how I interpreted what you talked about. But he clearly is the premier Republican strategist of certainly my generation or our time.
And I don't want to talk about the last election particularly. I mean it's obviously relevant, but I want to talk a little bit about the challenges that our party faces going forward mainly from a policy perspective. Then we can go kind of wherever you want to and then obviously the audience can ask anything they want.
But it seems to me that, you know, the questions about technology matter, the questions about demographics matter, all that is very important, questions about whether the candidate recruitment was right, matters or questions about whether or not Mitt Romney connected with votes was right, but at the end of the day, the Republican Party's future, it seems to me, depends on whether or not there is a policy rationale that is compelling for the party.
And I think that the -- I'm Republican -- the answer to that in my mind is yes, but I think there's some serious challenges and I want to address different parts of that to each of you if I can.
First of all, I'd like to start with Mike Gerson on something that I think is one of the most significant developments in the party today that Karl, you didn't get into in your panel, but -- and it's gotten overwhelmed by the last -- Supreme Court decisions of the last couple of days which we will talk about later, I'm sure.
But it seems to me one of the greater phenomena in our party, the last since the election has been the emergence of Rand Paul as a serious national figure. I served with his father in the Congress, stayed with me a little bit, liked him, thought he was a very smart guy.
He always made an impact in election, but I don't think he ever went into an election with anybody including Rand Paul thinking he was -- could be the nominee of the Republican Party much less the president of the United States. He was proselytizing for an idea and I think by that standard, he made quite a bit of progress.
His son seems to have a different ambition and in -- the polling I've seen and the commentary I've seen lately is being taken seriously, needs to be taken seriously not just as a person with a message but as a potential Republican nominee and maybe even a potential president of the United States.
I want to start with you on this question, Mike, and I think maybe we'll get into foreign policy later, but you in my experience with you over decades really has been one of the most articulate and thoughtful articulators of sort of a communitarian vision of conservatism, and we've talked about that a lot over the years. Is Rand Paul libertarianism consistent or compatible with kind of communitarian conservatism even of the type that Ronald Reagan emphasized when he talked about family, work, community and church? Are these -- incompatible visions in your mind?
MR. GERSON: Yes.
MR. WEBER: All right. On you, Karl.
MR. GERSON: I think that there are --
MR. WEBER: Could you elaborate?
MR. GERSON: I think there are significant ideological tensions within the Republican Party that come to fundamental matters in government engagement and those work themselves out in the primary process. This has been dubbed the "libertarian moment" and there's a lot of truth to that.
Rand Paul is a very effective politician, very different from the -- from his father. He -- Rand Paul really represents libertarianism without the edge of loonyness and he -- very effective at speaking into events to support a very strong ideological prospective.
And there are a lot of events now that are conspiring in a liberal or in the libertarian direction -- everything from exhaustion with global commitments, which I think are broadly shared by Americans, whether we head toward a crash with fiscal easing, which I think has been a traditional libertarian critique about money.
The -- also we have recent events that seem to be conspiring to confirm conspiracy theories whether it's the IRS or the NSA or the FBI with, you know, domestic drones or other things, I think the reaction to this is often just widely overblown but it fits the libertarian narrative very, very well.
But let me just say the question is what the Republican Party -- the policy problem the Republican Party needs to solve. We can develop it more but I think the Republican Party has a serious problem with working-class voters who are in a economy that's continually stagnant for them no matter what the situation is in the border economy and with new Americans that are concerned about social mobility.
One of the most extraordinary facts that came out of the Great Recession was in the worst days of the Great Recession, people with a 4-year college degree had a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, people with just a high-school degree had a 24 percent unemployment rate. We're an economy that's increasing segregated by class based on things like skills, education, family structure, a lot of things that have to do with social capital.
The question is are Republicans are going to speak into the way -- live the experience of many Americans they need to appeal to on the economy. I don't think libertarianism speaks into those concerns effectively if the Republican Party is going to expand and change its base.
I mean this is -- Rand Paul's approach here not only calls into question Obamacare and the Obama agenda but the great society and the new deal and maybe, you know, the Lincoln administration when it comes with the role of government.
MR. GERSON: And Republicans are going to have to define an active but limited and positive role of government to encourage social mobility and striving in this country. The traditions that speak into that are the Lincolnian traditions of taking the side of entrepreneurship and economic progress and social mobility.
The Catholic tradition which talks about subsidiarity and the importance of mediating institutions and solidarity with the poor, you know, the Evangelical reform tradition, the kind of Wilberforce that talks about great moral cause, all of those are more promising when it comes to appealing to the actual groups that Republicans need to appeal to than libertarian ideology.
MR. WEBER: Okay. Thank you. Go ahead and applaud.
Elaine, that leads to a question. Again I want to focus on policy, the policy rationale for the Republican Party. If I were a Democrat, I would listen to all that and I'd say, well, that's good and the good is not as far as it goes, but the real answer to the question is the Republican economic message has been fundamentally discredited.
We had a collapse of the economy under Republican administration in 2008 and we've recovered from that very substantially by massive governmental interventions in the economy, first the TARP program under President Bush, then an $800 million stimulus program under President Obama, the Fed with quantitative easing over these last few years.
Doesn't this all prove that -- and now the economy is growing again, we're actually adding jobs, stock markets rising. Doesn't this fundamentally discredit the Republican economic model? And the answer is not a different Republican model; the answer is "Vote for the Democrats."
MS. CHAO: I don't think so at all.
MR. WEBER: Oh, good.
MS. CHAO: I disagree with --
Ms. CHAO: I disagree with your initial observations. Number one, I don't think the Republican model, this economic model is that -- you know, is discredited. It's being questioned, yes, there's no question about that. I would also dispute that the economy is coming back.
The unemployment rate is 7.6 percent, about 180,000 jobs, net jobs have been created in the last month. It is well below the 225,000 to 250,000 net new jobs that need to be created every month just to keep even with population growth. The unemployment rate also at 7.6 as high as it is, also masks the fact that the labor participation rate is actually quite low.
From the years 2001 to 2008, the labor participation rate was about 67.7 percent. Now, with a higher unemployment rate, the labor participation rate is actually about 63.4-63.7. So we have a lot of discouraged American workers who have exited the workforce, who cannot find jobs.
So the real question is, given the sharp decline in the economy in 2008, given all the -- all the fiscal stimulus, why has the economy not bounced back more quickly? Because in all past recessions, when there's been a deep drop in the economy, the bounce-back has been sharp and quick. And we're not seeing that. GDP growth in the last quarter was still very, very poor.
So the question is what is holding back the full recovery of the natural dynamism of this recovering -- of this economy that should be recovering. And you can have a lot of discussions about that. From my point of view, it is a tremendous amount of taxation that is -- in present and in the future which is casting a pall over employers who are concerned about the health care, Affordable Health Care Act, Dodd-Frank, that's in -- posing tremendous restrictions on banks and freezing liquidity, and also the huge avalanche of regulations that is emanating from every single federal agency in this administration.
So too much taxation, too much regulations, in fact, are showing directly their results on an economy that's not bouncing back as quickly as it should.
MR. WEBER: Karl, I want you to synthesize these last two comments. We got --
MR. ROVE: Oh, great, yeah.
MR. WEBER: We've got Mike Gerson saying the Republican Party needs to have a message that addresses the problems of stagnant incomes, lack of social mobility, genuine problems of working-class people, and that Rand Paul's libertarianism is not consistent to that. And Elaine's just told us basically that the problems with our economy are that we're not -- are just too much government regulation, taxation and spending. Address that division.
MR. ROVE: Yeah. Well, first of all, I agree with both of them. No, I think Mike is right about there's this tension between the kind of libertarianism we're seeing here today in the last 6, 8, 9 months and a healthy future for the party. The question is going to be -- I welcome the libertarian's influence in the party.
I grew up in the west. I see my mentor over here, Tom Korologos. We grew up -- I grew up in the west. And there's -- every western Republican has a healthy dose of libertarianism in him. But the question is whether it's going to be the prudential, to use one of Mike's favorite terms, "a prudent leadership" of the libertarian movement.
School choice, something that Mike would acknowledge as a libertarian invention, if you will, Milton Friedman, is a good thing and is a good part of the Republican message. You know, they -- what they've tended to do on issues in which there's this what Grover Norquist calls Leave-it-Alone Coalition, there are some elements where the -- where people just want the government out of their lives.
But are we going -- when it comes to health care, are we going to simply say no, we want to repeal the Affordable Care Act or do we want to say we want to replace it, we want, you know, libertarian ideas, people ought to be able to, health savings accounts, allow people to buy health insurance across state lines, let small-business people join together and pool risks so that they can get the same discounts the big boys get.
These are sort of things that have a libertarian flavor to them, but it's going to require a prudent leadership among libertarian Republicans that says we want to find answers. And what we've got right now is we got most libertarians who say if I don't have a 100-percent perfect answer, I'm voting no.
National Journal put out its ratings of the most liberal to conservative Republicans. The most liberal Republican is Justin Amash of Michigan, far more liberal than any other Republican. And why? Because he is a 100 percent purist libertarian. And if it's not entirely perfect, I'm voting with Nancy Pelosi, which is how he gets up with all these liberal rates; "I vote no." Because unless my side has something that's completely 100 percent perfect, I'm voting with the bad guys.
On Elaine's point, I agree with Elaine that we need to -- we do have a message that I think is fundamentally being questioned, but I think it is fundamentally sound. And we got to recognize where we pay attention to our navel, we ought to look at the other guy's navel.
The President's problem is and the Democrat problem is that they've got an economic program that's simply not gained the support of the American people. Job approval of the President on the economy is 38-58, 38-58. The Affordable Care Act -- Kaiser just came out with their latest study. The Affordable Care Act, as the President say, "God, all of you with preexisting conditions, you know, you're taken care of. If you're a kid, you can be -- stay on your parent's payroll until 26. We're doing all these great things. It has now reached its lowest approval ratings since it was passed."
This is not an economic program that has got a lot -- we're the first economic recovery in which the median household income has declined. We have the most anemic economic recovery in the recorded economic history of the United States. You look over the last 12 months and we've created 177,000 new jobs each month.
It will only take us until December of 2014 to get back to the number of people, 138 million who are working in America when we went into the recession in December of 2007. We've created just over 3,000 manufacturing jobs each month over the last year. At the current rate, it will take us 41 years to get back to the number of people working in manufacturing that we had in December of 2007. And it ain't going to get better; it's going to get worse.
And remember, between December of 2007 and December of 2014, when we'll theoretically get back to the same level of employment, the workforce will have grown by 8 to 12 million people, depending on what economist you're looking at. And there's no job for them.
Some kid gets out of school with an accounting degree and they feel lucky to get a job as a barista. Some mom reenters the workforce, kids are off to school, and she reenters workforce, no job available for them. Some veteran gets out of the military and comes home for opportunity and there is no job.
And, you know, we had -- both parties have economic challenges and both parties need to have a robust debate internally about what they propose to do about it. And I think my kids are absolutely right. It needs to be inside the lived experience of the most Americans. And, you know, this -- the idea that this has somehow been settled by what's happened over the last 5 years, you know, don't believe me, go read about Jim Messina going to the President in March and April of 2012 and say, "Mr. President, we can't win on the basis of what you've done. We talk about the stimulus and people barf. We talk about economic recovery and people start saying, what recovery? We can't win on the basis of your record. We got to take a fifth of our campaign funds, $200 million and go irradiate Mitt Romney and we call it The Grand Bet, Mr. President, because if it doesn't work by Labor Day, we have neither money nor time to try something else."
That's not a winning message of saying, "By God, we've done all the right things for the economy and as Democrats we've won this debate." It's very much up for grabs and it's going to be determined, I think, in the next three to four years.
MR. WEBER: So flush that up, both Elaine and Michael a bit, but if your campaign --if you're Karl Rove in next election, what's the platform you want your candidate to run? What -- give just -- give bullet points. What are the two or three policy-related things that -- we all understand there's negative sides to campaigns, there's tactics and there's technology, but every candidate really wants to talk about something; that's my experience. Candidates want to talk about what they're going to do if they get elected. What would you tell a candidate if you were the campaign manager that he or she should run on as a basic platform on economic and domestic policy going in the 24th election?
MS. CHAO: I think Republicans have a disadvantage. And I'm sure those in the audience have heard this, and some will agree and some will not. You know, I come from Kentucky. I lived in New York. I've lived in California. And there are people -- believe it or not, there's a whole swatch of the country that does not agree with California or New York, and they're actually quite vocal and increasingly so.
I think it's interesting -- and we got to put it in perspective. You know, all the parties, and with both parties, if you take the long-term point of view, there will be differences and there will be ups and downs in fortune. I think the Republican Party is looking at itself very, very seriously, very intently. I think Republicans felt intensely the loss of 2012 so that they know that something needs to be done.
But as we've just heard here, there's a lot of different opinion as to what is really going on. As for me and because I'm focused on jobs and employment, I think that is still very relevant; in all the polls that is still the number one issue. It may recede here and there, but it's an overwhelming issue and I think Karl will address that as well.
We need to speak about these issues with compassion and sometimes we don't -- the Republicans do not speak with a voice of compassion and I think that needs to be improved. I think there needs to be more outreach to groups of color; we're not doing that. But I think the economic message is still pretty set, but that's also the advantage and the problem because how many times can you talk about tax cuts, how many times can you talk about taxations, regulations and too much spending.
The message is simple, but it gets kind of boring after a while even though it is totally true. So I think I'm in no position to offer advice, you have got two greater -- much greater minds here.
MR. WEBER: That's pretty good advice actually.
MS. CHAO: I think just, you know, basics and you have to say it in a way that's appealing and there has to be much more outreach to the people that we're trying to reach.
MR. WEBER: Same question, Mike, I'll put a little differently, Eric Cantor is going to be here, I don't know today or tomorrow doing a panel. Why would you say that Eric should advise his caucus and his candidates to talk about in the next election?
MR. GERSON: Well, there's a fundamental previous decision you have to make. The question right now is does the Republicans Party need to motivate its coalition or modify its coalition. And you always have to motivate your coalition when you're going to an election, that's necessary, you can't get rid of it and start over. The question is whether they need to modify it in some significant ways.
I think there are good reasons they need to, demographic change, generational change, the problems with working-class voters. That for me requires a governing vision that includes everyone, okay, that does outreach to even people you know aren't going to vote for you, because it shows you care about the whole. You're not representing a faction within your own coalition; you're representing the country and its needs.
It's the reason when we were involved in a campaign in 2000 when one of the President's first -- Candidate Bush's first speeches he gave, he specifically criticized the idea that politic has no higher purpose, no greater goal than leave us alone. That was a criticism that we made to prove this point.
MR. ROVE: Yeah, that's a criticism you snuck into the speech.
MR. ROVE: We could have been a little bit more artful in that word of speech making our point.
MR. GERSON: But -- so governing vision matters. But then the Republicans Party has to overcome, I think, through symbolic policy, needs to communicate, we get it, we know there is a problem here and the problem on immigration, just to be blunt about it, is not that Republicans have not done enough outreach in the last couple of decades.
It is that an element of the party has set out to alienate, positively alienate the Hispanic community in Proposition 187 under Pete Wilson, in the Arizona law in defeating the Bush comprehensive immigration reform, in talking about self-deportation. The message here, that requires some kind of shock therapy, it has to say, we understand that this has been, you know, on the wrong track. That's the reason that immigration reform, I think, is an important symbol for the Republicans Party.
It's not enough because then you actually have to address people's real-world economic needs and that's an entirely different set of issues. I would also say there are some other issues where you can communicate that this is, you know, we're taking a different approach.
I mean, in an essay that we -- I did with Pete Wehner for commentary, we said, why don't you take on the concentration of powering the big banks or corporate welfare or other things to symbolize that you're not on the side of a corporate culture, that you are actually on the side of individual entrepreneurship and social mobility and other things.
I think the Republican -- I write on for Friday, for tomorrow on an issue like prison reform, okay, and that is an interesting issue where libertarians are concerned about 2 million people in prison, okay, as vast mass incarceration. Evangelicals have a humanitarian concern through ministries and others with prisoners. Liberals are concerned about the racial implications, why can't republicans pick some issues like that that show we're different, we're changing, perfectly within the bounds of our coalition, perfectly within the bounds of our ideology, but show the kind of creativity that says, we get it, we're shifting and changing.
My -- I'll just conclude by saying, parties win when they're come to the point where you say, we're tired of losing. Democrats did that in 1992 with Bill Clinton, where they gave their nominee the leeway to do -- unexpected outreach on welfare and crime and other issues in order to reposition his party and shift their coalition, okay.
Republicans did that with George W. Bush in 2000. They trusted him on the essentials, on tax policy and other things and then they gave him the leeway with compassionate conservative to talk about education, faith-based institutions and other kinds of outreach. The question here is whether Republicans right now are in that place or whether they're going to have to take another loss in order to reach that point.
MR. WEBER: Go ahead.
MR. ROVE: Yeah, I have a slightly different view than my 2000 colleague. I don't think they gave him leeway. I think they liked it and I think there's -- that's a recognition. I mean it's ordinary rock-ribbed Republican primary voters want a candidate that, look Rand Paul is doing this.
When Rand Paul stands up and says, we need to go campaign in the Latino community, the Hispanic community, we need people with tattoos, it strikes a hopeful note among people who may not agree with his views on foreign policy, for example.
So I think one of the things is in 2000 we constantly had this conversation where people say, oh, that's sort of risky by having Bush emphasize compassionate conservatism. No, it isn't, because people rally to it. And so, look, how is Paul Ryan who represents a district that was carried twice by Clinton, by Al Gore and twice by Obama, how does he get reelected with 60 percent of the vote.
Because he has a optimistic pro-growth message that is not the typical, you know, Republican message and he talks about it endlessly in every community in his district. If you're a -- you know, an auto worker or, you know, at Janesville, if you're a Latino family, if you're an African-American in the exurbs or Milwaukee, he's making the pitch to you.
Now he's got the message better developed than the party does at large, but I agree with a lot of what Mike says. My one difference would be is, it's not -- if we had candidates with courage who stood up and said, here is my message and it's an optimistic one and it will grow out party, I have yet to meet too many Republicans outside of Richard Viguerie whose attitude is I want fewer people in the Republican party and fewer victories.
I mean, you got to trust a guy -- you can't really trust a guy who thought that Ronald Reagan was too liberal to -- for 1984 and supported somebody else for president, but, you know, most Republicans like this and it's just finding the right -- it's like Vin.
Vin was this kind of Republican, Jack Kemp was this kind of Republican, the kind of Republicans who were broad and thinking about how do we broaden our base, how do we broaden our support, how do we get more people inside the tent and how do we take our timeless principles and apply them to the new situation which the country finds itself in?
MR. GERSON: I don't disagree. I would only say though that moods in parties change, okay. There are periods when parties are looking for converts and there are periods when parties are looking for heretics, okay. And it's --
MR. ROVE: No, no, no, no, it's -- no, no, I disagree. It's not parties, it's leaders in parties. There are some times when leaders in parties, the mob goes this way and a leader can go that way. You think it was easy in 2000 with some of the people we had to deal with that Gingrich left over? The compassionate conservativism will sell out, but you know what, the base of the party was responding to it. And, you know, I remember after the election we were, you know, Clinton saw Bush, he said, George, when you said that compassionate conservative thing, I knew we are in deep trouble.
MR. ROVE: He said, I knew -- he said that was just brilliant because I knew it would keep your people and we believed in it, so wasn't that brilliant, just brilliant.
MR. ROVE: And, you know, this -- you know, I love this thing about the base of the party. The base of the party is, you know, is reflected through their choices and primaries, but it's the leaders who dominate the public dialogue. And we have too many public leaders in that dialogue who are retrogressive and not forward looking.
MR. WEBER: Okay. I want to make sure we save some time for questions, but before we do that I want to talk about one more zone because I want to keep focused on policy. And even though it doesn't dominate every election, a party without a foreign policy, national security rationale is really not a governing party in my -- in my view. I think that helped the Republicans throughout most of my adult lifetime, hurt the Democrats certainly since the governing campaign.
We're -- it seems to me we're opening up a debate in the Republican Party that has kind of been glassed over for the last few years. I thought we -- about the reach of the American policy in the world, the role of America in the world, intervention and things. I thought we might have had that debate in the 2012 primaries, had a lot of people, Haley Barbour run for president.
Haley is all of our friend, one of the best -- maybe the best chairman the party has had in my lifetime and a great governor of Mississippi. But here we had a guy from the deep south of Mississippi, former chairman of the RNC, the guy who worked for Ronald Reagan and he was critical in his speeches before he decided not to run, the Afghanistan involvement, the Iraq involvement, of the military budget.
I was listening to him -- most people were just focusing on is he going to run or isn't he going to run and I was thinking, hey, he's saying something very different than we would ever have heard certainly from a deep-south, you know, establishment Republican. I think that he would have had a resident in court, I don't know if he won the nomination, but that debate never took place in 2012.
It looks to me like it's going to take place now. Our friend John Bolton says, he may run for president particularly to combat just that kind of thinking. Do we have an irrevocable split in the Republican Party on foreign policy, what's our foreign message for our party if it wants to be the governing party after the 2016 election?
MR. ROVE: Yeah, I like the libertarian impulse on the domestic front. I don't like it that much on the international front. The Republicans were isolationists, libertarian view before World War II and it hurt the country and it hurt the party. We had a brief flirtation with it with Robert Taft in the aftermath or World War II.
But you're right, since then we've been an internationalist party that recognized America as a great country that has a special responsibility in the world stage, like it or not, because if we lead, it has an influence for the positive in the world and if we don't lead, the world goes to hell in a ham basket pretty fast and it affects our shores, particularly in the globally connected world we are.
I'm not sure on how much of a debate we're going to have on it on the surface, there may be some things, but I thought it was interesting. Rand Paul, when he sort of entered into this, didn't do a full-fronted attack on Afghanistan or Iraq or the war on terror. He took the image of, you know, a drone hanging over the Starbucks at the corner of Main and Third in Aspen and getting ready to find an Aspen-based terrorist and unleash a Hellfire missile right into the Starbucks.
I mean, that's -- you know, that was as Mike pointed out, you know, with his comments about Paul earlier, that was a -- I mean, that was a great sort of intuitive political sense of what the American people would like or not like. But I didn't hear him say, you know what, you know, I'm against us taking that drone and unleashing a Hellfire missile on Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born terrorist in Yemen who is, you know, behind the Fort Hood massacre and encouraging violence on America.
So -- but we'll see, if he does have a, you know, a sort of a full-throttled attack on sort of the, you know, an international foreign policy that believes that there is a war on terror and that America has responsibilities on the international stage, then I think he's going to come up short. But as yet he's not really engaged in that way.
MR. WEBER: Okay. Let me ask though, Mike and Elaine to address this in a little different way and then we'll get on to questions and I think we want people to line up behind mikes to ask questions. It's not just Rand Paul. Our friend Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations has written a book in which he talks -- is Richard in the audience, by the way? Okay, well, Richard's right over there. I am loyal.
MR. ROVE: He's going to be very hurt incidentally if you say anything bad about his book.
MR. WEBER: I won't say anything bad about --
MR. KOVE: And I am reading your book. Richard called me, I completed a link to a column that he thought was critical evidence. So now I have to read the book and report back to him and the paper is due by the 15th of July and the board of observers would comment on it afterwards and I'll get my -- my grade about early August and I'm literally looking forward to the experience.
MR. WEBER: Okay. I sent it to my daughter who interned at the council last summer and she was very pleased. Anyway, here is my point. Richard's argument basically -- and he's here, he could make it himself, but we're not going to let you, is that foreign policy -- we are in a period of time where America can focus more heavily on its domestic challenges because we have a little bit of a breather in our obligations of international leadership.
Doesn't that fit quite consistently, Elaine and Mike, with what you're just saying about what the Republican Party needs to be able to do to appeal to voters in this very difficult time economically?
MR. GERSON: I do think that there has been a shift that's going on. I think if -- when I talked with members of the House in -- Republican members of the House and Senate, they did not come out of the Reagan cold war era, many of the new members, they don't share many of those assumptions about America's more a role in the world. They are much more skeptical of engagement in a variety of places. It's a -- I mean, it's a -- see, I think there would -- and I believe, I want to disagree with Karl on too many things, will I get in trouble, but it's -- I think that Rand Paul is a conviction politician.
I think that his conviction about the nature of what he views as the national security state is the central conviction of bunch of his views. He believes that's the source of overreach in government in our history since the Cold War and it's likely to be a real contrast between Rubio who has, by the way, in a risky way adopted the mantle of internationalism and engagement, talking about foreign systems, talking about other things.
There could be a real serious argument on this and I'm not sure how it would turn out. The only response that you can give is, well, substantively when you ignore the problems in the world, they don't ignore you. You know, we have a situation where we think we can disengage from the Middle East and then you get into a crisis that spills out over the borders and produces terrorist threats and destabilizes key allies and produces humanitarian nightmares and then we wonder, oh, why weren't we more active in shaping events instead of allowing them to fester.
That's always what happens in America is that we think these are optional commitments until they become crisis that threaten us.
MS. CHAO: I think it's interesting that most -- so many of these isolationists believe that somehow foreign aid takes up like 50 percent of the United States budget. In reality, it's less than 0.1 of 1 percent and I just think it's really ironic that in an age of greater globalization that there is further and further talk about pulling back and isolationism.
MR. WEBER: So we've agreed to reject the Rand Paul-Richard Haass isolation.
MR. WEBER: Just kidding.
MR. ROVE: I agree with Mike about Rand Paul being a conviction politician and it will be interesting if he enters the 2016 race and we do have a Rubio-Paul discussion on. But my point would be he's also a very clever practical politician. So he has, you know, look --
MR. GERSON: He'll pick his fights.
MR. ROVE: He'll pick his fights and like, for example, my experience in 2011 and '12 was I go -- I speak on a lot of campuses and I'd run into Rand Paul kids and about two minutes into the conversation it would be the plight of the Palestinian people and the oppression of the Jews and, you know, there was a --
MR. GERSON: By the Jews.
MR. ROVE: By the Jews, yes, the oppression by the Jews of the hapless, poor Palestinian people. I mean, this -- there was a rampant anti-Israel, almost anti-Semitic view of a lot of these Rand Paul supporters. Now, Rand is smart enough to say --
MR. WEBER: On Israel.
MR. ROVE: -- on Israel to say, I don't want to be associated with that view of -- that sort of infected my dad's campaign. So I'm going to go to Israel and I'm going to make it clear that I understand Israel is a strong ally of the United States et cetera, et cetera. But this can be interesting to see this tension between the conviction politician and the practical politician who says, okay, I'm going to talk about the Starbucks and not about Anwar al-Awlaki and I'm going to emphasize Israel but not emphasize that I want to cut our military aid budget that would seriously, could potentially put Israel and other allies at risk.
MR. WEBER: Let's go to questions for just under 20 minutes. We'll go back and forth starting over here.
MS. PORGES: Thanks very much. I'm Shelly Porges from Washington, D.C. I'm the national finance cochair for the Ready for Hillary PAC. You all have --
MR. ROVE: Something tells me you'll get a lot of donations out of this zip code.
MS. PORGES: I sure hope so. That's why I'm here. No, I'm here seriously to listen to your points of view and learn from you. And to that end you've spoken a lot about Rand Paul. Would you each please address, who would you like to see representing your party in 2016 and why?
MS. CHAO: Can I just answer that first because --
MR. GERSON: Sure, sure.
MS. CHAO: I'm going to give a very simple answer.
MR. ROVE: Elaine Chao.
MS. CHAO: I think there's going to be a lot of different candidates. We're going to see governors. We're going to see Paul Ryan certainly. I don't think Paul's going to have a leg up. I think it's going to be -- the Republican primary will be quite robust and it will have lots of different candidates.
MS. PORGES: What would you like to see?
Ms. CHAO: I'm going to not answer that.
MS. CHAO: So that's why I wanted to be first. Please go ahead.
MR. GERSON: I don't want to punt either. I think one of the advantages Republicans have, we've talked about a lot of the disadvantages, long-term electoral disadvantages, but it's a pretty strong bench for the next election. I mean, Chris Christie is a tremendous natural politician.
MR. ROVE: He's a big figure, no mistake.
MR. GERSON: Yeah, yeah, you know, I have a tremendous affection for Jeb Bush, who I think understands -- by the way, gets both the libertarian side and kind of the common good side of a lot of these questions. You know, I look at -- I think somebody like Bobby Jindal, I think that people like Paul Ryan, you know, would contribute a lot to the discussion.
I also think that beneath that there are a number of younger policy experts within the Republican Party, the all Levins in the world and others, smart, intelligent people, some libertarian, some from a more communitarian perspective that can provide the policy for an innovative campaign.
But my general concern is that we just have seen deeply unstable and disturbing primary processes where -- you know, Mitt Romney really suffered not -- a candidate can really benefit from a tough primary challenge. You don't benefit from being serially almost beaten by a series of joke candidates, okay?
And that's the way how the primary process worked in the last election and I would hope it wouldn't in this case. You get these odd enthusiasms by billionaire-supported candidates who put a lot of money on television, who are not serious. And I -- that's damaging to the party, so.
MR. ROVE: I'd add to the list of names mentioned earlier. Rubio, Walker of Wisconsin, Kasich of Ohio and potentially Snyder of Michigan as people who may or may not be interested in running. I'm interested in seeing them run. I want to see how they perform. I want to see if they are able to articulate a forward-looking economic message that as Mike said, speaks to the lived experience of people that we need to get inside our tent.
I'd say one other thing. I don't think that it was the money that was spent by outsiders or the millionaires supporting these candidates run in television ads, I think it was worse than that. All you needed to do in this contest with the proliferation of debates was you needed to raise enough money to get an airplane ticket to get you to the next debate site. You didn't need -- I mean primary contest in the past have been contest of will and muscle where you have to have a message, you have to have an organization, you have to have advertising, you have to have money, you have to have all the accoutrements of a campaign and a good-quality candidate.
Here all you had to have was an outstanding debate performance when you were one of nine people sharing 90 minutes. So, you know, all you had to do was have 7 or 8 good minutes on a stage and it was on to the next debate and the next contest. And so I think limiting the number of debates and stopping, you know, the practice of picking liberal moderators whose interest was in depicting Republicans as the weirdest people on the face of the planet, would be constructive. We ought to require these people to actually mount a real campaign rather than just simply raise enough money to get a debate ticket.
MR. WEBER: Let's go over here.
MR. BUDINGER: Yeah. I'm Don Budinger, Phoenix, Arizona.
MR. BUDINGER: Given that the overwhelming majority of increase in wealth and income since the bottom of recession till today has occurred with the top 1 or 2 percent, two questions. One, why, and two, is this good or bad in your view?
MR. WEBER: Elaine or Mike, why don't you just open it?
MS. CHAO: I think it's bad. I think Mike is very right in talking about the aspirational meritocracy which has always characterized America. I mean, you know, my parents came -- I came from, you know, Taiwan as an immigrant, we had nothing. But somehow, despite the bad years we just knew that this was the land of opportunity. And I think that's a very important message that somehow our party and all of America has to maintain.
So I think it's very harmful. And this 1 percent, I just think this 1 percent is such a bogus -- let me put it this way. It's -- I think it's such a demagogue issue. Mike talked about the skills gap. There is a widening gap between people who earn a lot of money and people who don't, putting aside Wall Street. And that's primarily because of the skills gap.
More and more, we are a knowledge-based economy and employers are paying higher wages to those workers that possess more knowledge. That actually works to the advantage of women, because women are now graduating in larger numbers from professional schools, from colleges. So we're going to see more and more women taking leadership positions.
So I think it's very bad, but I think we need to have a real honest look as to what does that 1 percent really mean? I am sure Carl and Michael or Mike would have a -- would have a better discussion.
MR. WEBER: Do you want to respond?
MR. GERSON: I think there's a disturbing dynamic at work here. But it's not because of the wealthier wealthy. It's because a significant number of people at the bottom of our system, about a third of workers now, which is a scary notion, lack the education, the skills and the family structure and background. If you read Robert Putnam and you're talking that these are the three major factors that determine social mobility to compete in an increasingly meritocratic economic system and a globalized economic system.
And the effect of that is -- but we shouldn't -- Republicans shouldn't downplay this as though it's -- you know, we're not concerned about inequality. I think the traditional Republican view is in a mobile, highly mobile system where people can go from the bottom to the top, inequality is a natural outcome of capitalism.
In a situation where you can't move from the bottom to the top, inequality as a caste system, it's essentially condemning a whole group of people, generation after generation to not have the ability to compete in the free market. And that to me is exactly what Republicans need to be addressing. And my concern, as I've already expressed it is that the 1980 Republican economic message of low taxes and high growth doesn't address that.
It doesn't even speak into those concerns. Now, we need economic growth. Right now, it's anemic and you can't get social mobility in the absence of a dynamic economy. I'm not -- but you have to have policies that are actually specified to build social capital in market-oriented ways to help people be able to compete in a free economy.
MR. ROVE: Yes. I think it is a problem. And look, Mike's hit it. The main driver of this is family and education, and I agree with Mike entirely. This needs to be a robust effort. I mean it's going to be more likely to happen at the state level than at the federal level because a big component of this is breaking up the education all (inaudible) that is failing too many of our children.
We have a system -- in some of our big cities, it says we're concerned more with the inputs than the outcomes and we don't give a crap if we're educated. The District of Columbia, one out of every two students who enters the school system, the public school system in the District of Columbia will never graduate from high school. That is a stain on our great country and we need to address it.
MR. ROVE: Now I might have a slightly different view in another way. I'm like Elaine. I didn't come up with much. I got to go to -- college because I got a $1500-a-year scholarship from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. When I moved into my freshman year, my dorm room, my apartment was a rented storage space under an eave. I hung my clothes on a nail, my light was one of those things that you get at the auto -- auto repair shop that's got the cage on the outside of the light bulb and I slept on a foam mattress and I had to work three jobs to make my way through school.
And I think there is another problem. Our government has gotten too big and there is too much corporate welfare and there are too many breaks that benefit the big guys and the people who've already got it. And, you know, you get these wind farms where we're paying gigantic amounts of money to in the name of green energy to a couple of fly-by-night guys who've been able to put together a lot of money and make a quick buck.
We've got ethanol -- I was with an ethanol guy, he said, yeah -- he said, my plant, you know, our facility paid off in 2 years. We got all of our capital investment bank in 2 years benefited because we had the blender's tax credit, we got through the tax system. We got our entire investment back in 2 years in this huge facility.
You talk to some of these offshore guys who are drilling, they say, you know, Tom DeLay put that stupid tax credit for offshore oil development, we don't need it, but we have to take advantage of it because it's there. But we don't need it. What the hell are we doing that for? We could make plenty of money without it.
So we got a tax system that benefits the big guy over the little guy and we need to reform it and we got a government with way too much benefits that flow to the people who've got the money that keeps us from providing the resources necessary to the people who don't have money and also keeps us all paying too much in taxes, because they're running up too much of debt, because most of that corporate welfare if not all of it, is being paid for by borrowed money we don't have.
And so I think we got to address it and I want somebody who's going to stand up and say, we need to take on corporate welfare at the same time that we're doing these other things that stand for the Republican "right to rise". We believe in the "right to rise." We believe in the ability of a daughter of immigrants to rise. We believe in the -- you know, the son of a geologist and a stay-at-home mom who sold Avon products because she was that industrious -- you know, we believe in the "right to rise." And we need to find ways to do that, but we got to couple it, I think, with a robust attack on corporate welfare and the tax system.
MR. WEBER: I'm glad you got out of that cramped dorm room and into more spacious facilities and you were able to enjoy better standard of living until you moved into the White House, because I saw your office there, and it sounded like that dorm room.
MR. WEBER: Let's go over here.
MR. ROVE: It was great space though.
SPEAKER: It's been a lively conversation, but so far I think your panel has failed to address the real elephant in the room, which is the right wing of the party, the Tea Party. Karl Rove alluded to it when he said, we have too many public leaders who dominate dialogue with retrogressive language and we need people like Vin who are moderate. But your party won't let people like Vin be elected and that's why the congressional leadership has even lower popularity rating than the President.
MR. ROVE: Yeah, look, I love how the easy target is the Tea Party. That's not right. Marco Rubio's Tea Party, you know. Jeb Bush appreciates the Tea Party. There's difference between the Tea Party leadership and the Tea Party sentiment.
This concern that grew up in 2009 and '10 in reaction to President Obama's policies, in a response to the Affordable Care Act and this rising amount of debt and the theory that somehow we could spent our way to prosperity brought back into politics or brought into politics for the first time, a lot of ordinary Americans who were deeply concerned about these.
Now, the Tea Party movement has been taken over in some respects, not a lot, not all of it. But some of it by people who, you know, have all their agendas and have been around for a long time. I mean, I love the Tea Party sentiment.
I had a book tour about 2010. I did 110 cities in 90 days. And people come through the aisle and they'd be signing -- getting me to sign a book, and they'd say, I'm a member of the Marianna, Florida tea party. And I got to ask of them, what have you done in politics before? And virtually all of these people at the local level would say, nothing, never been involved in politics before.
But you look at the leadership and at some political consultant at Sacramento, who has got a mailing list. If somebody's got a nice office in Atlanta, that's bank rolled (phonetic) by a direct mail and e-marketing firm that would spent 75 percent of the money they raised on its expenses. And so I'm a defender of the Tea Party sentiment.
I think it has been a healthy thing for American politics. Like all new movements, it gets a little rusty and once it gets a little ragged and it gets a little rambunctious, but it has been a healthy movement for American politics and I don't blame the problems of these people who are in transition and are insisting upon having our party sort of move its -- well, Richard Viguerie has been around since -- you know, he opposed the nomination of Abraham Lincoln because he was too moderate.
You know, so I don't worry about people like that. I worry about finding the leaders who will have a positive message to draw the party in the direct direction.
MR. WEBER: Either of you want to respond on that?
MS. CHAO: Go get it.
MR. WEBER: Okay. Let's go to the aforementioned Tom Korologos. Tom, great to see you.
MR. KOROLOGOS: Hi. Tom Korologos from Washington, D.C. We have a place over here in Basalt.
MS. CHAO: Mr. Ambassador.
MR. KOROLOGOS: Thank you. And by the way, we have the Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt and --
MR. KOROLOGOS: -- we give family discounts. We haven't touched on the social issues. Why do we keep getting wrapped around the actual --
MR. WEBER: I think we're out of time. It was nice --
MR. KOROLOGOS: We keep getting wrapped around the acts on abortion and gender issues and gay rights and our candidates come up, dumb ass Senate candidate say rape isn't going to make you pregnant. How do we get into -- how do we solve --
MR. KOROLOGOS: How do we solve getting -- I guess it means getting good candidates, choosing candidates to -- do we sent them to school somewhere and say, hey, don't say these things or --
MR. ROVE: Electric shock therapy.
MR. WEBER: You all thought this question was going to come from some left-wing plant, didn't you? Let's all take a shot at it, and then I'm afraid we're probably going to be out of time.
MR. GERSON: I think realistically parties don't get to start over. You know, coalitions are built over time. In the Republican primaries the last time, the largest single group within the Republican primary electorate are religious conservatives. And a lot of that depends on how they're led. George Bush led them in one way and Rick Santorum leads them in another. Both were trusted by religious conservatives and both had very different political outcomes.
I think that matters a great deal. I'll address the elephant in the room here. I think the Republican Party is going to remain a principled, incremental pro-life party. It's -- I think that's what the base of the party believes. I think it's going to undergo a significant shift towards a more diverse view on gay rights as the next generation rises. I think that's an unavoidable reality.
Republicans will be united by a belief that these things should be -- decided through democratic means rather than be imposed by courts. I think they're going to be united, you know, that these are -- so I think they're sources of unity within the Republican coalition on even some of these issues. But I think that there are going to be -- you're going to have people like Rob Portman in the Republican Party who have strong social conservative convictions and are for gay marriage.
And that's not going to be uncommon because it's not an ideological issue for many people. It's often a personal issue. It's often people you know, it's often kind of your circle and family. And so I think Republicans are going to have to find a way to accommodate the fact that it's going to have diverse views on that set of issues and communicate that to the next generation.
MS. CHAO: We haven't talked about the far left element in the Democratic Party and I'm sure this session was set up because we have four Republicans here, but, you know, a similar panel on what's the Future of the Democratic Party would be very interesting as well, especially as the President enters his second term.
There's something about the second term that never turns out the way that you want to. You can have all these wonderful ideas and I think the President is seeing that his trajectory is not what he expected. The IRS scandal has shown up, the drone issue has come up. So in terms of, you know, party I mean there is all of this left part of the Democratic Party that somehow is not talked about.
And I said the Republicans are at a disadvantage because I think the media sometimes focuses more on the divisions with the Republican Party and I will say the Republican Party understands what happened in 2012. They're working very hard to try to find a new path for themselves. But there's nobody in charge. This is a democracy. They're all these different people who are vying for attention for their own voice and this is part of the beauty of this, a cacophony of voices that we have in America as well.
MR. WEBER: I'm going to let Karl respond there.
MS. CHAO: Karl, yes.
MR. WEBER: I've been informed by the keeper of time that we are done. I'm sorry we can't take any more questions, but yeah.
MR. ROVE: In preparation for today's event, I went back and read a lot and I -- there's a particularly insightful column written on June 17th on this very subject, not by me unfortunately though my column today in the Wall Street Journal is pretty damn good, I can really, really feel good about it.
But on the 17th of June, Mike wrote this, "Religious conservatives, for example, are the single largest constituency within the GOP and compose about a quarter of the entire electorate. Such voters were not baggage thrown overboard to lighten the ship. They're planks in the hall. I thought that was a really important insight and Mike later goes on to say that what's required is imaginative leadership.
A Republican reformer cannot use religious conservatives as a foil. He or she will need to appeal to religious conviction as a motivation for reform. And that ain't easy to do. It's easy to go out and say a stupid thing like Todd Aiken or Richard Mourdock said. It's a lot tougher thing to do when Michael will say is necessary here which is the lead, to find a way to take the base of the Republican Party and lead it in a way that allows us to expand the numbers without sacrificing first principles but making -- you know, making ourselves accepting to current circumstances.
And this is the great challenge of both political parties. And let's not kid ourselves. Both political parties succeed and fail at this over the course of decades several times, they fail and succeed. There will be an interesting debate within the Democratic Party. A democratic coalition that is dependent upon extraordinarily high turnout in the African American community and a near universal support for the nominated Democratic Party is going to have a challenge in the post-Obamic era.
A Democratic Party that has a division between the foreign policy views of the Former Secretary of State, and the soon-to-be, not soon enough three to three and half years, former President of United States is going to have some tension there. But both political parties face it and this is one of the key ones for the Republican Party is how do we keep the religious conservatives as part of that coalition while allowing ourselves to be heard and seen by other people.
MR. WEBER: Well, we have proven that the future of the Republican Party is as long discussion, not a short one, and that was my main objective. Thank you, Elaine Chao, Mike Gerson, and Karl Rove.
* * * * *
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