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Fight over core principles exposes deep GOP divides

Is the Republican party revolting against itself? As part of a collaboration between The Atlantic and the PBS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff leads a discussion with David Frum and others on the struggle between establishment and antiestablishment factions in the GOP, and what it means for the 2016 race.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now back to Judy in Iowa.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We close out, Gwen, with a look at the deep divides that have opened up inside the Republican Party in this election, and a fight over core conservative principles.

    Our report is part of a collaboration with The Atlantic.

  • DAVID FRUM, The Atlantic:

    The great debate that's been going on inside the Republican world since 2012 is, do we need to change the pizza or do we need to change the pizza box?

  • EZRA KLEIN, Vox:

    The Republican Party is riven by very real disagreements that it doesn't actually have a mechanism for solving.

  • BILL KRISTOL, The Weekly Standard:

    As a conservative, why would one support Donald Trump? There's just no evidence of any history of belief in conservative principles, of commitment to conservative causes.

  • JIM DEMINT, Heritage Foundation:

    Whether it's Trump or Cruz or several others, if you hear someone say something, a lot of us will say, well, I wouldn't have said that, but I'm glad somebody said it.

    ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), Former House Majority Leader: Our party has taken an anger detour that is evident every day when we look at the news and watch the polls.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Frum, your article in "The Atlantic" is "The Great Republican Revolt."

    So, boil it down for us. Who's revolting, against whom and why?

  • DAVID FRUM:

    The Republican Party had planned a dynastic succession for 2016. One Bush would follow smoothly after another Bush. Everything was positioned for this Jeb Bush succession.

    And, instead, the Republican Party got a class war.

  • BILL KRISTOL:

    When you look back at 2012, it's pretty amazing that the Republican Party nominated a very wealthy Republican who had, in Massachusetts, done a version of Obamacare, as their nominee, in a party that hated Obamacare, that was unhappy about Republican elites, as well as Democratic elites.

  • DAVID FRUM:

    They believed Mitt Romney was going to win. And he didn't. That was a big shock and surprise. The Republican elite, the donors, the members of Congress, had collectively done an analysis of what they believed had gone wrong in 2012.

    The only thing the party had done wrong was, it had not been open enough on immigration. Fix that, and everything would fall into place.

  • EZRA KLEIN:

    That was the theory. That was a plan. And that's why you begin by having, right after the 2012 election, a very serious effort, including many top Republicans, like Marco Rubio, John McCain, to push immigration reform.

    Of course, that dies in the House, because rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives on talk radio actually didn't want immigration reform.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ezra Klein, you're the editor in chief of the news and analysis Web site Vox.

    Is immigration the chief issue you see dividing the party?

  • EZRA KLEIN:

    I think a lot of these issues, trade, immigration, they have a real subtext of economic insecurity.

    We're in a place right now as a country where the demographic changes that we're going through are significant and they are fast, not just with immigration, but with relative birth rates and other things in recent years. So we're just about to hit the point where a majority of infants are minority.

    We're sort of a majority-minority nation if you're under 3 years old. That is a profound change for people to live through. And I think it's a change that the political system doesn't really know how to talk about or doesn't — and, for that matter, frankly doesn't want to talk about.

  • DAVID FRUM:

    When you ask the question, do you think you will be better off in 10 years than you are today, do you think your children will have a better life than you, the most pessimistic group in America are whites without a college degree. And the second most pessimistic group in America are whites with a college degree.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, into this situation steps New York billionaire Donald Trump. What happens?

  • DAVID FRUM:

    Donald Trump is one of America's great marketing geniuses. And Trump has, as great marketers do, an intuitive understanding of what the customer wants.

    So, he saw this opportunity. In the spring of 2015, if you asked Republicans, you gave them a straight binary choice, what do you want to do with illegal immigrants, do you want to somehow legalize them, or do you want to deport them, you made the choice that stark, what you saw was a majority, more Republicans said deport than legalize.

    So, the great marketer came along and said, I see a niche. I see a niche. And it's the bigger niche. And I can have it all to myself.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Bill Kristol, you're the editor of The Weekly Standard, a longtime leading voice among the neoconservatives in this country.

    You have said that if the Republicans nominate Donald Trump for president, you're ready to support a third party. Is that still your position?

  • BILL KRISTOL:

    It is. I suppose I should leave the door a little bit open, because who knows what the world would look like in June or July if that were to happen, what Trump would have said, what positions he would have taken.

    But, at the end of the day, could you trust him to appoint constitutional Supreme Court judges? Could you trust him to be serious about limiting the scope of government? Trump just seems to have no interest in any of that.

  • EZRA KLEIN:

    Trump, unlike a lot of Republicans, says he's going to protect Medicare, protect Social Security, that he believes in the government. He's not here to cut your government programs. What he's here to do is make sure the government is helping you, the downscale, economically struggling white voter.

    And this money's not going to be going to immigrants who are flooding across a border to take advantage of our generosity. And that, for a particular part of the party, is very appealing. And for other parts of the party, it's really noxious.

  • DAVID FRUM:

    Even now, about two-thirds of Republicans find Trump unacceptable. He is unpopular with the more affluent, the more educated and the more religious within the Republican Party. And those are the people who usually do tend to prevail in Republican contests.

  • BILL KRISTOL:

    A lot of the conventional view is — just lumps Cruz and Trump together. But I think Cruz and Trump are very different. And it's not an accident that they're now fighting a big war.

    Cruz, people can like him, dislike him. At the end of the day, Cruz clerked for the chief justice of the United States. Cruz has argued many cases in the Supreme Court. Cruz wants a very conservative form of limited government, constitutionalism and so forth. And that's really what his — the agenda he's believed in for 20 years is all about.

    It's very different from Trump.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, what happens to the Tea Party in all this? We don't hear about the Tea Party, per se.

  • BILL KRISTOL:

    I think Trump has done a pretty good job of hijacking, in a way, the Tea Party impetus, and, in my view, in an unhealthy way.

    That is, I think the Tea Party believed in constitutional government. It was trying to re-limit government. It was — it hated Obamacare. It didn't like the bailouts there are good reasons not to like.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Jim DeMint, you're the former senator from South Carolina. You're the president of the Heritage Foundation. Some call you the godfather of the Tea Party movement.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JIM DEMINT:

    OK.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How did you get that designation?

  • JIM DEMINT:

    I finally saw we weren't going to change the system with the same people who were there.

    And I went out across the country and began to try to help primary opponents to Republican establishment candidates. And the country rose up in 2010, put a lot of new people in the House and the Senate. And there were a lot of complaints by the establishment.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Eric Cantor, it was 2014. You were the majority leader of the House, presumed to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives. You lost a primary battle to an unknown economics professor, Dave Brat, a member of the Tea Party.

    Now, with the passage of time, do you better understand what happened?

  • ERIC CANTOR:

    Certainly, there were a lot of factors at work. And I do think, though, very much, if you look at what is going on today, was a real anger out there on the part of a lot of people.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What do you think is the source of the anger?

  • ERIC CANTOR:

    That real anger out there in the grassroots, when people would go home and there would be layoffs, and wage-earners in their 40s and 50s who say, hey, wait a minute, what happened to my job, and then didn't have the skills to go find another job, members of Congress going home and seeing that, and saying, hey, something's broken.

    And then that again compounds itself, which leads some people to say, hey, wait a minute, we got to throw it all out and go to the extreme, because we are in that bad of a situation.

  • JIM DEMINT:

    In 2010, this wave of Tea Party sent a whole new group to Washington. Nothing happened. 2012, the Republican Party took back — they pushed the Tea Party out. They tried to run the presidential race with Karl Rove and other top-down approach. And it was a disaster.

    But, in 2014, the candidates were back out there for the Senate and the House campaigning on, OK, we're going to do it this time. Give us a majority in the Senate. Nothing happened after they got the majority.

    And so what you see now is people basically saying, the heck with these guys. It doesn't matter what they promise. They're not going to do anything.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You had what happened to Eric Cantor in 2014.

  • JIM DEMINT:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And then, last year, the downfall of — or the resignation of Speaker Boehner.

    What's been going on in the House of Representatives?

  • JIM DEMINT:

    John Boehner, who we used to be friends, but he saw conservatives and this idea of limited government as more of an obstacle and a frustration. And he punished conservatives who really tried to push for some fairly simple things.

    What John Boehner found is, he couldn't crush the conservatives, but he — but he made it painful for them.

  • ERIC CANTOR:

    When you hear people say, hey, you aren't trying hard enough, you didn't shut the government down, you didn't allow the government to go into default, I mean, these are all things that, to me, so counterintuitive. I mean, nobody understands what that would really mean if you went into default, and all the people that could potentially get hurt.

    People will say, yes, things are that bad, go ahead, and just blow it all up, so we can reconstitute it.

  • EZRA KLEIN:

    This is part of the problem for the Republican Party, and particularly for the Republican base. They will run elections based on these promises of deep confrontation and tremendous results.

    And then, once in office, they can't deliver on that much, because the American system of government requires a lot of compromise and a lot of consensus for anything to get done. That leads to a cycle of disillusionment within the Republican base, because they feel they voted for these politicians. These politicians made clear promises. They didn't deliver on the promises.

    But one thing that has become, I think, really toxic is the way the base tends to interpret that disappointment, is that the real issue is that the politicians went and got bought by Washington.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do moderates have a place in the Republican Party?

  • DAVID FRUM:

    The most important kind of moderation that's needed is Republicans need to preach respect for the work and the institutions of government. The government has to be made to work.

    The government is — I think all Republicans agree, is too expensive. But that doesn't mean that we'd be better off without one, or that you want to destroy the traditional agreements and understandings that make the American government work.

    Republicans have really stressed those since 2009, and that's been dangerous. So, we have to rediscover some respect for the institutions of government, and also accept that, in a democracy, you don't get all — your way all the time. And it's not a failure of the system if you do not win every particular argument.

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