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Gowdy: Republicans lack ‘core orthodoxy’ for effective governance

Former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy has recently published a book, “Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade.” He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss its key messages, the Republican National Convention so far, a lack of persuasion in contemporary American politics and why he left Congress.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, the first night of the Republican Convention featured speeches from two high-profile South Carolinians. They were Senator Tim Scott and former Governor Nikki Haley.

    I'm joined now by another Palmetto State Republican. He's former Congressman Trey Gowdy. His new book, "Doesn't Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and Persuade," is on bookshelves now.

    And he joins us from Greenville in South Carolina.

    Trey Gowdy, thank you so much for being here.

    So, I'm assuming you are watching this convention. What did you make of it? And do you think this approach of painting the Democrats as socialists and as people who are crime coddlers is going to be a smart one for the Republicans?

  • Trey Gowdy:

    Well, Judy, first of all, thank you for having me on.

    If you can keep a secret, I only watched two speeches last night. And I will let you take a guess which two they were, Nikki and Tim.

    I read articles about some of the other speeches. I didn't watch it.

    What strategy would work, I have been pretty clear. I think Republicans, particularly the president, needs to let other people tout his successes, other people — I mean, politics is about contrast. Contrast can be fair, but it still has to be contrast. Let other people do that.

    The tone struck by Nikki and Tim last night is exactly the one that I think Republicans need if they're going to be persuasive and successful in November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do you think calling Joe Biden a socialist and his party moving us to socialism is a good idea?

  • Trey Gowdy:

    I don't think calling any ists.

    I don't think calling President Trump a racist or a misogynist or calling Joe Biden a socialist, I — that's not calculated to persuade. That is calculated to ratify the base. That's how you get a 50/50 intractable country.

    So, I don't like it when either side uses those terms.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, your book is, as we said, "Doesn't Hurt to Ask."

    It's all about using the power of questions. One of the main points in the book — and it's interesting, because you have a quote from Nikki Haley on the back cover. She says — you say, in order to persuade others, you don't need the loudest voice. You need to listen and you need to be prepared.

    How does President Trump fit into that measurement, do you think?

  • Trey Gowdy:

    Well Judy, I mean, one of the reasons I left politics — I mean, I love the courtroom. There's very little persuasion that goes on in politics now.

    It is ratification and validation of what people already believe. And you kind of hope that you can appeal to the largest group. And that's how you get a 50/50 country.

    Now, contrast that with a courtroom, where you have 12 people who have not made up their mind yet. And you have to convince all 12 by the highest evidentiary burden.

    So, I guess I could have written a book on politics. I have no interest in doing that. But I wanted to write a book not for politicians, but for everyday Americans who want to be heard at the workplace, at the dinner table, talking to their spouses or their friends.

    Ultimately, I hope it percolates up and changes our political landscape. But there's very little persuasion that goes on in politics nowadays.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some really interesting commentary, I should say, in your book.

    I know you were not directly addressing politics. But, of course, the overlay is over your career. And you talk — you do talk about giving ordinary people the confidence, the tools to make their case.

    But you also make it clear that you didn't find politics ultimately rewarding. You said — and I'm quoting — "Winning for the sake of winning not a great long-term strategy. You have to have some core principles."

    Were you trying to say that you had to leave Congress yourself in order to find your own core principles?

  • Trey Gowdy:

    Well, I mean, I left Congress for a lot of reasons. Number one, I didn't like it and I wasn't good at it.

    I was critical in the book of the Republican Party. In 2010, we took the House, and then we said, we needed the Senate. And then we said, we need the White House. And, sooner or later, you may get what you ask for, and Republicans got what they asked for. They had everything.

    And I was underwhelmed with what we did with the House, the Senate and the White House, which led me to believe that we don't have the core orthodoxy that you need to govern.

    And I'm not saying the other side does either. I was a Republican. And I was looking for a road map to be a responsible steward of all gears of government. So, I better leave it there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was just exploring what you said about your own principles.

    But I do want to ask you one other thing. And that is, you're a former prosecutor. You became known in Congress as being someone who focused — you focused on political corruption. You conducted the Benghazi hearings. You were very critical at times, of course, of the Obama administration.

    Today, President Trump, five of his associates, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Steve Bannon, have all been indicted, charged with felonies. Four Cabinet members under President Trump had to resign over ethical transgressions.

    My question is, has the swamp you railed against when you were in Washington, has it gotten even swampier since President Trump was elected?

  • Trey Gowdy:

    Well, I don't know.

    I mean, I don't use the term swamp a lot. I mean, I try to judge people as individuals.

    I was not a fan of Steve Bannon's. And all you have to do is read my deposition of him to know that. I said I think the public — the president has not been well-served by whoever did the vetting.

    Manafort, financial issues, not should not have been the campaign manager. So, whoever does the vetting, including for the attorney general, the initial attorney general — that's not a pick I think the president should have made. I like Jeff Sessions personally. I don't think he was the best pick for A.G.

    So, whoever does the vetting for the president, I think, has let him down in some instances, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I want to ask you about something we're looking at tonight.

    The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is in Jerusalem. It's an official trip. He's in Israel on official business, and yet he's speaking at the Republican Convention.

    The House of Representatives is saying, we're going to investigate this. Does this look to you like something that should be investigated?

  • Trey Gowdy:

    Well, Judy, I got to confess, I have known Mike for 10 years. He's a friend. I probably lack the objectivity and the lack of bias that would be necessary.

    I did listen to your previous segment. And it left me wondering if any attorney general had spoken, because I do get the argument that our foreign policy is bigger than politics. But so is our justice system.

    So, I'd be curious what other Cabinet level officials have spoken at previous conventions. It doesn't make a ton of sense to me to single out the secretary of state.

    But, as I said, I like Mike. I'm biased towards him. And I'd have a hard time being objective about it, until I knew more facts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, former Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

  • Trey Gowdy:

    Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

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