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Longtime GOP strategist says he’ll ‘work with Democrats’ to defeat Trump

Stuart Stevens is one of the Republican Party’s most successful campaign strategists, with a career spanning decades. In his revealing new book, “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump,” Stevens admits the GOP uses race as an issue to divide Americans and win elections -- and says the party has abandoned its principles in the Trump era. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Stuart Stevens is one of the Republican Party's most successful election campaign strategists. His career spans decades.

    And in his revealing new book,"It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump," he admits the GOP has used race as an issue to divide Americans, in order to win elections.

    And Stuart Stevens joins us now.

    Thank you so much for talking with us.

    The book is jarring. I have to say, you write about how the Republican Party, over the last half-century, its hypocrisy, what you call self-delusion, led it naturally to embrace Donald Trump and to embrace what had been its racism.

    Explain what you meant.

  • Stuart Stevens:

    Well, I think there's been two strains in the party. Call it an Eisenhower strain going back to the '50s and a McCarthy strain.

    We look — we think now of William Buckley as this intellectual soul of the Republican Party to a certain point, but — which he was, but we forget that he began as a racist. So there's always been this element.

    Since 1964, the Republican Party has failed to attract large numbers of African Americans. We used to acknowledge this as a failure and talk about how to try to change it.

    Now we don't even hear any talk anymore of a big tent. And we seem to have settled into a very comfortable white grievance identity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you acknowledge you yourself were part of. You said, in your first race, you played the race card, so to speak.

    There's a lot of blame to go around here, isn't there?

  • Stuart Stevens:

    Yes, I think it's really important — at least it was for me, when I wrote the book — not to blame others, but try to accept responsibility for it myself.

    Personal responsibility was one of the key elements that drew me to the Republican Party. And we have completely abandoned that, it seems.

    Yes, in my first race, there was an African American independent and a white Republican and a white Democrat. I made ads that were sort of like voter I.D. ads, but they had the impact of informing African Americans that there was an African American in the race.

    If you go back and you read the Pat Buchanan and Kevin Phillips memo that was written for Nixon which really outlined the Southern Strategy, the acknowledgment Republicans can't get African Americans, therefore, the need is either to suppress them or to divert them from the Democratic Party, has been at the core of Republican electoral strategy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you write about how that and how what you describe as the hypocrisy around family values — and you do name names. You talk about Newt Gingrich, Jerry Falwell, some of the evangelical leaders, and how all of this culminated in the easy acceptance of Donald Trump.

  • Stuart Stevens:

    Yes, I think that Donald Trump exposed these fault lines in the party, and made it impossible for a lot of us to deny.

    It — really, the party clearly doesn't believe in what it said it believed in. I think that, you know, you go back a few years ago, we would have said there's a core set of beliefs, personal responsibility, character counts, strong on Russia, fiscal sanity, free trade, pro-legal immigration.

    All of these were bedrock principles. And now it's not that the party has drifted away from these. The party is actively against each of these principles.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, again, whether it's family values or, again, race, your point is that it comes down to some pretty ugly truths about the party that you say is some — is an entity that can't be fixed.

  • Stuart Stevens:

    Yes, you know, I really have given up hoping that there's going to be some line that Donald Trump could cross.

    Since I wrote this book, that has only been reaffirmed, be it race. You know, the same weekend my home state of Mississippi finally took down the state flag, which is basically the Confederate Battle Flag, Donald Trump was defending the Confederate Flag.

    He's out tweeting "White power." He's tweeting about protecting the white suburbs. And for the most part, the Republican Party is just silent or goes along with it. I think that that's incredibly damning.

    And Trumpism is deeply embedded in the party. We — and I don't think there's any way that's going to be changed in — at least probably for a generation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so what happens now? You and other Republicans who are dedicated to making sure Donald Trump is not reelected, you don't have a home in the party anymore. Where do you go?

  • Stuart Stevens:

    You know, I think those of us who are working in these various projects to defeat Trump who are Republicans, I think each of us is going to have to come to grips with that and see what the world looks like on November 4.

    For myself, Judy, I'm going to work with Democrats. I think that the future of America, the policy is going to be decided by decisions inside the Democratic Party.

    So, take health care for instance. In 20 years, is America going to be the only country that doesn't have national health insurance? No, we're not going to be that. So, what that's going to be is not going to be decided in the Republican Party. It will be decided in the Democratic Party, whether or not it's the AOC/Bernie Sanders wing or more of a Biden wing.

    And I think the Republican Party has made itself largely irrelevant in those discussions by just saying no. I'd like to be a part of what's going to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What's going to happen, though, Stu Stevens, to the Republicans who have continued to support President Trump?

    I mean, name Republican senators, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell. You could go down the list.

  • Stuart Stevens:

    Look, my feeling is that, really, Trump is George Wallace, and George Wallace actually did good things as governor. He passed three textbooks. But nobody is remembered as a free textbook George Wallace guy. And I think Trump is going to be the same way.

    I'm astounded that there's not more self-awareness of how Trump will be remembered, not in the long-term future, but even in the near future, and why there hasn't been more opposition to him, and why there hasn't just been more selfish realization that, if I don't stand up to Donald Trump, I'm going to go down as a Trump person.

    But it hasn't happened, and they're very comfortable with Trump, obviously. And that's how it's going to be remembered.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what do you say finally, Stu Stevens, to those Republicans who have worked with you over the many, many years and say, he's a traitor to the cause, he's gone over to the other side, he's forgotten all the good things we did together?

  • Stuart Stevens:

    My feelings about this is very contradictory, because I really liked the people I worked for. They're good people. If they saw you stopped on the side of the road with a flat tire, they'd help you. They would make good neighbors.

    My feeling is that there's a collective failure here by the party. Most of us goes through life — at least, I know I certainly do — trying to avoid moral tests.

    But Donald Trump was a moral test that we couldn't avoid. The party couldn't. And we failed.

    And I think it's particularly tragic, in that this generation of American politicians are heirs to the greatest generation. And people like my dad spent three years in the South Pacific, 28 island landings.

    And courage isn't standing up to Donald Trump. Courage is getting out of a boat when the guy in front of you got shot. And that was their legacy.

    And I think that they betrayed that legacy by not standing up to the principles that they said that they were for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Stuart Stevens.

    The book is "It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump."

    Thank you so much for talking with us.

  • Stuart Stevens:

    Thank you, Judy.

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