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Tamara Keith and Stuart Rothenberg on George H.W. Bush and the GOP’s evolution

Lisa Desjardins sits down with NPR’s Tamara Keith and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections to discuss the week in politics, including the political legacy of President George H.W. Bush, the evolution of the Republican Party and what the new House Democratic majority needs to accomplish.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now we continue our remembrance of former President Bush.

    Lisa Desjardins explores his political legacy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    From how he governed to how he campaigned, President George H.W. Bush represented a Republican Party of a different era.

    To help map out the differences of the political landscape of then and now, of course, I'm joined by Tamara Keith and Stu Rothenberg of Inside Elections for Politics Monday.

    Let's jump right into this.

    Now, President George W. Bush said he voted for Hillary Clinton. At his funeral, President Trump will not be speaking. He will attend. But that is unusual.

    Stu, I want to start with you.

    What do you think these two different Republican presidents represent about their party? And where is the Republican Party now?

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    Boy, what a change, huh?

    George W. Bush was born into a family. President — Senator Prescott Bush, who was a Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Cabot Lodge, Nelson Rockefeller Republican, and look at where Donald Trump is today with the Republican Party.

    The party has changed has fundamentally in terms of values, language, identity and coalition partners. It's — you can't even compare it. It's really like two different parties.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tamara, what do you see?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, just look at policy, right?

    If you look at trade, George H.W. Bush really negotiated NAFTA. That really was negotiated during his presidency, even though it was ratified during the Clinton presidency.

    You have President Bush — or President Trump over the weekend saying that he is going to terminate NAFTA soon. He doesn't say exactly when.

    And then just in terms of style, they really couldn't be more different in terms of style, in terms of President Bush saw people as opponents, but not as enemies in ways, and President Trump sees his political opponents as enemies forever.

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    Let me add one other difference.

    President Bush was an institutionalist. Donald Trump is a personalist, if that's a word. It's all about him, what he has accomplished, what he can do, who he is, his power.

    For President Bush, it was he surrounded himself with major political figures, significant people, and he saw himself as a part of a team. That's very different.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. And people were begging George H.W. Bush to sing his own praises. President Trump doesn't have that same affliction.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. Doesn't need much cuing on that.

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    No.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No.

    And, as you said, multilateralist for someone — for President Bush 41, and then vs. a unilateral president, President Trump.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's switch gears here, though, for a second, because one month from today, we will have a new Congress. And it will be led in the House by Democrats. We will have a change in power.

    I want to ask you, first starting with you, Stu, what strategic decisions do those Democrats have to be making right now over the next month in how they approach coming into power in just one chamber?

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    I think they have to make the case for 2020 over the next two years.

    They have to establish an agenda. Look, the House Democrats know they're not going to get anything enacted into law, because the Republican Senate and the White House isn't going to want to agree to anything that House Democrats really want.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You don't think they will?

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    But that doesn't mean the House Democrats should either just come off as they are opposing whatever the Republican initiatives are or opposing the president.

    They need to pursue an agenda. They need to look at things like infrastructure and health care, so that they establish a base on which their presidential nominee can run, and so that they can run for reelection as people who tried to do something.

    We know that they're not going to accomplish a lot. But they — if they can go to the voters and say, we did this, this and this, and the Republicans didn't address those issues, Democrats will be in better shape.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I so love someone thinking about the long term in Washington still.

    But, Tam, what's up first? What are the first, do you think, things that are going to pop up for these House Democrats?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, one thing that will pop up is, if President Trump follows through on, as he calls it, terminating NAFTA, that would start a six-month clock, and sort of force the hand of congressional Democrats, who will control the House, to decide, are they going to ratify this new NAFTA, known as USMCA, or are they not?

    He is saying he's going to give them a choice. That will be an interesting thing to watch.

    The other thing that I'm really watching is, John Boehner and Paul Ryan have been vexed by the Freedom Caucus in the House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The most conservative members.

  • Tamara Keith:

    The most conservative members, the most Trumpy members in some ways.

    Will Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders, will they be vexed by the freedom — whatever the liberal alternative…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Democratic version.

  • Tamara Keith:

    The Democratic version of the Freedom Caucus, or will she be able to sort of keep everyone in line for the next two years?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Quickly, who are you watching for, lawmakers in the next Congress?

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    I'm watching Cheri Bustos, the Democratic congressman from Illinois, who is now going to chair of Democratic Congressional Campaign committee, personable, articulate, pragmatic, has been studying Democratic victories in different kinds of districts over the years.

    I think she's got a significant future in the party.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And I will be watching some of these conservative Democrats who won in suburbs to see sort of how they navigate that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tamara Keith, Stu Rothenberg, thank you both.

  • Stu Rothenberg:

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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