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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

LIVE from the Crosscut Festival: The GOP is dead

The final pan­el I attend­ed at the Cross­cut Fes­ti­val had the provoca­tive title, “The GOP is dead. Long live the GOP!” The dis­cus­sion was of course about the future of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, with a focus on Wash­ing­ton State.

Mod­er­at­ed by Austin Jenk­ins of TVW’s “Inside Olympia” and reporter for the North­west News Net­work, pan­elists includ­ed: Bill Bryant, Repub­li­can can­di­date for Gov­er­nor in 2016; for­mer Wash­ing­ton Attor­ney Gen­er­al and US Sen­a­tor Slade Gor­ton; Chair­man of the King Coun­ty Repub­li­can Par­ty, Lori Sote­lo; and Chris Vance who for­mer­ly served as a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, King Coun­ty Coun­cil mem­ber, and Chair of the state Repub­li­can Party.

Jenk­ins start­ed the dis­cus­sion with the ques­tion that the title of the pan­el gives an answer to: is the Repub­li­can Par­ty in Wash­ing­ton dead?

Gor­ton says no. “Does the par­ty have prob­lems? Yes. So do the Democrats.”

Jenk­ins point­ed out that Wash­ing­ton has­n’t had a Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor since 1984.

Sote­lo replied that things ebb and flow, and that while it has been a while since there was a Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor, it will even­tu­al­ly be their turn as things cycle around. She says look­ing at the state house and sen­ate, Repub­li­cans are just one seat down in each cham­ber, and that most elec­tions are with­in five per­cent­age points.

“It’s com­pet­i­tive, it’s just that right now Democ­rats have the major­i­ty,” she said.

Bryant says that as a func­tion­ing par­ty, the health is strong, and the ques­tion is how it gets to be stronger, and that gets to the ques­tion of how to get to the Gov­er­nor’s Office. He notes that Repub­li­can can­di­dates for Gov­er­nor con­sis­tent­ly got 46 to 48% of the vote in the last four elec­tions. The prob­lem is that they do not do well in King Coun­ty, so they can’t break­through to statewide office. The key is get­ting a mes­sage that res­onates in King County.

In address­ing Vance, Jenk­ins point out that Vance is no longer a mem­ber of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, and asks why.

Vance said that the future of the Repub­li­can Par­ty is exceed­ing­ly bleak in Wash­ing­ton state. He said he decid­ed to leave the par­ty because he did­n’t believe any­thing they were say­ing any­more. He kept find­ing him­self hav­ing to point out more and more things that he did­n’t agree with the par­ty on, like Trump and the Alt-Right, trans­gen­der issues, and the “cru­el­ty and stu­pid­i­ty of poli­cies.” With­out agree­ing on issues, the only rea­son to stay would be pure trib­al­ism, so he is now Independent.

Pan­el titled “The GOP is dead. Long live the GOP!” at #cross­cut­fest

A post shared by NPI (@nwprogressive) on

Vance con­tin­ued, say­ing that the pur­pose of a polit­i­cal par­ty is to gov­ern, and there is no real­is­tic sce­nario where the Repub­li­cans will gov­ern Wash­ing­ton in the near future.

“The par­ty is not going to die, but it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly irrel­e­vant,” he said. He loved mod­er­ates like Gor­ton, but there is no future for that here, in his esti­ma­tion, and some­thing new is needed.

Gor­ton respond­ed that both par­ties are cur­rent­ly at extremes, so there is no room left in the mid­dle. He point­ed out that more than 150,000 Wash­ing­ton vot­ers did not cast a bal­lot for any of the eight peo­ple on the Wash­ing­ton bal­lot for Pres­i­dent, which he says shows that nei­ther par­ty is strik­ing a chord right now.

In the most unbe­liev­able moment of not just this pan­el but the whole day, Sote­lo said that she did­n’t know what “Alt-Right” meant until this morn­ing when she looked it up. She said that it does not apply to any­one she works with in the Repub­li­can Par­ty. There were dozens of groans from the audience.

Sote­lo con­tin­ued to say that there is a mis­con­cep­tion that the par­ty is mono­lith, but it is def­i­nite­ly not, espe­cial­ly in King County.

She dis­missed the idea of the Alt-Right as a force in the par­ty, say­ing “every par­ty has weirdos. The folks that I know are not racist…Anyone that is offen­sive, it is our job to push them back. The Repub­li­can Par­ty that I know is not racist. The grass­roots are good, hon­est peo­ple, as hard­work­ing as you.”

In my opin­ion, these com­ments high­light­ed not only her mis­un­der­stand­ing of racism as a struc­tur­al issue, not just a mat­ter of indi­vid­ual prej­u­dices, but were shock­ing in reveal­ing her lack of knowl­edge of cur­rent events and dis­con­nec­tion with the cur­rent dia­logues and con­cerns in the Unit­ed States.

The woman next to me looked at me in com­plete shock at Sotelo’s com­ments, and asked me if I believed that she real­ly did­n’t know what the Alt-Right was until today. I said I was­n’t sure, and that I did­n’t know which would be worse: that Sote­lo was lying about not know­ing what the Alt-Right was, or actu­al­ly not know­ing about the Alt-Right. Either is remark­able and unacceptable.

Vance said that he spent decades push­ing back against the idea that the GOP was racist, but that the par­ty in the past was dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent to how it is today. He said “racist” may not be the exact right term for the par­ty cur­rent­ly, but that they ARE nativist for sure, cit­ing the empha­sis on Mus­lim bans, cut­ting legal immi­gra­tion in half, and gen­er­al­ly being iso­la­tion­ist and pro­tec­tion­ist in attitude.

Gor­ton said that Vance is “look­ing through the wrong end of the tele­scope.” He says that Con­gress in the last year has passed a “reg­u­lar Repub­li­can agenda.”

Bryant point­ed out that nation­al issues are dif­fer­ent than local issues for Repub­li­cans, and said that it real­ly is like the old PEMCO com­mer­cials that we are “a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent here.” He said that Repub­li­cans used to own the envi­ron­men­tal agen­da when he was young, and many Repub­li­cans are envi­ron­men­tal­ist, so they should dis­tin­guish them­selves from the nation­al par­ty on those issues. He said that Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans need to remind peo­ple of the core beliefs of the par­ty and reclaim their North­west Repub­li­can roots, which are a lit­tle bit different.

Vance said he used to be mak­ing speech­es like Bryant just did, but it does­n’t work. Every­body nom­i­nat­ed for statewide office runs as a mod­er­ate, but still loses.

He says there are two prob­lems with Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans try­ing to dis­tin­guish them­selves from the nation­al Repub­li­can agen­da. The first is that if they dis­avowed Trump, peo­ple would imme­di­ate­ly lose their seats because of the nation­al com­mit­tee. Sec­ond­ly, pol­i­tics is not local, it is nation­al. It is impos­si­ble to break away from the nation­al brand, and that is going to get worse in the Trump era.

Sote­lo replied that the local par­ty sup­ports all can­di­dates and elect­ed offi­cials in the par­ty, from Trump all the way down. Sote­lo received more groans for this comment.

Gor­ton said that it is a mis­take to think that the future is going to be the same as the present, and con­tin­ue going in the same direc­tion, that we can’t assume that things are going to be more of the same. He thinks dynam­ic lead­ers will cre­ate change, since that is how things have hap­pened in the past.

Bryant says that we need to pay atten­tion to the sub­urbs to see where the state is going. The sub­urbs used to be solid­ly Repub­li­can and they aren’t any­more, but peo­ple are not mov­ing to the Democ­rats, they are sick of every­one. He says peo­ple are look­ing for can­di­dates that will talk about things that are effect­ing their lives and the issues they care about, and they want peo­ple in office that will pro­vide solutions.

Jenk­ins then asked every­one on the pan­el thi­er pre­dic­tions for the 2018 elections.

Vance said he is now part of a nation­wide move­ment to elect mod­er­ate inde­pen­dents, and says they will have can­di­dates on the bal­lot this year. He thinks the Repub­li­cans are def­i­nite­ly going to lose seats this year, but is not sure if it will be the typ­i­cal mid-term shift away from the par­ty of the Pres­i­dent, or a “tsuna­mi.”

Sote­lo sound­ed more opti­mistic, say­ing that in King Coun­ty that there is a shift towards the south and south­west, and that she expects the par­ty to con­tin­ue to be strong there, as well as in the 5th Con­gres­sion­al dis­trict. She thinks Repub­li­cans will be com­pet­i­tive in all races in the suburbs.

When Gor­ton was about to speak, Jenk­ins inter­rupt­ed to point out that Gor­ton turned 90 last month, gen­er­at­ing respect­ful applause from the audi­ence. Jenk­ins then asked Gor­ton what gives him hope that Repub­li­cans will be able to get the gov­er­nor­ship again.

Gor­ton stat­ed that big changes take place nation­al­ly, and by reflec­tion in the states, when big chal­lenges come up, and he notes that Don­ald Trump could be one of these chal­lenges. He thinks that Trump has been good for Democ­rats, and that Repub­li­cans will do poor­ly in this elec­tion, but that it is temporary.

Bryant said that there is a sol­id foun­da­tion for Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans, con­sis­tent­ly only a few per­cent­age points off in elec­tions, where­as Repub­li­cans in oth­er places like Cal­i­for­nia face much larg­er mar­gins. He says the chal­lenge this year is “ugly noise on the nation­al lev­el” and peo­ple not look­ing beyond the par­ty label.

Jenk­ins asked Vance what advice he would give to his for­mer par­ty. Vance said that he would “dou­ble- and triple-down” on Bryan­t’s ear­li­er com­ments about point­ing out how Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans are different.

“Dis­avow Don­ald Trump,” he said, draw­ing sus­tained applause from the audi­ence. He con­tin­ued to say that they need to show how they are dif­fer­ent from the nation­al par­ty and lead­er­ship, and they need to be “unmis­tak­ably clear that they are not part of the insanity.”

When Jenk­ins next asked Sote­lo what the par­ty could or should do, she reassert­ed that the job of the par­ty is to sup­port their can­di­dates and elect­ed offi­cials. She said her job is to be a cheer­leader for the par­ty and it’s philoso­phies and ideals.

Bryant said that “this is what we need, peo­ple here at cock­tail hour on a Sat­ur­day night hav­ing these dis­cus­sions. Divi­sive­ness is killing us.” He said that increas­ing the dia­logue is what our state needs.

Gor­ton said that he does­n’t rec­og­nize the par­ty that Vance is talk­ing about. He said he goes back to D.C. reg­u­lar­ly to see old friends and col­leagues and that they are good, hard­work­ing peo­ple, and some of them do have issues with the President.

He said that we need to be more will­ing to lis­ten to one anoth­er, even when we don’t agree. He said there is no over­lap of the par­ties in Con­gress now, like there used to be when he was in office.

“That mid­dle is the key to the solu­tion to many of our problems.”

At least we need to start talk­ing to each oth­er in a civ­il fash­ion, Gor­ton concluded.

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