American Greatness publisher Chris Buskirk joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Wednesday night to discuss President Trump’s relationship with the Republican Party. They were joined on the panel by Republican fundraiser Noelle Nikpour, who argued from the perspective of establishment Republican politicians. Watch the video and read the transcript below.
Chris Matthews: President Trump’s relationship with the Republican Party burst open last night as Trump opaquely badgered Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain. First he went after Senator McCain, never mentioning him by name, but instead referring to his decision to vote against the repeal of Obamacare.
President Trump: Obamacare is a disaster. Think. Think. We were just one vote away from victory after seven years of everybody proclaiming, “Repeal and replace.” One vote away. One, one vote. One vote away.
Chris Matthews: Well, then the president took a veiled shot at Senator Flake, also of Arizona. Let’s watch.
President Trump: Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won’t talk about him. Nobody wants me to talk about him. Nobody knows who the hell he is.
Chris Matthews: Well, this morning, however, he attacked Flake by name, tweeting, “Phoenix crowd last night was amazing, a packed house. I love the great state of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime and border.”
Well, President Trump’s list of legislative accomplishment is very short, of course, and his recent remarks risk complicating his agenda on Capitol Hill, don’t you think? That list includes big-ticket items like approving measures to prevent a government shutdown, raising the debt ceiling, and rewriting the tax code.
Well, that agenda is threatened by an increasingly tense relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Just yesterday The New York Times reported that these two men have not spoken since Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match. These are The New York Times’ reports. Additionally, according to sources, Mr. McConnell privately expressed uncertainty the president “will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.”
Well, today Senator McConnell did not deny that report, but says he is in regular contact with the president to discuss shared goals. For more I’m joined by Noelle Nikpour, Republican fundraiser and author of Branding America, and Chris Buskirk, editor and publisher of the online journal American Greatness and author of American Greatness: How Conservative Inc. Missed the 2016 Election.
First of all, Noelle and then Chris—and back and forth on this as much as you can—I’m trying to understand the nature of the relationship between Trump, who’s sort of an unusual Republican, and Mitch McConnell, who’s a classic Republican, and their difficulty in getting something done, which seems to be getting worse in terms of personal relations. Noelle, first.
Noelle Nikpour: This is absolutely such a difficult spot for someone like me, a Republican to be. I mean, Chris, think about this: Which way do I go? Which way is a win? You’ve got President Trump, a Republican. You’ve got long-time Mitch McConnell. It’s a war for all of us out here, and it’s a no-win war.
Let me bring up one fact, that it’s really sad, because I’m not sure that Donald Trump is really loyal to anybody. Do you remember back when Obama was president, and Scalia had died, and we had the opening with the Supreme Court? Do you know it was Mitch McConnell that said, “Let’s postpone these hearings until after the presidential election” and took a gamble? The reason we have one of our big victories, which is Neil Gorsuch, is because of Mitch McConnell, he deserves better.
Chris Matthews: Let me go to Chris Buskirk on that. Chris, how do you see this fight? Whose fault is it?
Chris Buskirk: Yeah, well I think that this fight has been going on for a long time. I mean, Donald Trump didn’t start it. He’s an expression of a fight that’s been going on inside the GOP at least for 10 or 15 years over what’s the heart and soul of the party, which way are we going to go.
What I see more and more is not so much an ideological division, though it’s true that there are serious ideological stakes on the table; but, really, there is this debate. There’s this division between what we would call country class Republicans, meaning just voters, just normal voters, and ruling class Republicans. Which way is it going to be? If you heard the audio from last night here in Phoenix, you saw that Donald Trump had a very enthusiastic crowd. The idea that a Mitch McConnell, or even in this state a John McCain or Jeff Flake, would get that kind of a crowd or that kind of response, it’s just unthinkable.
So, you pit these two sides together and say, “Which is it going to be? Is it going to be the voters and the president, or is it going to be the neo-conservatives and the incumbent Republicans in the House? Who’s going to do something?”
Chris Matthews: Good question, because they have to do it together. New tonight … Politico’s now reporting tonight that President Trump called up GOP senators to vent his frustrations over Russia-related issues. According to people familiar with the calls, Politico reports the president called up Senator Bob Corker and “expressed frustration over a bipartisan bill sanctioning Russia and tried to convince Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker that it wasn’t good policy. He argues that the legislation was unconstitutional and said it would damage his presidency.” Fair enough.
President Trump … This is the one I’m interested in … also called up North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis to complain about a bill he was writing that would protect Robert Mueller from being fired. Politico reports, “Trump was unhappy with the legislation and didn’t want it to pass.”
Well, let me get back to Noelle and also then to Chris. It seems to me that this is not about ideology, as you’ve both suggested. This may be about class. But here’s Trump trying to protect himself from an investigation by Bob Mueller by making sure that he does have the potential to get rid of Mueller if he basically goes up again over the rails and starts going after his personal finances, as Trump sees it, going across his own red line.
This legislation pushed by Thom Tillis of North Carolina with Chris Coons of Delaware would kill the president’s chance to fire Mueller. This is a real difference of interest. Trump doesn’t want to be investigated, like an audit of anything he’s ever done and everything he might have done, and the Republican Party’s saying, “Well, we’d like to look clean on this.” There is a difference of interest here. Go ahead, Noelle.
Noelle Nikpour: Yes. This is a very big Catch 22, because we want to focus on things that we can get done. We’re not getting anything done, and we need to unite. That’s one of the things that the Democrats have over the Republicans is, whether we agree with our policies or not, they’re united.
Chris Matthews: What are you talking about? You’re not answering my question. No. The question is: Should the Republican Party be the good government party, making sure that Robert Mueller has a free hand in investigating the president, or should they tie his hands a bit to give the president a break here, a partisan break? What is the right thing for the Republican leadership to do: help Trump or help the prosecutor? Where should their loyalty lie?
Noelle Nikpour: The loyalty needs to lie in good government, and that’s not to help Trump. That’s to do the right thing, Chris.
Chris Matthews: Okay. What do you think, Chris? Do you agree with that, that they should be helping good government, as they see it, or helping the president?
Chris Buskirk: Yeah. Now, Chris, look. We have a system in this country laid down for good government. If the Congress decides that the president has done something wrong, and it rises to a certain level, there is a constitutional means to deal with that, and obviously that’s impeachment. We know how that works.
The idea that a Republican senator like Thom Tillis would be wasting his time on legislation like this, when we don’t have a budget, we haven’t repealed Obamacare, we haven’t done anything about the debt ceiling, on and on, we haven’t done anything about tax reform, this is what he wants to be known for? I mean, this is the type of cowardice in politics that grinds these things to a halt.
Chris, you know the history of these things better than I do. I mean, you look back at what happened to the Democrats in the late ’70s. The Democrats tore themselves up, and in 1979 and ’80 you saw Ted Kennedy mounting a fairly serious challenge against Jimmy Carter. The Republicans in Congress need to be very cautious and learn their history. They need to accomplish something for voters. They need to do something that is not a Washington, DC-centric policy and do something that’s going to address the kitchen table issues that people actually vote on.
Chris Matthews: Yeah, I could see a real division here. Thank you, Noelle Nikpour-
Noelle Nikpour: Thanks.
Chris Matthews: … and thank you, Chris Buskirk. I think you’ve pointed out here and clarified the issue. There is a difference here in political interests right now between the Republican Congress, as they see their interests, and Trump as he sees his, which is, of course, self-protection at this point. element_content=””]