No less than the future of democracy, not to mention the fate of the major political parties, was in question the day after Tuesday’s chaotic national presidential debate.
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“What was Trump trying to do last night?” asked Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government. “And I mean this seriously, because I’m wondering was there a strategy there or was he just winging it and going on instinct as people say that he does? Was this all about ratcheting up the base?”
It was a good question, and one that kicked off Wednesday’s Pizza & Perspectives conversation, a series of events bringing together experts to discuss election issues leading up to the election itself, sponsored by University Life Arlington, Mason Votes, and the Schar School. Former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who recently stepped down as rector of George Mason University, and Distinguished Visiting Professor and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D), were the guests. Rozell served as moderator. The speakers were introduced by Melissa Thierry, associate director of University Life Arlington.
“I think that the Republicans’ biggest fear is that [Trump] goes off and starts his own party,” said Davis. “And the Democrats biggest fear is that Bernie Sanders and his people—if they don’t get their way with the Biden office—they’ll start their own party.”
“There will be a battle royale with the Republican party about ‘what do we do post-Trump,’” he said. “My own feeling is, if he is not reelected, the party will move in a different direction, which is what they have traditionally done when they lost elections…I think, should Trump lose, the cult following that he [brings] to the party, you want to try to hold onto as many of them as you can.”
“Let me be very clear. [Trump] is going to be a problem for the Republican party for many years to come,” said McAuliffe, who was governor during the 2017 deadly white supremacists rally in Charlottesville. “He is not going away. He will have 40 percent. He will have his base. He will be angry. He will have a Murdock television station within a month, and he is going to be a constant thorn for many years to come for the Republican party. He is not going away.”
The speakers pondered the value of future debates. “Ninety percent of Americans today are in their corners. They have already made up their mind,” said McAuliffe. “There’s a very small sliver out there who have not made up their mind, and I think they do want to watch the debates to make that follow-up decision. So, I think they’re very important.”
The speakers also addressed the looming battle over the Supreme Court nominee and the severe partisanship plaguing the nation.
“As I say, if you don’t have a high tolerance for hypocrisy, you probably don’t belong in politics,” said Davis. “But I think [the Supreme Court] is a potential trip-wire. Democrats just need to control their message on this thing, and they know it’s going to happen at this point. If Trump didn’t nominate somebody his base would go crazy. If Democrats didn’t oppose this, their base would go crazy. And I think that speaks to the way that American politics has evolved into more parliamentary behavior. The problem is: It isn’t a parliamentary system. It’s a balance of power system.”
“I left [office] undefeated and unindicted,” Davis continued. “That’s the way you want to leave the place. But members like winning. And right now, you don’t stay a winner if you stray too far out of the party boundaries.”
The Pizza & Perspectives virtual series, hosted by University Life Arlington and MasonVotes, brings university faculty, politicians, and community members together to discuss important topics leading up to the November election. View registration and information for other upcoming Pizza & Perspectives events.