American University's Sine Institute of Policy & Politics focused on the future of the Republican Party and the current political climate during a recent event with Inaugural Sine Fellows Bill Kristol, a political analyst and founder of The Weekly Standard, and Bill Haslam, recent former governor of Tennessee.
Talking together, the two discussed a wide range of topics, asking each other questions about their experiences working in politics and their hopes for the next presidential election. This included how Republicans and Democrats could find ways to soften the partisan political divide.
Both pointed out during the event that the United States has always been a partisan country, but not as sharply as today. They touched on the way that cross-party dialogue has withered in the U.S. Congress as much as it has among families, friends, and neighbors around the country. Kristol and Haslam took turns talking about the disagreement that exists on critical social issues and that it has reached a point in America where each side thinks the other is dishonest or wrong.
"I think disaggregating views is really important," said Haslam, recent former Governor of Tennessee. "Right now's it's hard to get elected as a Republican in a lot of places while being outspoken about issues like climate change or marriage equality."
He shared that some Republican politicians have successfully taken up issues that are "typically held by Democrats" and vice versa. He cited Gov. Larry Hogan as being an example of moderate who has frequently called for bipartisan solutions and has distanced himself from President Trump.
During the discussion, Haslam talked about his concern about the long delays for Senate confirmations for political appointees nominated by President Trump. Historically, senators routinely confirmed lower-level presidential nominees without much fanfare. But more recently, the Senate confirmation process has become a partisan battleground.
"Today's world of getting political appointees confirmed is really difficult," said Haslam. "We should all say that regardless of who is in power, there shouldn't be this hold up process on political appointees, unless there's a competence issue. It shouldn't be political."
When asked by a member of the audience whether state government is challenged by a one-term president, Kristol emphasized his belief that government at the state, local, and at the federal level function "reasonably well" but that Congress is in need of political reform.
"It's Congress that is broken," said Kristol. "I would say we should put our energy into fixing Congress in the near-term."
At the end of the event, Haslam asked Kristol how it was that fully 12 percent of people who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries voted for President Trump in the general election.
"Protest votes are nothing new. What I find interesting is that there were two people running against their own parties as anti-establishment candidates," said Kristol. "To me, that's very unusual. I think it showed us that being the candidate of change is much better than the candidate of the status quo."