HARI SREENIVASAN: We return to the race for the White House, with Election Day now four weeks away.
John Yang looks at the growing split within the Republican Party.
JOHN YANG: With the mass defection of high-profile Republicans from their presidential nominee, has the divide between Donald Trump and the GOP establishment become irreconcilable?
We explore that question now with Tom Davis, a former member of Congress who was in charge of electing Republicans to the House, and Barry Bennett, a Donald Trump supporter and former campaign senior adviser.
Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us.
Mr. Davis, let me start with you.
The House speaker this morning said he’s not going to defend Donald Trump, he’s not going to campaign with him, he’s going to focus on the House and Senate. Is he saying that he thinks the presidential race is over?
FORMER REP. TOM DAVIS (R-Va.): No, I think he’s saying he wants to make sure the House Republicans get reelected and he has a working majority.
This isn’t different than what he was telling the House a month ago, which is, you have to look after your own district. Donald Trump is going to help candidates in some districts. In some districts, he’s going to a liability and candidates are going to have to do what they have to do.
But his number one responsibility isn’t to elect a president. It’s to reelect the House members. And when I was campaign chairman in 2000, it was actually a similar arrangement with George W. Bush, where they went out and did their thing and we did out things. We coordinated to some extent, but it was up to each individual member in terms of how they were going to handle it.
JOHN YANG: But, Mr. Bennett, with all these Republicans, with so many Republicans over the weekend who — many of them in tough races, many of them running for reelection, saying that they are no longer supporting Donald Trump, is that the smart move?
BARRY BENNETT, Trump Supporter: Well, the smart move is to recognize that the issues that he’s talking about and how people are reacting to them and talk about those issues.
You know, if this were an election on personality, Donald Trump would be down by 100 points. I mean, Hillary has spent $200 million pointing out his perfectly obvious imperfections. But the issues that he talks about are why people rally around him. So, I think it would be smart for all candidates to think about those issues.
JOHN YANG: We have had — let’s stay with you. We have had Donald Trump tweeting out that maybe Paul Ryan should be focusing on balancing the budget, creating jobs and immigration and not fighting with him, that Kellyanne Conway this morning talked about inappropriate behavior by some of the Republicans who are now turning against him.
Are we lining up with this sort of one wing of the party vs. another wing of the party?
BARRY BENNETT: I hope not. I hope we’re lining up with people who are in real pain across America. That’s what we should be talking about.
That’s all Mr. Trump should be talking about. There are people out there that haven’t had a real increase in real wages in a really long time. That’s what he should be talking about. I don’t care what Paul Ryan does. Paul Ryan’s duty, as Tom’s was, is to help elect members to the House. Tom was very good at it.
And Speaker Ryan needs to raise a lot of money to those done. But they don’t need to be talking about each other.
FORMER REP. TOM DAVIS: John, I don’t think there is any question, though, that the Trump constituency that came in, to some extent, was anti-establishment, and that means anti-congressional establishment. There is some tension there.
The question is, can they coexist and get along and maximize both their outputs to produce a Republican Congress and perhaps elect a Republican president? And, of course, there are tensions there.
JOHN YANG: What is the answer to that question? Can they get along and how can they get along?
FORMER REP. TOM DAVIS: Well, I think members — it just depends.
In some districts, you have members endorsing Trump, running with Trump, coming to his Trump rallies. In other districts, you won’t be able to find them with a search if Trump comes to town. It really depends.
And we have always had to run our own races. I have found, in my district out here in Northern Virginia, after a couple of terms, there were very few Republicans I could really appear with without hurting myself.
You were trying to be a team player, but, first of all, you owe yourself and the caucus a duty to get reelected. And Donald Trump performs very well in some districts, and in some districts, he’s not.
JOHN YANG: Mr. Bennett, over the weekend, we saw Paul Ryan actually get booed when he talked about the situation, the videotape, and that Trump wasn’t with him, as he was scheduled to be.
When Joe Heck in Nevada, a Senate candidate, withdrew his endorsement of Mr. Trump, he got booed.
Is there a risk for candidates who are jumping off the Trump bandwagon?
BARRY BENNETT: Yes.
I mean, no one’s ever successfully sawed a boat in half and floated to safety. Once we’re in the boat, we’re in the boat. We need the presidential race — if not it’s winnable, we need it to be very close in order for those House and Senate races like Joe Heck to get across the line.
So, you have got to be very careful. You can have your own opinions, but realize that 40 or 50 or 60 percent of your supporters are still with him. So don’t go too far.
JOHN YANG: Mr. Davis, if you were running the Congressional Campaign Committee now, what would you be telling challengers, what would be your members who are running for reelection?
FORMER REP. TOM DAVIS: Well, it’s district by district.
But I think you look at the top of the ticket. If it helps you, you want to try to latch onto those coattails and ride across the line. If the wind is coming at you, you are going to have to basically personalize the district, carve your own identity, make this a referendum on you.
By the way, the NRCC has been pretty successful. John Katko’s district up in Syracuse, he’s running double digits ahead, and Mr. Trump is running double digits behind.
Everybody understands this. Professionals understand you do what you have to do to get reelected at this point. Mr. Trump’s remarks, nobody’s going to attach themselves to those remarks. You won’t find anybody coming forward. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you abandon ship, because, once you divide yourself up, I have seen very few cases where parties survive that kind of thing.
JOHN YANG: Mr. Bennett, no matter what happens at the top of the ticket in November, this anti-establishment feeling that you have been talking about is going to be there. It’s going to continue and it’s going to exist.
What does the Republican Party look like moving forward? What does it do moving forward, win or lose? Because even if Donald Trump is elected president, he will have to deal with this Congress that is the establishment that so many of his supporters hate right now.
BARRY BENNETT: Well, I think the Freedom Caucus probably gets larger.
I think that there’s going to be more turmoil. But I think that if we think the scary stuff is over now, wait until after the election, because the winner is probably only going to get 46, 47 percent of the vote, so more people will have not voted for them than voted for them.
And the next four years in Washington, I don’t predict calm seas.
JOHN YANG: What would you do, Mr. Davis, if you were running a party and, if you were the RNC chairman? How would you move forward after the election, no matter who wins?
FORMER REP. TOM DAVIS: Well, look, we have got to learn how to coexist.
What the Republicans have found in my state of Virginia is, even when they’re united, given the Democratic shifts, we lose sometimes. So, you are going to have to learn to coexist, everybody get a piece of things and try to line up accordingly.
We’re going to primaries, instead of conventions. I think that’s a good thing in this state. And it shouldn’t jeopardize the Trump supporters either, who won primaries. But it’s the kind of thing where we are going to have to learn to coexist.
Politics is parties are coalitions. And coalitions mean sometimes you get in a room with people you’re not quite comfortable with to advance your own interests. And the Republicans have not gotten comfortable with their coalition. Democrats, which are also a diverse coalition, have learned to coexist and win.
JOHN YANG: Tom Davis, Barry Bennett, thanks so much for coming in and discussing these interesting days with us.
FORMER REP. TOM DAVIS: Thank you.
BARRY BENNETT: Thanks.