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How The GOP Will Move Forward Under A Biden Presidency

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

So we're going to move on now. What do Republicans, from their seats in office to their offices in political consulting agencies, make of this election? Donald Trump, who created his own brand of politics, a man larger than his party, lost to Joe Biden, a traditional Democrat. And yet, other GOP candidates did better than expected. Does Donald Trump defeated remain the most powerful force in the Republican Party? We have many questions, and we will put them now to Michael Steel. He is a veteran of Capitol Hill and presidential campaigns.

Thank you so much for being with us.

MICHAEL STEEL: Good to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it is hard to unseat incumbent presidents. American voters don't do it often. And campaigning from the White House comes with all sorts of advantages, particularly this year when Donald Trump went way further than any recent president in exploiting the office for his reelection. What did he do wrong, in your view?

STEEL: He never worked to expand beyond his base. He never reached out to Democrats, let - or even some of the Trump-skeptical Republicans. I think that he had every ability, every tool in the toolbox to have created a sweeping electoral majority and really change the face of American politics in a much more permanent and enduring way. And he chose not to right from the very start, right from his inauguration.

And then, of course, the second thing - which he had less control over but still a lot more than he exercised - is the pandemic and the economic response to it. And I think that talking about the things that your previous guest spoke of - if he had taken it seriously in the spring and summer, we would be in a much better place, both in terms of public health and the economy going into Election Day. And I think that made a big difference, particularly for older voters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There seems to have been this split, though. The vote was a rejection of Trump. But the GOP does have a good shot at holding the Senate majority, and Republican candidates did eat into the Democratic House majority. How do you explain it?

STEEL: It was a great Election Day for every Republican - virtually every Republican not named Donald Trump. And that's why I think his weaknesses, his excesses, his tone, his demeanor, that's all very particular to him. You saw Republican senators like Thom Tillis, certainly Susan Collins running ahead of the president's total in their respective states because they have the advantages of offering a solid conservative, successful record of governance without the excesses of Trump himself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think that that is the takeaway that the GOP will take from this election? - because so far, we have seen Republicans remain very quiet about some of the tactics being employed by President Trump and his administration in not really conceding the race.

STEEL: Yeah, I think the party's in for a period of introspection, and I think that facts will determine a lot of what happens next. I think that there is no doubt that the president remains enormously popular with the grassroots of the party. There is no doubt that he helped a lot of Republican candidates with better turnout, et cetera, in this recent election.

At the same time, both among elected officials and I think increasingly in the conservative media, you're seeing some Trump fatigue. You're seeing some solid recognition that the party's fortunes very likely will be better off if someone else's name is on the ballot next time around since we just saw people with different names on the ballot doing better than the president. So there's no question he will retain vast influence. I think how he handles these next few weeks is going to be critical to determining how seriously he's taken by leaders and the media after the inauguration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you this. We're speaking with two members of the Problem Solvers Caucus elsewhere in the program. That's a bipartisan collection of politicians who stress consensus and compromise. Do you think their membership will increase under President Biden? - because when we've seen Republicans in opposition - I'm thinking of the Tea Party here - they haven't tended to compromise. They've managed to expand their base and their majority by acting in opposition.

STEEL: Yeah, I don't think that's going to be the case this time. I do expect the problem solvers to increase their numbers, I think in part because the folks that were most chastened on election night were the progressives expecting a blue wave that didn't materialize and the most ardent Trump supporters who expected him to win despite the odds. And so I think that there's going to be, with Vice President Biden in the White House, some opportunity for bipartisan compromise to find common ground.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. That's veteran Republican strategist Michael Steel.

Thank you so much.

STEEL: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.