What Republican Challengers To Trump Say About The Party's Future
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We hear next from some of the few Republicans who have openly challenged President Trump. Speaking in Nashville over the weekend, former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh warned that the GOP may not recover from Trump's presidency. And he called out Republicans who continue to support him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOE WALSH: They want Trump to lose. And then they think when Trump loses, the Republican Party can just go back to what it was. It's too bad. They've sold their soul to this president.
INSKEEP: Walsh appeared at the Politicon convention, which is a nonpartisan gathering, alongside two other Republicans who are challenging the president in the GOP primary. NPR's Sarah McCammon was there.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Mark Sanford has no illusions that his candidacy is anything but a long shot.
MARK SANFORD: I'm in no way unaware of that.
MCCAMMON: President Trump's presidential campaign raised more than $40 million last quarter. Sanford, a former governor and congressman from South Carolina, raised about $60,000. But, Sanford said in an interview with NPR, that's not what this is about.
SANFORD: I think it's vital that we have a conversation, a real conversation, as Republicans about what it means to be a Republican.
MCCAMMON: It's a difficult conversation to start in an environment with an incumbent president, even one facing an impeachment inquiry. Sanford's own home state is among several where Republicans are moving not to hold primaries for 2020. Sanford joined former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld at a forum for Republican challengers in Nashville this weekend. All three see an urgency in speaking out against President Trump's behavior and policies.
BILL WELD: I think Mr. Trump is a terrible danger to the republic.
MCCAMMON: That's Bill Weld.
WELD: He has come right out of the box saying free press is the enemy of the people. That's directly out of the playbook of Mussolini and Hitler.
MCCAMMON: Weld ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 2016. With that exception, he says he's been a lifelong Republican. Weld told NPR he's also worried about the future of his party, especially if Trump is impeached by the House but Senate Republicans refuse to remove him from office.
WELD: I think everything the president touches turns to dirt, and I think the Republican Party would turn to dirt.
MCCAMMON: Weld predicts Republicans will lose control of the Senate if Trump is allowed to remain in office. And long term, he thinks the party could split. Backstage, Walsh echoed Weld's concerns about Trump.
WALSH: We can't afford four more years of him.
MCCAMMON: That's a reversal for Walsh. He supported Trump in 2016, but after seeing his behavior in office decided to run against him in the Republican primary. Walsh points to polls that suggest a growing Republican support for the impeachment inquiry.
WALSH: They're tired. They don't want to go through four more years of this guy tweeting horrible stuff every day.
MCCAMMON: Hannah Phillips (ph), a 21-year-old Republican from Alabama, has misgivings about Trump even though she, too, voted for him in 2016.
HANNAH PHILLIPS: I think it's good that somebody's standing up against him 'cause somebody needs to, especially on the Republican side.
MCCAMMON: Phillips thinks Trump has focused too much attention on issues like immigration and not enough on things that are important to her, like health care. But she expects to vote Republican in 2020, regardless.
PHILLIPS: Considering I did not even know that there are other Republican candidates running, he's probably going to be the candidate (laughter).
MCCAMMON: Trump has the infrastructure of the GOP behind him and millions of dollars in campaign funds. So at least for the short term, the Republican Party's future is deeply tied up with Trump's. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.