Former Michigan GOP Leader: Future Of Party 'Will Be As Or More Trumpy'

Feb 14, 2021
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's turn now to the implications for the Republican Party, where the cracks have become much more visible. A handful of Republicans like Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and even Republican Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the former president for his role in the mob attack on the Capitol. But those who voted to hold him accountable swiftly faced repercussions from their state parties for doing so, even facing hastily drafted censure resolutions.

We wanted to hear more about how this is playing out, so we've called Jeff Timmer because he's gone through this himself. He's a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party. Now he's a senior adviser to The Lincoln Project. That's a Republican political action committee formed to oppose Trump's reelection. Mr. Timmer, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFF TIMMER: I'm glad to be here.

MARTIN: So I just want to start with impeachment since that's obviously the focus of attention right now. What effect do you think this trial and the fact that the former president was acquitted will have on shaping the post-Trump Republican Party?

TIMMER: Well, I think it will set it off on the same trajectory it has been on for the last four years. And that is the post-White House Republican Party, the post-Trump White House Republican Party, will be as or more Trumpy than it was during his term in office.

MARTIN: You know, one of the reasons we called you is because you're based in Michigan. And, of course, in April, armed protesters crowded the Michigan State House with the intention, we later learned, of kidnapping the governor. And the lead impeachment manager, Representative Jamie Raskin, referred to that during the impeachment trial as, quote, "effectively a state-level dress rehearsal for the siege of the U.S. Capitol," unquote. And I just wondered, when that was all happening, did you see it that way?

TIMMER: Yes, I did. I wrote columns about it back then. What I saw is that Michigan wasn't an offshoot of Trumpism but was more of a harbinger of the violence and extremism that we saw this last year. The armed protests inside the Michigan Capitol last spring, there's a straight line from that to the violent plans to capture Governor Whitmer, and then a straight line from that to the lies and misinformation about the election that led to January 6. It was all a dress rehearsal, and that was a perfect way to put it.

MARTIN: And it's not just that the tactics were similar; it's the response by political leadership. I mean, The New York Times recently reported that Michigan's Republican Party, which you used to run, has actually welcomed the support of some of these paramilitary groups, like the ones that intended to kidnap Governor Whitmer, and the current state party chair has been recorded as saying the attack on the Capitol was a hoax.

So one of the reasons that I raise this is that we keep hearing from some people that privately, the conversations they have are very different. But what I'm hearing you say is actually, that's not true, that sort of the center of gravity has shifted, and that really is what people think.

TIMMER: Yes. You mentioned the leader of the Michigan Senate, a fellow by the name of Mike Shirkey. Last year, when the armed protesters took over Michigan's Capitol, there was pictures and video footage of him in the gallery, you know, with no mask, yucking it up and having a good time with them. And then he's later admitted that he met with them afterward to give them advice on how to be more effective the next time. It's just uncomprehensible (ph) to most of the people in Michigan, but it's the reality.

MARTIN: So what needs to happen now? I mean, you have said that you're no longer welcome in the Republican Party. I mean, would you want to be? I mean, what do you think needs to happen now?

TIMMER: American politics is dependent upon stable center-left and center-right coalitions. There have been periods where one or the other has gone through periods of downturn. And I think that this is one of those periods. There will be, in some ways, a stabilizing over time. But I think the Republican Party and the center-right, small-c conservative coalition is going to be spending some time in the wilderness and suffering some significant losses.

MARTIN: So, Mr. Timmer, you are saying you think the Republican Party, as it's now constituted, is going to have some time in the wilderness. But in the last election, the standard-bearer, the former president, lost, but Republicans expanded their numbers in the House. I mean, they did lose the Senate, but it's close. What does that tell you that Republicans actually did better? I mean, Democrats complain, in part, it's voter suppression, that they've made such a concerted effort to keep people from voting that that's in part what contributes to the success that Republicans are having at the moment. Do you think that's true?

TIMMER: I think the notion that Republicans did better is somewhat of an illusion. When you look at what the Republicans held when Donald Trump was elected in 2016 - I'll just use Michigan for an example. The Republicans held all the statewide offices, supermajorities in the congressional delegation and the legislature and scores of county and local offices. And all of that is gone now. There are far, far fewer by factors of thousands of local Republican elected officials.

And so the marginal gains that they experienced in the House this year were more of a function of Trump personality politics played out at the local level in a handful of races. And I think the Republican Party is shrinking. A large tumor has been cut out by Trump being removed from the White House, but the cancer has metastasized. And you don't accommodate and learn to live with cancer. You either eradicate it, or it kills the patient. And I think the patient right now is terminal.

MARTIN: That was Jeff Timmer. He was the executive director of the Michigan State Republican Party from 2005 to 2009. Now he's a strategist and adviser for The Lincoln Project. Mr. Timmer, thanks so much for your time. Thanks for joining us.

TIMMER: Thank you, and have a wonderful afternoon.

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