Ed Gillespie, Republican strategist and former RNC Chairman, sat down with the Gate to talk about the government shutdown, what he sees as the purpose of political consulting and the current state of the Republican Party.
The Gate: Do you think the shutdown shows a failure of the Republican leadership in Congress?
Ed Gillespie: I think it shows a failure of Washington D.C. and both parties to come together to find a resolution to keep our government open and moving forward. I think we’re likely to get an outcome where there is some resolution here, but I think what it shows that there are very deeply felt feelings on both sides of the aisle when it comes to Obamacare, which is at the center of the debate over the continuing resolution, debt, and how we deal with not only raising our debt limit but how we come to terms with racking up so much debt, and trying to get that under control. What I would say it reflects are strong feelings on both sides and an inability so far to come together to find a resolution, but that is the nature of divided government. I think this is the 53rd shutdown of a government because of division, whether Republicans in the White House, Democrats in Congress, or Democrats in the White House, Republicans in Congress. When you have divided government this frequently happens.
Gate: Do you think it was the intention of Republican leadership in Congress to lead to a shutdown or was it actually a revolution within the Republican Party against the leadership in the party?
Gillespie: I think people were hoping to avoid it and I think people want to get the government up and running again. The question is how. And there are obviously very clear differences of opinion on how you best do that. I think tactically there was a miscalculation by some, thinking that this was an approach that would result in the defunding of Obamacare.
Gate: If they are not going to defund Obamacare, which seemed to be the original deciding factor for much of the Republican Party, what do you think the Democrats will be willing to compromise on?
Gillespie: I would hope that they could find some common ground on some things relative to trying to get control of federal spending in a way that we don’t constantly have to increase our national debt and put more debt on future generations. People coming through the University of Chicago now and people like my daughter who went on a tour of the school today shouldn’t have massive amounts of debt put on them. It’s going to hinder their ability to enjoy the benefits of economic growth in the future. Hopefully you could come together and find some ways to [make] entitlement reforms. Both sides Democrats and Republicans have talked about entitlement reforms in the past. President Obama has talked about what’s called chained CPI, which would adjust the way automatic increases in federal benefits are calculated in a way that more closely reflects economic reality, and would save taxpayers and the federal government a lot of money over time. I think some thoughtful approaches to getting control of spending--instead of assuming that we’re always going to have to increase the debt--could be a positive outcome from this clash that’s going on in Washington right now.
Gate: Will conservative PACs like Crossroads GPS go on the attack against Republicans who led this movement that caused the shutdown?
Gillespie: Different PACs do different things, and they all have their own agenda in the same way liberal leaning PACs have their own causes they support. Again, let me just be clear, I don’t agree with the premise that it’s Republicans who have shut down the government. I think both sides have been unable to come together to reach an agreement that keeps the government open. I think there’s been a failure of presidential leadership here. I don’t think it’s sustainable for the President of the United States to say, “I’m not going to talk to the other party even though they control one house of Congress.” I suspect we’ll see them start to talk pretty soon, because you have to in order to make progress and to get some resolution. Different Political Action Committees have their own agendas. I can’t speak for them. You’d have to ask Crossroads GPS about their own intentions.
Gate: You started a bi-partisan consulting firm in Washington. How do you think consultants and lobbyists serve the average American?
Gillespie: Well I left that firm about seven, almost eight, years ago now, so I’m not really involved in it. But I do think that there are ways in which Republicans and Democrats can come together and find common ground. I think that is necessary when you have divided government. But the firm I have now, Ed Gillespie Strategies, is just me and my assistant, and what we do mostly is just public relations and strategic communications advice and guidance for a lot of different clients, trade associations, and corporate America, and a lot of them do support bi-partisan solutions to things. And I do think there are ways that you can do that. Sometimes Democratic lobbyists, Republican lobbyists, are able to bring people together to get bi-partisan solutions.
Gate: Do you think the shutdown will negatively affect the far right conservative wing of the Republican Party? Or do you think that the Tea Party will continue to gain strength within the Republican Party?
Gillespie: I think the Tea Party is an important part of the Republican Party coalition the same way labor unions are an important part of the Democratic Party coalition. When you’re a country of 310 million people and you only have two parties, those parties by virtue are coalitions. We don’t have six or seven parties like they do in European parliamentary systems. We have a two party system. The influx of Tea Party voters in the past five years or so has helped Republicans gain control of the US House of Representatives. I think they will help us pick up seats in the Senate in this midterm, and I think sometimes there are strains when you have new people coming in to a party and friction between different factions of a party. That’s only natural--like I said--with a two-party system for a country this size. But I would also say that growing pains are better than shrinking pains. It’s better that Tea Party voters are coming into the Republican Party and making it possible to win the House of Representatives in 2010 and also a majority of state legislatures around the country, and governorships as well.
Gate: How do you think the shutdown will reflect on either party at midterm elections?
Gillespie: I think it’s too early to tell. I think part of it depends on how it gets resolved and the fact is that the issues are what matter most. I think that by the time we get to next November…the focus will be on things like the economy, economic growth, quality of healthcare, how does the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare affect that and how people vote on various issues. So I think it’s too early to tell but I think that it’ll be a pretty significant year for Republicans. Historically the second midterm of a two-term election is a big year for the out-of-power party, and Republicans are likely to see pretty significant gains in the Senate and hold onto a majority the house. They may win control of the Senate this midterm election.
The image featured in this article was taken by Gage Skidmore. The original image can be found here.