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Christine Todd Whitman Pushes Formation Of Alternative Republican Party

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we turn to one of this week's major political stories out of Washington, D.C., where Republicans voted to remove Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her position in the House leadership and to replace her with New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, an outspoken defender of former President Trump. Cheney's crime was continuing to hold the former president responsible for his role in the January mob attack on the Capitol by promoting what a lot of people call the big lie, the false claim that the election was stolen from him.

It's just the latest sign of the former president's hold on Republican officeholders, but it's also the latest catalyst for moves by other Republicans looking to loosen that grip or to create something new. Earlier this week, more than a hundred Republicans signed onto that idea. In a Washington Post opinion piece, five former Republican leaders described the effort, saying, quote, "if we cannot save the Republican Party from itself, we will help save America from extremist elements in the Republican Party."

Here to tell us more about it is one of the authors, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Governor Whitman, thank you so much for joining us.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: It's a pleasure to be with you.

MARTIN: So first, your reaction to the whole situation with Congresswoman Cheney and her being ousted and then replaced by a Trump loyalist. What's your take on all that?

WHITMAN: Well, I mean, it was sort of the final straw that made it very hard for anybody to think that the party - the Republican Party, was about anything other than loyalty to Donald Trump because if you look at Liz Cheney's voting record in the House, she was extremely loyal. She voted 80 to 90% of the time with the Trump administration, whereas Elise Stefanik was about 50 to 60% of the time. So by replacing Liz Cheney with Elise Stefanik, they were saying very clearly nothing matters. It's not policy. It's not principle. It's are - you loyal to this man? Because if you dare to cross him, then you're out. And so that's not a party. That's a cult.

MARTIN: So this new coalition - it's called A Call For American Renewal. By my count, there are roughly 150 signatories. And there - some of the names are people - certainly very prominent people like you. And on the website, it says our nation's future shouldn't be dictated by a single person but by principles that bind us together. That's why we believe in pushing for the Republican Party to rededicate itself to founding ideals or else hasten the creation of an alternative. How exactly does that work?

WHITMAN: Well, what we want to do is support those candidates like Liz Cheney, who, by the way, is far more conservative than I am. But I have to appreciate and support her stand on principle, which I do wholeheartedly. And we're going to support those other Republicans who have stood up and new Republican candidates who will say we don't buy into the big lie. We agree with some of these principles, which are commonsense. I mean, they really are. They're about leadership and recognizing the freedom of - importance of freedom of speech and of telling the truth and respecting the Constitution. It's not earth-shattering. It's what the party used to be about.

MARTIN: You address this in your letter, why you don't just become Democrats, why all of you don't just move over to the Democratic Party, which, you know, has a Joe Manchin as well as it has an Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It has Joe Biden, for example, who I don't think anybody sees as a flaming liberal. I don't know. Maybe you do.

WHITMAN: No.

MARTIN: But I'm just saying...

WHITMAN: No, I don't (laughter).

MARTIN: It has a - but it has - what I'm saying is people want to create this equivalency between the Democrats and Republicans, but there is a broad range of views within the Democratic Party. Why not just join the Democrats and compete that way and take back those seats and then see what happens?

WHITMAN: I mean, I think it is dangerous for the country to have just one party. We need two. We need two vibrant parties that are strong enough to compete actively in the elections.

MARTIN: I'm wondering what it is that causes you to believe that people will now be willing to look at an alternative when the former president's conduct was there all along, and people voted for him anyway. I mean, you are from the Northeast. So you had every reason to know what his record was, his temperament was, his conduct in business.

WHITMAN: Right.

MARTIN: So if all those things were in plain sight before, why would people be willing to look at that now in a different light? I mean, is it possible that the former president isn't leading but following, that that - those behaviors are perhaps the center of gravity in the Republican Party?

WHITMAN: Well, they're center of gravity for the group that has become his base. But if you look at the most recent polls, he's losing popularity. I mean, his favorable versus unfavorable are upside down. I mean, he's got 15% higher unfavorable than favorable.

Now, he does have that base. And the trouble is and the thing that worries me is you've got 70 million-plus voters who voted for Donald Trump in this last presidential election who have been listening to this drumbeat of the election was stolen, the election was stolen. And they believe it, even though you've had all the court cases, over 60 court cases heard by Republican and Democrat judges and all thrown out because there was no there there.

It is mind-blowing the people who believe some of this conspiracy theory stuff. But then you have to respect the fact that they've been hearing this again and again from their, quote-unquote, "leaders." And so it's understandable that they're confused. But right now, they're starting to get it and starting to say, I can't put up with this any longer.

MARTIN: As you pointed out in the piece - your opinion piece, you said that the GOP has become a privileged third party, running actually behind both Democratic voter registration and Independent voter registration. So what would be the - sort of the trigger for determining whether it is time to create an alternative party? Do you have a threshold? What does it look like?

WHITMAN: Well, I think - really, I think it's going to be after the 2022 elections and whether we can see that we were able to support those candidates who have denied the big lie, who were out there saying we believe in these principles that have been put forward. But we are going to have a open town meeting next month, and we'll hear from people who are supporting this effort and wanting to go forward with it, the average person who's out there who's just hearing about it now and make some decisions based on that. We haven't put together a hard and fast this-is-the-cutoff point. But patience is running thin.

MARTIN: That was the former governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman. Governor Whitman, thank you so much for joining us.

WHITMAN: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLEN PORTER'S "UM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.